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Morning tip: Wittman won't tip hand about Wizards' rotations

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Morning tip: Wittman won't tip hand about Wizards' rotations

In the last week of preseason, some coaches settle on their rotations and allow the free agents on the roster to get playing time before most get waived. Randy Wittman, who hasn't had Martell Webster or Alan Anderson, figures he won't change much with the Wizards' game tonight at the Miami Heat and the finale Friday vs. the Toronto Raptors in Montreal.

“I’m probably going to play the same we’ve played," said Wittman. "I’m not worried about getting into regular minutes. Our starters have gone anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes.”

Nene hasn't played since Oct. 11 because of a sore right calf. Jared Dudley (lower back surgery) is expected to make his Wizards debut before the exhibitions wrap up.

So that means trotting out the starting five of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kris Humphries and Marcin Gortat. Where rookie Kelly Oubre slots is another matter. He's a small forward and comes in behind Porter. Dudley is a career small forward but is projected to me used more as a "stretch" power forward off the bench. So is Drew Gooden, who probably should continue to be the first one to fill in for Humphries. 

Of course, Gooden and Dudley are better three-point shooters than Humphries who has made just two in his career during the regular season. Both of those came when he was a rookie in 2004. Could Humphries end up the odd man out again, like he was going into the playoffs last season?

When Dudley gets into top shape, he'll play both forward spots pending matchups. The educated guess here is Oubre, who like Porter when he was a rookie, struggles with the defensive assignments in the Wizards' system, will have his time reduced until he gets up to speed. When the 19-year-old is ready, then he'll see more time and get it consistently.

But with Webster (right hip) and Anderson (left ankle) out of the picture for now, it'll give Oubre a chance to get spot minutes. The Wizards are 4-1 in the preseason, but it's the regular season record that matters. 

"We’re moving in the right direction," Wittman said about how his players are adjusting to the new offense. "We jut got to continue to keep that focus from a transitional (defense) standpoint, from running hard one end to make sure we’re running hard on the other end. We’ve got to make that our number one priority. We got better against Milwaukee in that aspect than we did against Philly. Those are the things we got to continue to clean up.

“They’ve done a good job of understand of how we want to play and trying to play that way for 48 minutes. Right now I see a dropoff just when we get tired. I got to do a good job of recognizing that, getting guys in and out."

[RELATED: Wall gets legendary praise for off-court charity work]

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Otto Porter Jr., Ian Mahinmi react to new reality under Scott Brooks where minutes aren't guaranteed

Otto Porter Jr., Ian Mahinmi react to new reality under Scott Brooks where minutes aren't guaranteed

Through his first two seasons in Washington, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks was not known to make significant adjustments to his lineup. In his first season coaching the Wizards, 2016-17, he didn't really need to. They had the best season for the franchise, 49-33, since the 1970s.

Last year, the tweaks he made were largely by necessity. John Wall missed 41 games and he had to adjust.

What Brooks has been doing in recent games with his Wizards' rotation are something we haven't really seen before. First, he benched Ian Mahinmi for three games. Then, he sat Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. in the fourth quarter. 

Morris returned to play fourth quarter minutes on Monday in their win against the Magic, but Porter remained on the bench, sitting in the last seat on the end with a towel over his head, rising periodically to clap and cheer on his teammates.

Such is life for the Wizards right now. They are off to a 4-9 start, well below their standards, and Brooks is doing whatever he can to right the ship. So far, those decisions have paid off, as they have won two straight games for the first time this season.

"We weren't winning, so I had to make some changes," Brooks said.

Brooks, it appears, has reached a new point in his tenure with the Wizards. He is willing to sit key players in his rotation, and ones that happen to make a good deal of money. Porter is the highest-paid player on the team, carrying a salary of $26 million and Mahinmi is not far behind at $15.9 million.

As Brooks insists, it isn't quite as simple as him deciding to bench a player. It has much to do with the flow of the game and how he simply has more options at his disposal this year.

Instead of Morris and Porter, he has rolled with Austin Rivers and Jeff Green in the fourth quarter. Both Rivers and Green weren't on the team last season.

Rivers gives them more speed in a three-guard lineup and plays physical defense on the perimeter. Green has been shooting lights-out and is one of their most versatile players on both ends of the floor.

The added depth on the Wizards' roster has set in a new reality for Brooks. The players are beginning to understand that.

"We do have depth. That's the thing," Porter said. "We have so many good players that are interchangeable. We're just finding ways to win."

"It is definitely evolving into something different that I haven't seen before," Mahinmi said. "I remember a few years back, it was a defined first unit and second unit. If the second unit was going, he would let them run and let it ride. With this roster, we have even more flexibility than last year."

Porter played just 22 minutes against the Magic. He has been held to under 24 minutes in three straight games. The lack of playing time has crushed his numbers. He has just 21 total points in those three outings.

Mahinmi is averaging only 14.1 minutes per game this season, his fewest since 2010-11. And that number is skewed by the fact he started six games to begin the year with Dwight Howard nursing an injury.

The evolving rotation has required an adjustment for the players. Though it doesn't change how they prepare for games, they now understand that surprises can happen.

