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Prayers answered? Why the Wizards suddenly love 3-pointers

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Prayers answered? Why the Wizards suddenly love 3-pointers

When it comes to the Wizards' 3-point shooting, no need for more prayer. Clearly, Randy Wittman has found the religion.

What else can be assumed after a season-long disdain for the deep shots? The gang that loved those maligned long two's because the coach preached take what the defense gives you finally embraced the NBA-wide trend of pop-a-shot from beyond the arc.

Forget embrace. How about dominate. Heading into Wednesday's Game 4 at the Atlanta Hawks, the Washington Wizards are the best 3-point shooting team in the postseason. For real.

They're averaging 10.8 makes per game. That's tied with the splashy Golden State Warriors for most 3-pointers by any team in the playoffs this season.

The thing is, with 198 attempts (24.8 per game; 10th in playoffs), the Wizards have taken 39 fewer 3's than the Warriors.

Washington is shooting an unreal 43.4 percent from beyond the arc. No other team tops 38.5 percent. Golden State sinks 36.3 percent of its tries.

As a reminder, this is the same team that during the regular season ranked 26th in 3-pointers made (6.1) and 27th in attempts (16.8). During Game 4, the Wizards went 10 of 15 from distance in the first half alone.

Though dipping as the regular season progressed, the Wizards sank a healthy 36 percent (ninth). That's not 43.4. By the way, the Warriors topped all teams during the regular season at 39.8.

What gives? Why are the Wizards suddenly the gang that can't help but shoot straight and often from long distance? More to the point, why has Randy Wittman allowed for such behavior?

The tight-lipped coach won't offer game plan specifics. “What we’re able to do in the playoffs is a little bit different," Wittman said before starting the ongoing Eastern Conference semifinal series against Atlanta. "But I'm not getting into how different it is. We’re the same team with the same players that we’ve had most of the year[1].”

No doubt, the gruff Wittman epitomizes an old school coach. The modern man doesn't tell fans to "Pull up the internet." The new school generation certainly knows how to use a low-tech tool like a coaching playboard.

For these reasons and others, Wittman became an easy target for mockery. The supposed lack of interest of in the shot Stephen Curry made Fonzie-level cool played a part.

But we're here to look at why the Wizards are now all about the 3-pointer. Let's start by looking at the final line of Wittman's quote. Specifically, that it focuses on personnel. "We’re the same team with the same players that we’ve had most of the year.” That's where plenty of this newfound love for the 3-ball should focus.

Assuming good health, the standard starting lineup for the regular season and the playoffs is the same: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene, Marcin Gortat. Nene and Gortat are not perimeter threats. Beal and Pierce are with Wall somewhere in between (He can make the shot, but finished at 30 percent during the season. Wall receives plenty of open looks because opponents concede jumpers in the hopes he won't attack the rim.  Washington is served best when he drives. Period.).

In the playoffs, Otto Porter is playing more than Nene, meaning the Wizards typically have three deep threats on the court instead of two. In addition, there is now more room opens in the lane without a second big man for Wall's drives and kicks (Beal is taking some of the playmaking duties with Wall sidelined with a fractured hand/wrist).

Broaden this out to an eight-man rotation, which is Wittman's basic playoff plan. Ramon Sessions and Drew Gooden, two 3-point threats, round out the group. Again, only Nene and Gortat are not perimeter threats with Wall[2] having a foot in both camps. That means possibly 75 percent (6 of 8) of Washington's main players are potential 3-point options.

Asked Tuesday about the challenge of defending Atlanta's Kyle Korver, Wittman answered by looking at his own team. "If we've got guys out who can make shots on the perimeter when John's in the game, that makes for a difficult decision: Do you come in and stop John or do you stay home on the 3-point shooters? It's a lot harder than if you had non-shooters out there, I'll tell you that."

Before you start screaming "THIS IS WHAT I TWEETED ABOUT ALL SEASON," remember the team from say the middle of February[3] and let's stick with the somewhat crude eight-man theme. Replace Sessions with Andre Miller[4] and Gooden with Kris Humphries. Right there the number of 3-point threats dropped from six to four[5]. Again, that group of four includes a shaky Wall.

