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Morning tip: Looking back and ahead with Wizards coming out of All-Star break

Morning tip: Looking back and ahead with Wizards coming out of All-Star break

NEW ORLEANS -- The Wizards were the NBA’s most surprising team going into the All-Star break. No one expected them to have 34 wins regardless of how this season shook out, but that was especially true after a 2-8 start. Now that we’re 55 games into an 82-game season -- and with the trade deadline approaching Thursday afternoon -- my takeaways on what's transpired, why and what has to happen next to solidify their standing and advance deep:

-- Bradley Beal has avoided injury. The revamping of the medical staff was headed up by VP Tommy Sheppard and it's worked. The system that the Wizards put in place to be more clinical in dealing with how to treat injuries and be more forward-thinking has kept him stress-reaction free in his lower right leg. Beal missed three games with a right thigh strain early in the season and one game after rolling his ankle, but he has played in 51 of 55 games. If he makes 23 more appearances he'll set a career-high for games played. Additionally this is the healthiest that John Wall has been this deep into a season in several years, and he had surgeries to both knees back on May 5.

-- The evolution of Jason Smith. He was all thumbs when the season started, so much so that Brooks joked that he was starting to question his spot on the roster (pre-emptive strike: It was said in jest so do NOT hastily extract this nugget to fashion into your own blog post that misrepresents the tone). Smith has grown into a fan favorite because of his effort, hustle and energy he brings off the bench. He’s hitting the mid-range jumper when he pops on the pick-and-roll and is flashing some of his underrated athleticism with highlight-reel blocks and dunks diving to the basket. Most nights, he’s the best player off the bench.

-- The second-biggest free-agent acquisition, Andrew Nicholson, is completely out of the rotation. He has the old-man game but appears out of place when the game is played at a faster pace. Nicholson is a bench player so there was no mystery as to what his role would be. But he has accrued 25 DNP-CDs (did not play coach’s decision). Nicholson last played double-digit minutes Jan. 14. Given the length of his contract (four years), moving him will be next to impossible unless the Wizards sacrafice a  draft pick to do so.

-- Wall’s decision-making late in games or at the end of quarters has gone through the roof. He’s had his hero-ball moments but that was early. As his judgment has become more sound, so has everyone else’s. The Wizards late-game execution is a strength and it’s why they’re 11-4 in games decided by six points or less since Dec. 1.

-- The diversity in the offense has taken the ball out of Wall's hands more often but he's actually more productive. Since Dec. 1 when the turnaround began, the Wizards average 110.4 points (fifth), shoot 49.1 percent from the field (second), and 39 percent from three (tied for second). They're 28-10 in that stretch. For the season, Wall is 15th in the league in passes made per game at 59.8, and third in passes received at 76.3. Last season, Wall made 70.9 passes and recevied 83.9, which were the most per game of any player in the NBA in both categories. He created 24.7 points, which was second-best in the league then. By involving more players in the offense, even though Wall handles the ball less to pass and receives fewer passes per game, he's actually averaging more points created at 25.3, second only to James Harden.

-- Kelly Oubre has had an up-and-down season, but the 6-7 forward being inserted into the rotation with Otto Porter as the "stretch" option is what led to the surge. So Oubre's stat line (6.2 points, 29.6 percent three-point shooting) isn't neccessarily indicative of his importance to the Wizards. When he was dispensed to defend Isaiah Thomas in the fourth quarter of the last meeting with the Celtics, it solidified his spot as a three-position defender. He held Thomas to four points in the fourth quarter. His 7-2 wingspan and athleticism can't be duplicated anywhere else on the roster.

-- Beal not being an All-Star is one thing, but the fact that he received so little respect in the initial voting process was stunning. He was 14th among fans and eighth among media voting. It shouldn’t have come down to a commissioner’s pick as to whether or not he made it. Defensively, he's been the most consistent perimeter defender all season.

-- If Sheldon McClellan or Marcus Thornton has to fill void behind Beal as a scorer, a trade has to happen. Tomas Satoransky has had mixed results, but he's 6-7, starting to be more confident in his shot and can defend because his size helps him bother smaller guards. To give up on Satoransky would be a mistake because his IQ and effort can't be taught. 

-- Otto Porter’s three-point shooting. That he’d become better with the deep ball isn’t a surprise. He was sub-par for most of last season shooting in the low 30s. Then he raised it to about 37 percent by season’s end, which is better than average. But he’s now almost 10 percent better and taking a career-high 4.6 three-pointers per game.

-- Brooks is an elite coach. I’ve never been a fan of the logic that states because a coach either didn’t win at a previous stop or didn’t take a team with a lot of talent far enough (see Brooks with the Oklahoma City Thunder) then that coach isn’t a good coach. That’s not how you measure coaches. The same was said about Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat. First, coaching is about much more than what happens during 48 minutes on the court. It has to do with more than Xs and Os, and it has to do with having players who allow themselves to be coached. College basketball is about coaches. It’s their system vs the other coach’s system. The NBA is about players. It’s no coincidence that those who make the most money determine that tone. It was proven in last year’s Western Conference finals that Brooks wasn’t the problem with Oklahoma City. Box scores don’t necessarily tell you who the best players are in a game. Neither does a coaching record, and Brooks’ was already pretty good.