"He's made a whole lot of change from a game-to-game basis. I'm with [everyone else]. I'm seeing it has it goes," Mahinmi said. "[It's like] 'I guess I'm not playing tonight.' Just stay ready. That's part of being a professional."

Mahinmi says he and other players aren't owed an explanation from Brooks when he makes those changes. And he is quick to say it doesn't bother him.

"As long as we win, I'm happy," he said.

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Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

Jeff Green lifts Wizards as fellow Hoya Otto Porter watches late again

The Wizards’ 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic Monday night was the tale of two Hoyas.

Washington brought Jeff Green back home this summer to help anchor the second unit with his defensive versatility and scoring spurts. Both aspects were on display in the fourth quarter, as the Wizards finally broke free from the Magic.

Another former Georgetown star, Otto Porter, was nowhere to be found in the fourth. Zero minutes for a third consecutive game for the Wizards’ highest-paid player, thus adding another layer of weird to his season.

The why is a topic. For a team that registered its first winning streak of the season after a 2-9 start, all that matters is finding success. That was the postgame message from Scott Brooks.

There’s no detective work required as to why Green turned into a late-game staple.

After his 19-point outing in Saturday’s win at Miami, the streaky scorer had 10 of his 18 in the final period against Orlando with four 3-pointers. Defensively the 6-foot-9 forward offers Brooks an option the roster lacked last season: a versatile player capable of guarding on the perimeter and, as was the case against Orlando center Nik Vucevic, inside against bigger players.

“We need his all-around play,” Brooks said. “He can guard just about everybody on the floor. … I thought [Jeff] did a pretty good job on the big fellow.”

Green and Markieff Morris handled the interior spots the entire fourth quarter. When the forwards can match up with opposing four’s and five’s on defense, it typically means their scoring presence opens the court for penetrating guards John Wall and Bradley Beal on the other end.

Green sinking bombs throughout the game helped as well. He finished four of five from deep with two coming in the fourth. The career 33 percent 3-point shooter is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall.

“He's starting to get a little bit of rhythm from the three-point line, and we need that from him,” Brooks said.

Maybe Green isn’t the ideal athletic-4 Wall called for in recent years, but the on-court connection between the power forward and point guard is evident. During the decisive 14-4 run, the two hooked up for an alley-oop lob that's turned into a go-to play for Washington.

With shooters surrounding the duo, Wall dribbles toward the left elbow, taking all eyes with him. Green immediately turns down an open lane and rolls to the rim before rising high to meet the toss.

“We have shooters, we have guys that have to [be] respected,” Green said of the play. “It keeps [defenders] at bay, and with John’s speed, to get downhill at the rim, you have to help (on him).”

Wall passed on offering any keys to the play’s success (“We just tweaked a little bit of the play. I can’t tell you about, but it’s kind of working for us.”), but he praised Green’s performance with ease.

“That’s what we got Jeff for,” Wall said.

The Wizards matched that massive four-year, $106.5 million restricted offer sheet Porter signed with Brooklyn in 2017 for all kinds of reasons. Among them, he’s an instinct-rich player who makes winning plays and ranks among the most accurate 3-point shooters in the league. Those traits haven’t kept Porter on the court late in games recently in part because they haven’t shown in full-throated ways.

The term “benching” is harsh, though the situation is odd. Morris sat out the final periods at Orlando and Miami. Dwight Howard didn’t enter the fourth Monday despite finishing with 17 points and eight rebounds. Only Porter’s sit streak reached three games.

The small forward played a strong defensive game in Saturday’s win at Miami, but Brooks rode with a group that gained momentum as Washington surged past the Heat.

Porter is 9 of 16 on 3-pointers over the last four games. That’s only one aspect of the game. Brooks is looking for more. Porter took only one shot attempt in the first half Monday, lacked vigor defensively, and scored six points in 21 minutes. Kelly Oubre Jr., Porter's primary backup, played the entire fourth quarter instead despite finishing 0 for 5 from the floor.

"I mean, it's trying to find a blend of guys that are going to compete and going to play hard,” Brooks said of his lineup choices.

Asked specifically about Porter, Brooks said, “It’s just the way it is. Some games Otto is not going to have good games. Tonight isn’t one of them. He’ll bounce back. The guy is a winner. He knows how to play.”

Green and Porter honed their games at Georgetown under coach John Thompson III and turned into top-5 NBA Draft selections. The program is mostly closed off to the outside world, but a strong bond between the players exists regardless of when they played. The two forwards never joined forces until this season. Green knows Porter, enough to tell whether a helpful chat is required. This isn’t one of those times. 

“Otto is a pro, man,” Green told NBC Sports Washington. “I don’t have to say anything to Otto. He’s a team-first guy. He’s a guy who’s going to make sure whenever his name is called he’s going to be ready. He’s not worried about if he’s playing. I’m sure he’d like to be playing. He’s doing whatever it takes it to make sure the team is in a place to win.”

So is Scott Brooks. For now, that includes one former Georgetown star in the fourth quarter. It’s just not the obvious one.

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