The real uptick in 3-point attempts comes from best bets Beal and Pierce. After averaging 8.3 tries during the regular season, the wing threats are at 13.2 in the playoffs. Credit Wall's penetration, the extra shooting help on the court and more aggression from the duo.

Even without Wall for the last three games, the Wizards are still taking plenty[6]; The 29 in Game 3 matched their second-highest total on the season.

However, the change began an earnest when Gooden started playing regular heavy minutes after Kris Humphries suffered a groin injury from Feb. 27 through the end of the season[7]. Washington attempted 18.3 threes per game in that span, 1.5 more than its season average.

During the regular season, the Wizards used between nine and 11 players on most nights. Kevin Seraphin, Garrett Temple and Rasual Butler, one of Washington's best deep threats this season, received those extra minutes, minutes they're not picking up in the playoffs. Constant off days makes the need for rest less of a factor.

Now Pierce is serving as the fourth big man. Since he and Gooden split stretch-four duties, the Wizards always have three shooters (plus Wall or Sessions) on the court except when Gortat and Nene are paired together, which is happening less in the playoffs. Even when Seraphin plays, he's replacing Gortat or Nene and not a shooter.

We can focus on schemes all day, but realize personnel is key. Sure, if we create a roster from a lab that can start from scratch, the Wizards probably has a perimeter shooting big man and a not a roster loaded with interior bigs (add DeJuan Blair to that mix). But they do.

Washington's depth is far greater up front then the backcourt. Wittman played to that. Maybe Gooden should have played more during the season. Then again, Humphries thrived, Seraphin scored, and DGIII doesn't fret about minutes.

By the way, speaking of Gooden, what kind of coach allows a 27 percent career 3-point shooter to dare fire away from deep? The bold Randy Wittman, apparently. Yes, Wittman once told Kevin Love not to take shoot those shots. He now lets Gooden take them[8] even though he never made a playoff 3-pointer until this year.

Believe Wittman or not when he says Pierce didn't play much at stretch-four during the season because he wanted to keep the 37-year-old's minutes down. Just don't believe he's against using power forwards to stretch the court.

When the Warriors, who use Draymond Green as a perimeter big man, visited Washington during the regular season, the coach was asked about the importance of such players in this modern era. "That’s important. I think the more versatility you can have like that, the better.”

For some reason it's seems easier to view Wittman as one of the true luddites on the topic rather than believe he's down with distance with one caveat. Not everyone has the green light.

Wittman recently said, "Do I want Marcin and Nene shooting threes? Makes no sense to us. Drew can stretch out some. DeJuan Blair, do I want him shooting threes? Or Kris Humphries? He's working to get there, but that's not his strength."

This team's strength when healthy is John Wall attacking the paint and the power-packed pair of Nene and Marcin Gortat. Those are advantages for Washington. Only opponents want Wall shooting long jumpers over penetrating. Few teams can match the Wizards muscle inside. 

Perhaps regular season Randy, focusing on his own roster while managing egos and physical aches, didn't focus tons on 3-pointers during the regular season because three of his top five players aren't real threats from deep. Playoff Randy, who no longer has to deal with things like back-to-back games, can get more shooters on the court as he squeezes the rotation.

None of this means Wittman is perfect. Those long shots from inside the arc are constant daggers for the basketball soul. Those regular season substitution patterns were maddening at times. Nobody in the league threw him a Coach of the Year vote this season. There is plenty to pick apart for those who have such desires. Just don't say the man disdains the 3-point shot. No faith is required to believe this. The numbers speak for themselves.


[1] Wittman added the caveat of Will Bynum, who joined the team in March on a 10-day contract.

[2] Neither Will Bynum nor Garrett Temple matches Wall the player, but both are equal or better as percentage 3-point shooters.

[3] The Wizards acquired Sessions on Feb. 19. Humphries' groin on Feb. 25 led to Gooden's re-emergence

[4] Temple averaged more minutes than Miller in part because of injuries to Beal, but Miller was the backup point guard until being swapped for Sessions

[5] Miller is a career 27 percent 3-pointer shooter who doesn't take many. Humphries went 0 for 7 this season.