Related: Did the Wizards miss an opportunity to trade for DeMarcus Cousins?

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Grizzlies trade Mike Conley to the Jazz

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Grizzlies trade Mike Conley to the Jazz

A person with knowledge of the decision says the Memphis Grizzlies have traded veteran point guard Mike Conley, who has played the most games in franchise history, to the Utah Jazz.

The person says the Grizzlies swapped Conley for Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver and Grayson Allen. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because neither Memphis nor Utah has announced the trade.

ESPN.com first reported the deal, which it says also includes Utah's No. 23 pick overall in Thursday night's draft. 

Conley was the final piece of the core that led the Grizzlies to seven consecutive playoff berths, including the 2013 Western Conference Finals. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen left in 2017 as free agents, and Memphis traded Marc Gasol to Toronto in February, splitting up a duo that had been the NBA's longest-tenured teammates. Gasol went on to help the Raptors win their first NBA title.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has since confirmed that Memphis will also be receiving a 2020 protected first-round pick, which will either convey as a late-lottery pick in 2020 and 2021 or become a lightly-protected pick from 2022-2024. 

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

 

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Isaiah Roby's journey from small town unknown to potential NBA Draft steal

Isaiah Roby's journey from small town unknown to potential NBA Draft steal

Watch I Am the Prospect: Isaiah Roby in full in the video player above. A five-part series, I Am the Prospect follows top basketball prospects in their journey to the 2019 NBA Draft.

One hundred miles west of Chicago sits Dixon, Illinois, a small city of around 15,000 not at all known for producing star basketball players. 

But for Nebraska forward and potential NBA Draft pick Isaiah Roby, it's home. 

"Small town kid, it's something that's always been a part of my identity," Roby told NBC Sports Washington for I Am the Prospect. "I have that underdog mentality and a chip on my shoulder of being from a small town. I have a lot of pride in that."

"I think I'm one of only two or three guys to play Division I basketball out of my town, and that's something I'm really proud of."

Roby's struggle against small town obscurity began at a young age, back when he was playing AAU ball. 

"It took a lot to get to this point for me, especially coming from a small town with not a lot of opportunities so it takes a lot of time and dedication, countless miles," he said. "I would drive 90 minutes roundtrip, or both ways, just for practice, AAU practice."

And in Roby's case, he wasn't the only one making those long trips and dedicating countless hours to furthering his basketball career. Roby credits his mother, Danielle, as a big reason why he's where he is now.

"She sacrificed a lot for me to be in the place I am today and she's my biggest motivator," he said. "She's the reason that I was able to play AAU basketball because those things aren't cheap. You know, traveling, paying for team fees, paying for hotel fees.

"My mom picked up multiple jobs at a time for me to be in those positions and in order for me to be where I am today."

Roby began to gain recognition in Dixon because of his skills on the basketball floor. So much so, his "stardom" affected his job. 

"Growing up, I worked at a restaurant in Dixon, 'world's tallest host' they were saying," Roby recalled. "First I was a host, and as I got better in basketball, people started to recognize me more. They had to move me to the back because it took too long for me to sit people at tables."

However, outside of his hometown, Roby was still relatively unknown. He only received one scholarship offer from a Divison I school, Nebraska, which like Dixon had little basketball history. 

But it was that chance to make some history which sold Roby on becoming a Cornhusker.

"Probably the biggest reason I ended up at Nebraska is because of the coaching staff and the facilities they have there," he said. "Coaches sold me on being a part of something new, trying to start something new at a university. Nebraska is not known for basketball, but they kind of sold me on being a special time in Nebraska basketball history, so that was something that I definitely wanted to be a part of."

During his sophomore and junior seasons in Lincoln, Roby helped the Cornhuskers earn back-to-back berths in the NIT, Nebraska's first postseason appearances since making the NCAA Tournament in 2014. 

In fact, Roby led Nebraska to its first postseason win since 2008, scoring a career-high 28 points in the Cornhuskers' 80-76 victory over Butler in the 2019 NIT first round. 

Now, he has his sights set on the NBA. Roby projects as a low first-round or second-round pick, NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig ranking Roby No. 41 on his latest 2019 NBA Draft Big Board.

And after beating the odds to play for a Division I program, Roby believes he can do the same at the next level. 

"In every gym I go into I feel like I'm the best player, so I'm just trying to prove that to all these NBA teams," Roby said. "And at the end of the day, if I get a chance, I'm the type of player that's gonna work hard."

"I know I need to work on parts of my game and develop further, but I think down the line I'm going to be a starter in this league and a player that sticks around for multiple years."

Roby has aspirations to do good work off the court as well, remembering how others helped him and his family in times of need. 

"I grew up in a Habitat for Humanity home. My family did things like shop with a cop on Christmas. The local police department would come and give my family a turkey for Thanksgiving." 

"I've had all these opportunities for people to help me and my family out, so that's something I definitely want to be involved [with] in the NBA," he said. "Being a positive role model for kids in the community, these are all things I'm looking forward to doing for an NBA team."

And as potentially the first native of Dixon to make the NBA, Roby's journey can provide inspiration to anyone with dreams that may seem impossible. 

"I'm living proof that it's possible to come out of anywhere no matter what the situation," Roby said. "If you really, truly care about it enough, anything is possible."

I AM THE PROSPECT