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Morning tip: Paul George prefers starting 5 like Wizards'

Morning tip: Paul George prefers starting 5 like Wizards'

NEW ORLEANS -- The Wizards are where the Indiana Pacers, who eliminated them in the 2014 playoffs, want to be. They still have one of the game's best two-way players in Paul George but they're severely lacking in one area that's already been solved at 601 F Street.

George, who defends three positions on the perimeter, wants an Otto Porter or Markieff Morris next to him. 

"We definitely need shooters, somebody that can defend and stretch the floor for us a little bit more. Just go with the trend what the NBA is doing," said George after the East team practiced Saturday at the Superdome. "A lot of teams have stretch bigs or playing four perimeter guys that can shoot the ball. We got to follow the trend and put oursevles on that level to compete against those stretch teams."

It's such a vital part of a team's success, the Wizards traded a 2016 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Morris last year before the deadline. They were better with him but still failed to qualify for the postseason at 41-41.

With a full season to get acclimated, Morris has taken off. Seven of his eight double-doubles have come since Jan. 8. With coverages shading towards John Wall, Bradley Beal and now Porter, he's often found himself wide open and has elevated his three-point accuracy to a career-high 36.7%. And the Wizards gave up a pick in a draft that was regarded as shallow outside of the top 10 selections (Georgios Papagiannis was taken 13th by Phoenix with Washington's pick).

When coach Scott Brooks goes to a smaller lineup, he'll shift Porter as a "stretch" option at the four spot. He's shooting an NBA-leading 46.5% from three-point range.

[RELATED: DeMarcus Cousins says Wall is NBA's best point guard]

George has been running out of gas. After having to defend LeBron James and play 36 minutes in a 113-104 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednedsay, George drew the assignment on Beal the next night. 

Porter made his first four three-pointers and George was tasked with tracking him instead. Beal was able to get free in the meantime and go 4-for-7 from deep. George only had 17 points in 37 minutes. In those two games combined, George shot 10-for-38, or 26.3%.

That's the value of having a stretch option such as Morris, who can face up bigs and beat them off the dribble, post up smaller players or shoot over them easily, or Porter. He's too quick for traditional bigs. He's too long for undersized players. 

"I don't complain about it. It's what made me," George said of the burden of being the best offensive and defensive player for the Pacers for 82 games. "I look forward to playing both ends of the floor but it gets exhausting. It's hard night in, night out to go from guarding a LeBron who is strong and physical, who is going to wear you down and then chasing a Bradley Beal. It takes a toll on you. Getting other teams' best defensive guys who are going to be physical, just getting hit, taking contact, it's draining. It's a phsyical toll. If we can get some more guys who can alleviate some of that we'll be much better off."

The Wizards (34-21) have won the season series 3-1 with Indiana (29-28).  The Pacers were a difficult out in the past with George. Washington pushed the then-No. 1 seed to six games in the East semifinals.

That's when the Wizards had Nene, a tradition 7-foot big who played 15 feet out. There were spacing issues with him occupying the low block with Marcin Gortat. 

Then the Wizards failed with a small-ball lineup last season, starting Kris Humphries and later Jared Dudley as at the "stretch" forward and bringing Nene off the bench. George and C.J. Miles responded by shooting 15-for-17 from three-point range in that blowout Nov. 24. 

With Morris, the Wizards have found the size and strength with finesse. Their guards have more room to roam. The shots come easier and the Wizards are a more explosive offense, averaging 108.1 points per game which is seventh-best in the NBA.

"You really don't see traditional center-power forward lineups. It's a couple teams that do it. They're really going away from that," George said. "They want to speed the game up. They want more possessions. In order to keep up with those teams you have to have a lineup that can match up and compete against those kind of teams."

[RELATED: Carmelo on getting final All-Star spot: 'It was a downer']

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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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