[6] Without Wall, the ball is with Beal more, who naturally plays on the perimeter. Also fewer easy layups without Wall's setup arguably leads to more shots further from the basket.

[7] Coincidentally, that's the same time frame Gooden entered the rotation last season.

[8] Gooden rewarded the faith by making 39.4 percent over the last two regular seasons. 

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Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still can't get John Wall on his podcast

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USA Today

Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still can't get John Wall on his podcast

Just one episode into his new podcast 'Go Off,' Wizards guard Austin Rivers is already learning plenty about the media world. With plans to become a television analyst when his playing days are done, Rivers is gaining a new appreciation for what it takes to speak at-length without stumbling over his words.

He's also starting to realize one of the biggest pain points for a media member: waiting on guests. Rivers has tried to line up interviews with his teammates and it's been much easier said than done.

Rivers is set to have Dwight Howard on as his first guest, but the original plan was point guard John Wall. Wall, though, has been giving him the runaround.

"That's the hardest thing is getting guests to show up," Rivers said. 

"It's impossible to get John on my podcast. At this point, I just don't expect it anymore. He says he'll do it next week and then the week comes. John has like 15 things to do a day. I don't know what these guys do. I play in the league, too. I know how un-busy my life is outside of this. And I've got a kid. John has a brand to run. He's a different level. Sorry, you can see the frustration on my face with not getting John on my podcast, man."

Rivers hopes to have many of his teammates on. He mentioned Kelly Oubre Jr. and how an interview with Oubre "might be a little out there." He also gave a hint about what his conversation with Howard will be like.

"I'm definitely gonna have some interesting topics to bring up with Dwight. I told him 'listen, you might want to check with your publicist before coming on my podcast.' We only talk about real conversations on here," Rivers said.

Rivers says he plans to start with fellow NBA players and then work in special episodes with guests outside of the league and even outside of basketball. He hopes to record an episode with financial advisors to talk about money and investments. He wants to take a deep dive into the AAU circuit and how it can be fixed.

Eventually, Rivers wants to aim very high with his guests. He gave a list of his dream interviews and there are some big names.

"Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade is my favorite player. I'm gonna get Dwyane Wade on my podcast, for sure. I'm gonna go ahead and put that out there," Rivers said.

"Off-the-court, I would love to get Denzel Washington on there. That would be my dream... I want to do a podcast with me and my dad and Jaden Smith and Will Smith. I think that would be really dope, talking about parent-to-son success and how he related to his son to have a work ethic and how my dad did it to me."

Rivers went even higher. He wants to interview a president.

"I guess if I could go the highest, I would go Jay-Z or [Barack] Obama. But let's be realistic, here," Rivers said.

"[Interviewing Obama] would be incredible, bro. I would be so nervous. I'm not there yet, I'll be honest. I need like six or seven or eight more podcasts before I can get Obama on there because I'm gonna be stuttering. I can't do it with Obama yet. I don't know if I could handle Denzel right now."

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Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

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USA Today Sports

Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

The Washington Wizards improved to 5-9 with Wednesday’s 119-95 enjoyable destruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their three-game winning streak pushed the Wizards within 1 ½ games of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Nobody should burn much energy on the postseason chase in mid-November. However, history suggests trouble brewing if they don’t crack the top-8 this season by Nov. 26.

The date doesn’t actually matter. It’s about where it falls on Washington’s schedule. There is no true line of demarcation to indicate when those analyzing a team’s season can forgo with the “it’s still early” caveat.

Many suggest 20 regular season games eclipse small sample size talk. The Wizards hosts reigning NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden and the Houston Rockets on that post-Thanksgiving evening.

When it comes to projecting which teams will make the playoffs, that 20-game marker proves quite accurate. That is why the Wizards need to continue surging.

Each season 16-playoff spots are available, split evenly between the Eastern and Western Conference. The league-wide schedule doesn’t work out cleanly where all NBA teams reach 20 games at the exact same time so we’ll use the Wizards’ as the pivot point.

Over the last five seasons, teams that occupied a playoff berth at the point where the Wizards played their 20th game held on to one of those 16 annual slots 83.7 percent of the time.

