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Morning tip: Marcin Gortat respects Dwight Howard. 'He made me a better player'

Morning tip: Marcin Gortat respects Dwight Howard. 'He made me a better player'

The battles between Marcin Gortat and Dwight Howard took place long before these NBA playoffs. For three-plus years the 32-year-old Polish center went at Howard in spirited practices with the Orlando Magic. Their history is well-documented, and a 1-0 series lead for the Wizards doesn't mean he's going to engage in any more chatter than necessary. 

"When I see people tell me that Dwight did this this and that, and the end of the day I know what this kid is going to bring to the table," said Gortat, who had 14 points 10 rebounds in Sunday's 114-107 victory against the Atlanta Hawks. "I'll have to guard him for at least three more games. I'm going to cut (the nonsense) off at this point. I know what this guy is."

Howard had a game-high 14 rebounds but only scored seven points. He shot 2-for-6. Gortat was a dunking machine, even drawing a technical foul for taunting Paul Millsap. 

That likely won't happen with Howard, who is one year younger and in his first year in Atlanta. It's his third team since leaving Orlando in 2012. Gortat, who was a backup who started 19 games in his time here, was traded the previous year to the Phoenix Suns. Two years after that, he was shipped to the Wizards. 

"I know exactly what its like defending Dwight for the first four years. You got to bring your best. You better not lose your focus becuase he's going to punish you, hurt you really bad," Gortat said. "I just try to stay focused for 48 minutes. I'm not going to say anything crazy because I truly respect the guy. We're going to have our little shoving matches, pushes, garbage-talking but at the end of the day he's my vet. He took care of me back in Orlando. I'll never forget what he did for me. That he made me a better player."

[RELATED: Smith, Oubre, sit out Wizards' practice with injuries]

Their battles in practice were tougher than what Gortat experienced in Game 1. It could ratchet upwards in Game 2 Wednesday. The league determined in it's last two-minute report that Gortat got away with two fouls, both came on holds of Howard and Mike Muscala on rebounds. 

"One thing I really love about Dwight is after the game he doesn't take anything personally. I'm not going to take anything personally. Even though he made me bleed every day for my first four years in the NBA. I bled everyday in practice," Gortat said. "I learned to play tough basketball. He made me who I am today. I was going against an animal in practice."

Gortat played good position defense. He helped seal off the lanes to the basket and kept Howard on his hip simultaneously. He beat Howard down the floor, dunked, and got back on the defensive end to push him off the low block before the entry pass came. It was the type of high-motor effort that'll be required for the Wizards to get through this stretch without Ian Mahinmi (strained left calf).

"The stuff that's going down here in the game, imagine the same stuff going three times harder in  practice where you don't have whistles, fouls and stuff like that," Gortat said of the Orlando days. "It was pretty much for me about surviving practice, going to the weight room every day, lift hard because otherwise I'm going to end up in the hospital or a wheelchair."

He avoided the foul trouble that had slowed him in a lot of games after the All-Star break, too. 

"I can't get relaxed over there and make sure I control those fouls," Gortat said. "It's better to have those three, four fouls in the fourth quarter where I can spend them just in case."

[RELATED: Millsap sees Morris, Wizards' trash talking as a trap]

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Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

John Wall last played in an NBA game on December 26, 2018. He's expected to come back at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, and once he makes his long-awaited return to the Wizards' starting lineup, he'll find himself in a much different point guard landscape than the one he left. 

The position has changed, traditional point guards are mostly a thing of the past. NBA offenses are either run through multiple ball-handlers who can score and facilitate, or they're one-man shows centered around highly skilled individuals such as James Harden and Luka Doncic. 

Wall has consistently been one of the best in the league at his position, but after missing a year to an Achilles injury, it's hard to forecast where his game will be come next season. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 point guards in the game (all presumed healthy), and see where Wall falls on the list. 

1. James Harden
2. Luka Doncic
3. Damian Lillard
4. Steph Curry
5. Chris Paul
6. Kyrie Irving
7. John Wall
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Kemba Walker
10. Kyle Lowry

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Wall has the talent to be in the top three of this list for sure, though it's difficult to put him anywhere but No. 7 right now. He's probably a tier above Walker and Lowry, while Wall and Westbrook are more comparable players. 

