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Morning tip: Wizards reach midway point of season on a high note

Morning tip: Wizards reach midway point of season on a high note

The halfway point for the Wizards isn't the All-Star break which comes before the Feb. 19 game in New Orleans. It's now, following Wednesday's 104-101 win against the Memphis Grizzlies to put them three games over .500.

After playing out of a hole under first-year coach Scott Brooks, they're 22-19 through 41 games. John Wall and Bradley Beal are playing at an All-Star level. Otto Porter is having a career season and will be a candidate for the league's Most Improved Player, Marcin Gortat is a rebounding machine who is having his best season since arriving in Washington in 2013 and Markieff Morris has put together his best stretch of play since arriving in a trade almost a year ago.

It’s time to look at the highlights and lowlights:

Starting 5: Beal and Wall are averaging career-highs -- and set career high points for a game (Wall, 52; Beal, 42) -- and the offense is potent. They've gone away from high pick-and-rolls to initate the offense which has added more diversity and made both more difficult to cover. It hasn't negatively impacted the numbers of the role players. In fact, it's involved them more. They are a major reason why the team is averaging 108.6 points per 100 possessions, their highest since 2007-08. 

The bench: A lot of the early-season losses can be parked at the feet of no production from the reserves, who have struggled because of point guard play (Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky), rim protection (Ian Mahinmi) and defensive inefficiencies (Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton). That has put a heavy burden on the starters to play more minutes than what's ideal, but Burke has shown signs of being effective in spots and Satoransky has rebounded after confidence issues with his shot. Mahinmi has been a non-factor due to injury, but Jason Smith's play has been remarkable at both ends. Kelly Oubre has had his spots, too, though not as consistently as Smith. Thornton is completely out of the rotation. 

[RELATED: Coach Brooks, Wizards take stock at midpoint of season]

The rookies: Sheldon McClellan has been in and out of the rotation. With every one step forward (see wins over Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks) he takes two steps back (see next game vs. Chicago Bulls). He made key reads and passes that led to big shots in the first two, getting his points off hustle plays and in transtion, only to muck it up with bad decision-making on defense against the Bulls. Still, McClellan is a better option than Thornton and likely will get more looks but Satoransky is monopolizing the time now. Daniel Ochefu would've already played in the D-League if it weren't for Mahinmi's injury. They need the big body, but the Wizards like Ochefu and feel he's worth developing. Danuel House (right wrist) still is in a brace but should be out of it soon.

Best win: Dec. 18 vs. L.A. Clippers. Beal came one point shy of tying his career-high with 41 points, Wall had a double-double and Morris put up 23 points and nine rebounds in a fierce fourth-quarter comeback against an elite team. And they were short-handed with Kelly Oubre out because of a concussion. 

Worst loss: Dec. 6 vs. Orlando Magic. Wall set a career-high with 52 points and it still wasn't enough to beat a team that has trouble scoring. But because of bad all-around defense, Orlando had seven players in double figures led by Elfrid Payton's career-high 25. And it occured at Verizon Center. That edges out the Dec. 23 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks who scored 73 in the first half and won by 27. 

Biggest surprise: Smith. The way he began the season, looking confused and frequently fumbling the ball in offensive sets, didn't give cause for optimism. But he's not just playing well offensively by knocking down the mid-range jumper and occasional three but rotating properly on defense to serve as a rim protector. High-flying dunker Zach LaVine found that out when Smith challenged him running full speed at the rim. Smith won out. 

Biggest hurdle: Bench scoring on the road. The Wizards are 4-13. Reserves, by definition, don't play as well away from home. That's why they come off the bench. Burke shoots 53.6% from three at home. That dips to 25% on the road.

Projected record at All-Star break: 30-25.

[RELATED: CMills asks why Wall, Beal don't get more national attention]

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John Wall embracing role as assistant coach during injury rehab

John Wall embracing role as assistant coach during injury rehab

WASHINGTON -- John Wall has already made enough money during his basketball career to last a lifetime and his new supermax contract worth $170 million is just kicking in. When he is done playing in the NBA, he doesn't have to do anything at all if he doesn't want to.

But there is at least a small part of Wall that believes coaching could be in his future. He loves the game enough to not rule out the possibility.

