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One on one: Wait, are we sure Wall-Beal not NBA's best backcourt?


One on one: Wait, are we sure Wall-Beal not NBA's best backcourt?

With the intense NBA offseason cooling down, there is time for reflection on what the Washington Wizards accomplished and a chance to look at the road ahead. For the next couple of weeks, CSNwashington.com Insider J. Michael and Wizards correspondent Ben Standig will examine various issues and answer questions as the Wizards move toward the 2015-16 campaign.

If Wall and Beal play this coming regular season at the level they performed during the postseason, are they the best backcourt in the league?

J. Michael: Of course, but this is a big “if” and I’m not a big fan of hypotheticals. Though the playoffs are a bigger stage – and the Wall-Beal combo was the best backcourt in the first two rounds -- being the best overall is about the long game and not a small snapshot in time. Wall and Beal were dominant for 10 games. The other 82? Wall was spectacular until late January, when his sore ankles started to slow him down. Beal has yet to play a full season or make it without that stress injury in his lower right leg. His third season was sub-par considering the expectations. 

The NBA’s best is Steph Curry and Klay Thompson until proven otherwise. There are no “ifs.”  They’ve done it for an entire season and did well enough in the postseason to help the Golden State Warriors to a championship. That’ll be difficult to top because it will always be the tiebreaker in a conversation about where Wall and Beal stack up. But can they be as good? Yes. 

Ben Standig: No. No, no. No. Nope. No...But, yeah, maybe. 

The Golden State duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson hold the best backcourt distinction and not just because they won an NBA and World Championship over the last year. Riley's father is a ball handling savant, the best deep shooter on the planet and arguably number one in league history. Mychal Thompson's 6-foot-7 son set an NBA record this season with 37 points in one quarter and defends at a high level. They're the Gold-en standard.

Whether people realize it or not, they tend to put more weight into the regular season than the playoffs when discussing best of the best. Everyone who has ever argued for Tom Brady over Peyton Manning or dared question the greatness of LeBron James knows what I'm saying. That's the portion of the overall season that we live with longer. Individual performances perhaps standout more because legends and storylines have six months with which to bloom -- six months every year, that is. The playoffs are often viewed as a snapshot. If a new narrative emerges, harder to wrap head around how this could be. Plus, in the playoffs, individual buzz is also competing far more with the overall idea of team plus emotion of a do or die nature.

In the context of the regular season, there is no debate. Curry and Thompson trump Wall and Beal and every backcourt in the NBA. End of discussion. That's the perception anyone asked this question would answer. If we designed an experiment where one group only watched the playoffs, the Warriors tandem might still win, but the gap is much, much closer. That's because for the last two years, Beal played his best basketball when lights were brightest while Thompson went the other way.

Beal averaged 16.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists during the regular season over the last two seasons. In the playoffs during that span, 21.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. The 40% 3-point shooter during the regular season is a just tad lower (38.9%) during the playoffs.

Thompson's scoring average dipped two and three points respectively in each of the last two seasons. He sank over 40% of his 3-pointers in each of of his four NBA seasons. He didn't crack 39% over the last two postseasons.

It's not just stats, but also that Eye of the Tiger. Beal stepped up his game in the playoff series against the Hawks when Wall fractured his wrist. Sure, Thompson made all nine of his 3-point attempts during that 37-point quarter, he went 8 for 28 over the last four games of the NBA Finals. The debate over whether Curry or Andre Iguodola should have been named MVP overshadowed the fact that the Iguodola was no less than their second-best player in the finals. Thompson held that distinction during the regular season. Nobody thought so during much of June.

Part of the reason Beal's game showed improvement during the playoffs stemmed from the fact that his regular season was underwhelming. Thompson set his bar high. Both teams played 82 regular season games, but Thompson and the Warriors played two more playoff rounds than Beal and the Wizards this season. The lengthy wing's production helped make that so. Maybe Beal and Wall get the deer-in-headlights look in their first NBA Finals. 

Because Curry trumps all guards in the NBA until further notice, Thompson is an All-Star and the Warriors are reigning NBA champions, Golden State keeps the best backcourt title without discussion.  However, if, as has been the case for the last two years, Beal does his best work on the biggest stage next season, Wall remains an assist machine and Thompson performs under his level of expectations, perhaps the discussion changes.

MORE WIZARDS: Wall, Beal hang with other stars at USA practice; Durant talks FA

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

The Wizards are set to have Dwight Howard back for a second year, as the veteran center informed the team of his plans to exercise the $5.6 million player option in his contract for the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

Howard, 33, indicated to Wizards brass in his exit meeting last week he was likely to opt in to the second and final year of his deal, but there was some thought he would wait until closer to the June 29 deadline. The reason why is Howard's continued recovery from the back surgery he had in November, a procedure that kept him sidelined for the final five months of the season.

