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.
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."