This year will give him a taste of what being a coach is all about. While he rehabs his ruptured left Achilles, he will serve as an unofficial assistant to head coach Scott Brooks. Wall will be asked to break down film with players, advise on plays to run and help the team's young point guards in practice.

Wall isn't sure as of today whether he wants to coach when his playing days are over. But he may have an answer in just a few months.

"I think this year will tell me whether I can be a coach or not," Wall told NBC Sports Washington on the Wizards Talk podcast. 

"I think you have to have a lot of patience and you've gotta know how to interact with every player. Every player's attitudes and character and mood swings are totally different. I learned from when a coach tried to coach me when I was young and I wasn't the guy to coach."

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard envisions Wall as an important part of the locker room, even when he isn't playing. Part of his role may include some tough conversations with players. As Sheppard says, Wall may be able to deliver some messages that resonate more from a peer than if they came from a coach. 

Wall knows he can help in that regard. He has long been a vocal presence for the Wizards and had to assume the role as a team leader at an early age. After coming in as the No. 1 overall pick, he was a franchise player from the time he was 19 years old.

Wall's personality may also lend itself to those duties. He is very honest, whether it be with teammates or the media. 

"I like to speak my mind," he said. "It's like my momma always told me, 'I'd rather you speak your mind and say what you want to say, but say it in a respectful manner and a respectful way.'"

Wall, in fact, has a detailed philosophy on being honest. He doesn't like to lie whether it's in a media setting, to teammates or in everyday life.

It's not quite a Jim Carrey in 'Liar, Liar' deal, but Wall sees no point in beating around the bush. If he has something to say to a teammate or the media, he will say it.

"I don't know how to not give you the truth," he said. "What I've learned is that when you lie, you've gotta remember that lie exactly the way you said it for the next 12 people you tell it to. So, why make it that tough?"

Wall is set to miss at least the first few months of the Wizards' 2019-20 season and he could be sidelined the entire year. He said he hopes to have a similar impact that Kristi Tolliver did with the Mystics this past season where she remained active as a veteran leader in the locker room despite not being able to help the team on the floor for weeks due to a knee injury.

Missing so much time due to injury is not the ideal situation for Wall, but he plans to make the most of it.

"It will make my game a lot smarter and better for when I come back," he said.

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After setbacks in rehab, John Wall is appreciating the little things in life

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After setbacks in rehab, John Wall is appreciating the little things in life

WASHINGTON -- John Wall has been all smiles in public when discussing his rehab from Achilles surgery. He has even remarked how smoothly this recovery has gone compared to others he's underwent in the past.

But his road back from a ruptured left Achilles has not been entirely free of obstacles. He revealed to NBC Sports Washington on the Wizards Talk podcast recently that he dealt with an infection that delayed him getting out of his walking boot.

That was already weeks after he first had surgery to remove bone spurs from his heel in January. He had a series of infections following that procedure, one of which helped doctors discover his Achilles had torn during a fall in his home.

Wall can admit now after the fact it was a difficult time for him.

"I've just put in a lot of hard work," he said. "For me to be where I'm at right now, with all the setbacks and infections and then finding out my Achilles was ruptured and then going through another infection, it was like 'man, when can I ever get past that point of just getting out of the boot and walking?'"

What made that last part particularly frustrating was where Wall makes his offseason home. He summers in Miami, a place notorious for its humidity.

"I was in Miami during the summertime in a boot. Like, man, I don't want to be in hot Miami in a boot, sweating," he said.

Nowadays, things are much better for Wall. He is doing on-court work at the Wizards' practice facility. He can shoot jumpers and do individual ball-handling and passing drills. He can jog and lift weights.

After months of waiting to just have his walking boot come off, Wall is very appreciative to simply be able to do anything on the basketball court.

"Just to do the ball-handling and be able to shoot and do the weight-lifting, that's a great aspect [of my progress]. It makes it easier for me because I'm in a great space where it's fun," he said. 

"I'm able to do what I'm able to do, even if I'm not playing at a high speed and running up and down, I'm able to shoot and do ball-handling. That's what I love to do."

Wall continues to make progress, now nine months removed from the Achilles surgery he had on Feb. 12. He is likely to be out at least three more months, and he could miss all of the 2019-20 season.

At some point, Wall may get restless, but he continues to preach patience towards his return. When asked by Chris Miller if he will start bothering the coaches soon to play, he said he's just happy to be back on the court in practice.

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