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No panic button for slow starting Wizards

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No panic button for slow starting Wizards

The preseason trend of slow starts has remained an unwanted guest, home or away, for the Wizards thru the first two games of the regular season.

In the season opener at Cleveland, Washington trailed by seven in the first quarter, 11 at the half. Hosting Boston on Saturday, the Wizards were on the wrong end of game-starting 17-2 run. In both cases, offensive execution was largely to blame; Washington shot 32.6 percent during the first half against the Cavaliers and missed 13 of its first 14 attempts against the Celtics.

Open looks have been missed, early, and late. After the loss to Boston in which the Wizards were held without a point for the final almost the entire final 3 minutes, a blunt Jordan Crawford said, "We're forgetting plays." Following Tuesday's practice, Randy Wittman was asked for his take on the missing, the talk of forgetting, and the lack of offensive consistency.

"Execution is not there," the Wizards coach said. "Is it forgetting? Is it going to fast? Is it trying to do much and not trusting, whether it's the play or teammates? Our execution has to continue to be better. We have a lot of new faces. We're doing a lot of new things, even with the guys that were here."

Starters Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker, Bradley Beal and A.J. Price are collectively shooting a bricklaying 26.5 percent (22 of 83) through two games. Nobody from this currently clanking quintet started for Washington last year, which makes sense since all but Booker were not on last season's roster.

Specifically when the game tips off, Wittman added another component for those off-putting starts or rather a message he's telling his players: throw caution to the wind.

"I've got a belief in them. They have to believe in themselves," Wittman said. "We can't be tentative. We can't come out in the game - no matter who we're playing - and see how they are going to come out and play. Are they going to be high intensity, are they going to be dragging. I think we're doing that a little bit, how Boston is coming out, how Cleveland is coming instead of we're coming out one way or one way only."

Ariza, who missed all four of his shots against Boston, has seemingly been in a funk since training camp. Asked for his take on the scoring challenged starts, he sighed deeply before responding, "I think probably just trying to get used to each other. This is a new team for me, a new system for Emeka and I. Just trying to get used to everybody. It takes a little time."

It took little time for Kevin Seraphin to establish himself in his first game of the season. Out since Oct. 13 due to a right calf strain, Seraphin made 8 of 9 shots and scored 19 points against the Celtics, his 17th straight game with double digit points dating back to last season. Washington's next game comes Wednesday at Boston. We may not find out until then whether the third-year center enters the starting lineup, a spot he occupied during the closing stretch of last season.

Making changes for the sake of changes is not the coach's desire, and Wittman said he is "not pushing the panic button on anything." With all the new pieces, patience is a virtue. 

“You want guys to understand their roles, what’s expected of them. You’ve got to give that time,” Wittman said. “If I’m going to sit here on the third day and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to start five new players or three new players,’ I don’t know if I’m sending them the right message. Now, if it doesn’t improve, now that’s a decision I’ve got to go with, but right now I want to have trust in them that they’re going to try to fight through and do the right things.”

Anticipating a follow up question about much time is enough time before delivering other messages, Wittman joshed about not giving up that intelligence. If the shots start falling and the chemistry starts clicking, he might never have to - at least not until John Wall and Nene return.

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Markieff Morris' season...

Player: Markieff Morris

Position: Power forward

Age: 28

2017-18 salary: $8 million

2017-18 stats: 73 G, 27.0 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 48.0 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 82.0 FT%, 53.6 eFG%, 116 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 12/1 vs. Pistons - 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, zero turnovers, 10-for-16 FG, 2-for-3 3PT

Season review: It took quite a while for Markieff Morris to get healthy in the 2017-18 season. He was sidelined to begin last offseason with the ankle injury he suffered against the Celtics in the playoffs, then in September had surgery on both his abdomen and groin. The sports hernia surgery was known, while the groin procedure was revealed once the season was over.

Morris only missed nine games in the entire season, but took time to find his rhythm early. He averaged just 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in 14 games in the month of November. He picked it up after that, though he never quite reached the level we saw from him in 2016-17 in terms of volume production.

Morris played less minutes, took less shots, scored fewer points and grabbed less rebounds than the season before. On the other hand, he was more efficient than ever. Morris shot 48 percent from the field, his best since 2013-14, and posted career-highs in three-point percentage (36.7) and effective field-goal percentage (53.6). 

The Wizards could use more scoring from Morris moving forward, especially at times when one of their primary options is injured, as was the case in 2017-18 when John Wall missed 41 games. An active and engaged Morris changes everything for the Wizards. 

When Morris scored 15 points or more this season, the Wizards went 15-8. The season before, they went 22-9 when he got to the 15-point mark. 

It's a bit difficult to project Morris' role for the 2018-19 season at this point, given the fact he's entering a contract year and the most logical area for the Wizards to make significant changes (if they choose to) is in their frontcourt. Also, as Morris discussed in his exit interview, he knows more time at center in small-ball sets could be in his future.

Regardless of what happens with the team, it's a huge summer for Morris individually. If he sets himself up well for a big year in 2018-19, he could earn a nice payday in what might be his last long-term contract given his age.

Potential to improve: Rebounding, screens, scoring

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Marcin Gortat, C

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Marcin Gortat's season...

Player: Marcin Gortat

Position: Center

Age: 34

2017-18 salary: $12.8 million

2017-18 stats: 82 G, 25.3 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 51.8 FG%, 67.5 FT%, 51.8 eFG%, 112 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 10/18 vs. Sixers - 16 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks, assist, 7-for-12 FG

Season review: Marcin Gortat is self-aware enough to know that what happened to him in 2017-18 was inevitable in many ways. He even publicly called it before the season.

He was one year older, with Ian Mahinmi healthy and in the rotation, and with the NBA continuing to move towards small-ball and big men who can play on the perimeter. As a result, Gortat saw his role in the Wizards rotation pared down noticeably.

Though he still started all 82 games, his minutes went down from 31.2 per game the year before the 25.3. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who played the majority of the season coming off the bench, logged more minutes than Gortat, though he was a starter.

Gortat's minutes were his fewest since the 2009-10 season, when he was a 25-year-old bench player for the Orlando Magic. His numbers this season followed suit. Gortat's points and rebounds per game were both the lowest since that 2009-10 campaign.

Gortat averaged a career-best 10.4 rebounds per game in 2016-17, but the minutes had a direct effect on his volume of boards. He pulled in 2.4 less per game this season despite his rebound percentage (17.0) being close to his career average (17.5). That career average, by the way, is 30th-best all-time an eighth among active players.

Not getting the same opportunities he had in years past, plus public misunderstandings with teammates, combined to make for a frustrating year for Gortat. He said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast midseason it was the worst year of his career. Gortat, though, did continue to make an impact setting screens for the Wizards and he rallied to finish relatively strong.

He had several solid outings in the playoffs, including his 16 points in Game 3 and his 12 rebounds in Game 5. The question is whether that is the last time we will see Gortat in a Wizards uniform.

Washington has played with the idea of trading Gortat for a while now. He popped up in rumors around the trade deadline in February, but remained on the roster. Now he has an expiring contract working in his favor, making it a bit more likely he gets dealt.

Gortat knows his future in Washington is uncertain, though he said following the season he would like to stay. It would not be surprising to him or anyone if he were traded this summer. If not, he's got one year left with the Wizards and could very well have his role decreased even more.

Potential to improve: Rim protection, midrange shooting, free throw percentage

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!