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Morning tip: Wizards struggle through first quarter of season but bright spots exist

Morning tip: Wizards struggle through first quarter of season but bright spots exist

The season is 21 games old, or one-quarter complete, and the Wizards sit at 8-13 in a season full of curveballs following Thursday’s 92-85 win vs. the Denver Nuggets at Verizon Center.

This isn’t who they thought they were coming into the season after 41-41 and being out of the playoffs. President Ernie Grunfeld told CSNmidatlantic.com before the first game Oct. 27 that he expected coach Scott Brooks to produce a playoff team.

A lot has gone wrong, but some things have gone right:

--Ian Mahinmi, expected to be the anchor of the second unit because of his ability to protect the rim and play away from it in a pick-and-roll heavy league, has played just one game because of his knees. First, it was left knee surgery. Now it's tendinitis in the right one. Mahinmi will be held out of practice at least a week before he's re-evaluated, and his absence has forced Brooks to play Jason Smith likely more than he'd planned and Andrew Nicholson out of position.

--The backcourt of Trey Burke and Marcus Thornton hasn't worked, and in the former's case a second-round pick was given up to acquire him. Burke has shown recent signs of being viable with the second unit as he's more comfortable playing as a scorer rather than as a initiator of the offense. Tomas Satoransky has fallen out of the rotation though he has promise. He has to work on his jump shot to expand his game. Ultimately, he'll be the backup point guard but he was forced into duty sooner than Brooks anticipated, too. 

--The defense of John Wall and Markieff Morris hasn't been up to par for the first unit. With Wall, it's the dribble pentration that's allowed into the paint. He can defend, but gambling for steals costs him and he doesn't appear to always trust his teammates. Morris has been spectacular at times, most notably int he way he defended Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks and in the first two meetings with Serge Ibaka of the Orlando Magic. Since then, he hasn't been as good and his help rotations have been slow or half-hearted. Like Wall, it's not a matter of IQ or ability. And during the game with Denver, Morris was on completely different pages during key stretches late with Gortat. Wall and Morris each have five technical fouls, an indication that frustration in games may be eroding their focus as they harp on the officiating. Each has been ejected once.

--Otto Porter is a good defender. Among the starters, he has probably been the best though Beal is trending upward. Where Porter suffers, however, is against bigger players at small forward. He lacks the physical strength to deal with the elite ones though he did show well in a win over Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. Just as important, Porter's vulnerable to pick-and-roll coverages and dribble handoffs/pitches because he's not physical enough to blow up the action as Brooks would like. 

--The chemistry is off. This goes for starters to a lesser degree (primarily defensively), but at times they all look as if they're sharing the court together for the first time. Blown coverages, confusion about the play calls and not getting back in transition defense. These kinks should've been eliminated this deep into the process. 

--Kelly Oubre has been up and down, but lately he has been on the uptick. Brooks can go with him in the lineup with Porter, making them a more formidable defensive team. Oubre is the team's best defender as long as he keeps composure.

--Wall has scored a career-high 52 points. Beal has scored a career-high 42 points. Each has career-high averages as well. They're prospering on the court together at a level that they haven't in their previous years. The struggles of this team isn't because these two don't vibe well. 

--Sheldon McClellan is in the D-League, but he at least could be ready to defend on an NBA level. He has a ways to go on the offensive end, but when he started a game vs. the Chicago Bulls he gained the respect of Dwyane Wade. The undrafted rookie has promise though it might take a minute before it comes to fruition on the court. 

-- Offensively, Porter has reached the next level and has been the consistent third scorer that they've been missing. 

--Brooks' temperament gives them a chance to turn things around. There have been ample opportunities for the first-year coach to blow a gasket, toss his players under the bus and label them as "soft." He hasn't done that nor will he, and the equity he could be earning with his players could pay dividends in the long run. 

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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