2017-18

East -- At the point Washington played 20 games, 7 of 8 teams seated in a playoff berth held on over the course of 82 games. The Pistons fell from second to the lottery while the Heat moved from 9th place into the elite eight. (Wizards start 7th at 11-9, finish 8th at 43-39)

West – 7 of 8. Nuggets fall; Thunder rise.

2016-17

East -- 5 of 8. Hornets, Knicks, Pistons; Pacers, Hawks, Wizards. (Wizards start 12th at 7-13, finish 4th at 49-33)

West – 8 for 8


2015-16

East -- 7 of 8. Bulls; Pistons. (Wizards start 11th at 9-11, finish 10th at 41-41)

West -- 7 of 8. Jazz; Blazers

2014-15

East -- 7 of 8. Magic; Celtics. (Wizards start T-2 at 14-6, finish 5th at 46-36)

West -- 7 of 8; Suns; Pelicans

2013-14

East -- 6 of 8. Pistons, Celtics; Raptors, Nets. (Wizards start 7th at 9-11, finish 5th at 44-38)

West -- 6 of 8. Nuggets, Suns; Warriors, Grizzlies.

Within each situation, explanations exist. The 2015-16 Bulls began the season with core players available, but their top-4 scorers including Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose missed a combined 50 games. Most of those absences came after the 20-game mark.

The 2017-18 Thunder needed an extra beat to find a rhythm with newly added All-Star Paul George. From an 8-20 start, they finished fourth in the Western Conference.

These 5-9 Wizards have their own tale. Eight of their opening 12 games were on the road. Washington lost six of eight. It also began the season without starting center Dwight Howard for the first seven games and opened 1-6.

“I think it’s different for team to team,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of how and when to assess teams early in seasons. “I think for [the Wizards], they’ve played a brutal schedule and then when you have a guy (Howard) who is going to be a big part of your team but is injured and couldn’t practice, it’s going to be longer even though they have a core group that has played together. …No matter what, schedule and health are a big part of it.”

Those aren’t the only factors, of course. Sometimes teams start as they finish. The Wizards going from 3-9 to 49 wins is often mentioned as the potential for this season, which began 2-9. Few note the 2015-16 campaign, the final one before head coach Scott Brooks’ arrival. That Washington team, loaded with upcoming free agents just like the current squad, essentially remained outside the playoff picture throughout.

Will these Wizards follow one of those paths or forge another? We’ll find out over the months ahead. Of course, just making the playoffs was never the goal for a team that reached the postseason in four of the previous five seasons. That’s according to Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round then we didn’t meet our goals,” Leonsis said in September.

For the franchise’s first 50-win since the 1978-79 season, the Wizards need a 45-23 record over the final 68 games. That 66.2 winning percentage required would have placed Washington third in the Eastern or Western Conference last season.

To advance to the conference finals, the Wizards likely need homecourt advantage in at least the first round. Over the last five seasons that meant winning at least 48 games. History suggests there isn’t much change among the top-4 seeds as 75 percent (30 of 40) of the top-4 seeds at the point when the Wizards have played 20 regular season games maintain that status.

2017-18

East -- 3 of 4; 76ers 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Thunder T-9th to 4th

2016-17

East -- 3 of 4 (Wizards 12th to 4th)

West – 4 of 4

2015-16

East -- 3 of 4; Hawks rose from 8th to 4th, but their 58.5 winning percentage remained the same

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 4th

2014-15

East -- 3 of 4; Bulls 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

2013-14

East -- 2 of 4; Raptors 9th to 3rd, Bulls 8th to 4th

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

If this three-game winning streak shows what is possible, the Wizards could reach the top-8 by the 20-game mark, though the schedule difficulty increases beyond Friday’s home meeting with Brooklyn. Also, look further up the standings. The Wizards are actually only three games out of the third seed; Indiana and Boston are 8-6.

The Wizards need to keep making moves, but they don’t need to fix all their ills over the next week either.

“They say it’s a marathon, and it is,” Brooks said after the Wizards fell to 1-6 on Oct. 30 following a loss in Memphis.

Brooks’ point was and is fair, but off-kilter starts can doom even Olympic runners over long distances. At some point along the journey, the pace must increase and assessments over what’s transpired kick in.