But Howard has now made his intentions known, giving the Wizards a clearer picture of their offseason. With him in the mix, they essentially have five players under contract next season. They technically have six, though Jabari Parker's $20 million team option is essentially a lock to not be picked up.

Howard appeared in only nine games in his first season with the Wizards. He missed all of training camp and their preseason schedule with back issues, played for just over two weeks in November and then went down for the year. He had the surgery, a lumbar microdiscotemy, on Nov. 30. 

Though his time on the floor was brief, he put up solid numbers with averages of 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Wizards missed his rebounding in particular, as they finished 27th in the league in the category and 28th in rebounds against.

Howard will certainly hope for a better showing in Year 2 with the Wizards, though there may be no guarantee he actually comes back. The Wizards are currently searching for a new general manager, and that person could choose to go in a different direction if ownership permits them to.

Keep in mind last summer Howard was traded soon after Mitch Kupchak took over the Hornets' front office and the Nets bought him out immediately after acquiring him. Howard's $5.6 million salary is relatively inexpensive, as Brooklyn paid $18.9 million to part ways.

Time will tell if Howard's career continues in Washington, but for now he is slated to come back next season for a second year with the Wizards.

ESPN's Zach Lowe first reported the news of Howard opting in.


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How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...


Though there are several events this summer that could ultimately define the Wizards' offseason, one storyline will hang over everything and factor into just about every decision made by the front office and whomever ends up leading it as the team's new general manager. That is the future of John Wall, who is set to miss at least most of next season due to a ruptured left Achilles, in what will be the first year of his supermax contract.

Wall had surgery on Feb. 12. Even if he returns one year after going under the knife, he will still miss roughly 50 games next season. When he does come back, there are no guarantees he will be the same player. He turns 29 in September and a ruptured Achilles is a very serious injury, especially for a guy whose game has traditionally been reliant on speed.

The Wizards, of course, hope Wall will regain his peak form, but even if that happens it is unlikely to be the case right away. It may not be until the 2020-21 season until the Wizards get a true read on Wall post-surgery and how much value he can provide while making the money he is due. 

Speaking of the money, Wall will still take up a considerable chunk of the salary cap despite not playing. He is set to earn 35 percent of the cap next season, which right now is projected at about $37.8 million. Though that could technically fluctuate based on the final cap number, the percentage is what matters. The Wizards will basically have to build a roster with only 65 percent of the cap at their disposal.

There is an argument that Wall's injury is one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history. Supermax contracts, ones that allow players to make a contract that begins at 35 percent of the salary cap, are a new concept. And no one else has suffered such a serious injury while getting paid that type of money. 

It may not be quite what the Brooklyn Nets overcame in the fallout of their infamous trade with the Boston Celtics, the one that resulted in a net loss of three first round picks. But it's a bad situation, one that will require some creativity from whomever is tasked with pulling the Wizards out of it.

The long-term ramifications will depend on how Wall plays when he returns, but the short-term effect will clearly be felt. First, the Wizards have to have an insurance policy at point guard and a good one if they hope to compete for the playoffs. Maybe that is as simple as re-signing Tomas Satoransky, but regardless they have to shore up that position, knowing Wall's status.

Second, the Wizards need to find bargains to fill out the rest of their roster. They will have to find some cheap players simply to reach the 13-player minimum with Bradley Beal's max deal also on the books. Beal will earn roughly $27.1 million next season.

The biggest question as it pertains to Wall may deal with the NBA Draft on June 20. What if the Wizards get some luck in the May 14 draft lottery, but not enough to get the No. 1 pick (i.e. Zion Williamson), and Ja Morant is the best player on the board? Morant, of course, is the Murray State superstar who lit up the NCAA Tournament in March.

Morant is dynamic and has serious star potential, and he plays point guard. Wall was already asked about the potential of the Wizards drafting a point guard with a high pick. He said he would be fine with it, but that when he returns that draft pick can "be a great back-up" to him.

If the Wizards picked Morant, or even Coby White of North Carolina, it would arguably be the smart move to make. They need to select the best player available, no matter the position. 

But if they do take a point guard, that will present a unique dynamic to their locker room, especially if that player turns into a star. What if Morant comes in and lights it up as a rookie? How will Wall deal with that? And could you then put Morant on the bench when Wall returns, as Wall suggests they would?

Those are hypothetical scenarios that can be addressed if they actually enter the equation this summer and beyond. But there is no question that, even as Wall is sidelined with an injury, his presence will loom over the Wizards in many ways.