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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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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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