Irving, Curry and Lillard are too good and have been consistently great enough to where you can't put them below Wall, while Paul might be a great inspiration for players like Wall. Paul keeps getting older and keeps getting hurt but he's still so, so good. 

Then you have the two walking offensive systems in Doncic and Harden. Their production and what they do for their teams as primary ball-handlers is mostly unmatched across the eight players listed below them. 

Wall could rise all the way to the top of this list if he plays to his full abilities. The speed, perimeter defense, passing and dribble penetration made him an All-NBA level player. If Wall can improve his accuracy from beyond the arc, take more threes and fewer mid-range jumpers, I don't see why he can't see an uptick in efficiency even if his athleticism isn't what it used to be.

It's not a reach to say the Wizards' contention hopes depend heavily on whether Wall plays back to All-Star form or not. An Achilles injury is incredibly challenging to bounce back from, especially for a player like Wall whose game has had so much to do with speed and explosion in the past. 

The good news is he's had a chance to digest the game from a different perspective and time to fine-tune his jumper, while his Wizards teammates, especially Bradley Beal, are better than when he last suited up. 

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2020 NBA Draft: Robert Woodard II could be one of the best prospects no one is talking about

2020 NBA Draft: Robert Woodard II could be one of the best prospects no one is talking about

The Washington Wizards are likely to have a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2020 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Robert Woodard II

Team: Mississippi State
Position: SF
Age: 20 (turns 21 in September)
Height: 6-7
Weight: 230
Wingspan: 7-1

2019/20 stats: 31 G, 33.1 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg, 49.5 FG% (4.4/8.9), 42.9 3PT% (1.0/2.3), 64.1 FT%

Player comparison: Jae Crowder, Chandler Parsons

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, Sports Illustrated 43rd, Ringer 28th, NBADraft.net N/A, Bleacher Report N/A

5 things to know:

*Few players in college basketball took as big of a jump as Woodard from his freshman year to his sophomore season. He transitioned from a bench role player that could do a little bit of everything, into an able-bodied scorer off the ball that could take advantage of multiple size matchups. His scoring improved by a six-point average and had a key role in the Bulldogs' offense.

*Most impressive for Woodard was the development of an outside shot. His growth included a 15% jump from long-range with an added confidence to score at all three levels. Mind you, his 42.9% shooting was only on 70 attempts and an area of his game that was not previously highlighted. 

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*How Woodard fits on an NBA roster is what has mock draft experts split on where he will be selected. Some don't even have him being drafted. It seems he's most natural on the floor playing as a guard, however, he has a high dribble and commits two turnovers a game for someone that typically does not run the point. He has the accuracy to be a wing scorer, but lacks the consistent shot selection of a 3-point threat. Some evaluators see him as an undersized four, for his rebounding and presence around the rim, but his post-moves are really nonexistent. 

*Woodard is built well and has an NBA-ready frame. It led him to be an effective rebounder 6.5 boards per game as a nontraditional post player and a good defender with the agility to block shots. He also has a high basketball IQ which makes him a high-level defender off the ball.

*Woodard's father, Robert Woodard is Mississippi's all-time high school scorer with 4,274 points. He also continued his playing days at Mississippi State. 

Fit with Wizards: Positional flexibility with a knack for hitting 3-pointers would be why the Wizards would take a chance on Woodard. Many of the fundamentals of his game are already set which wouldn't mean Washington would need to spend time on development. 

He has a similar offensive game to Rui Hachimura: Nice size and build, that occasionally also steps out behind the arc. He can also rotate to multiple positions.

How the Wizards would utilize Woodard remains to be seen though. Backing up Hachimura, who was drafted just the year prior is not a long-term sustainable plan. Having Woodard even be a bigger wing (ie. Davis Bertans if re-signed) would be another back-up role. Yet, Woodard does not nearly jack up as many threes as Bertans. Playing Woodard as a guard isn't really in the cards either.

A depth piece that can fit in multiple spots is Woodard's biggest asset for the Wizards. And from there they could develop him into the role they see fit. His one season of a robust 3-point shooter is not enough to see that being his future.

There's not much to justify him going in the lottery. However, if Tommy Sheppard wants to add a young, NBA ready-built player in the second round or even as an undrafted free agent, Woodard could provide value in those spots. The athleticism and ability are there.

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