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Trey Burke, Jason Smith spearhead rise in Wizards' bench play

Trey Burke, Jason Smith spearhead rise in Wizards' bench play

Trey Burke is a long way from the misery of being on a new team, and for that matter so is Jason Smith. Both have played better lately, but Friday's performance was the cherry on top to a season that began on a sour note with the Wizards.

Smith, acquired as a free agent, was an active body behind Marcin Gortat and now knocking down the mid-range jump shots that he's known for making. Burke, acquired in an offseason trade, is a point guard by definition but actually a scorer as he filled the void left without Bradley Beal as he sat with a right ankle sprain. 

The duo combined for 37 of the Wizards' 50 bench points, a long way from what Marcin Gortat regrettably called "the worst bench in the  league" after a Nov. 12 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

"With Brad down, I knew I was going to have to come in and be a spark off the bench and be ready to play," said Burke, who shot 10-for-12, including 5-for-5 on threes, for a game-high 27 points in a 118-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets. “I got to the free-throw line early and shots just started looking good. I just got to continue to keep it up and go for it.”

Smith is developing a reputation for his hustle play. Even though he's far from the most athletic player on the floor, the effort is always there. Earlier in the season, he had confusion with Burke on defending screens-and-rolls and they were allowing drives to the basket. Burke immediately took ownership for the breakdowns.

Neither player looked confident in their role or playing off teammates. That appears to be a thing of the past now as both also look more steady defensively as well as the Wizards (16-16) are at .500 for the first time this season.

"We were thinking a little too much about the offense at the beginning of the season," said Smith, who had two blocked shots to spark the defense early and fnished with 10 points and eight rebounds in just 18 minutes. "Now that we've run it we've kind of drilled it over, over and over and it's become second nature. When it's second nature you don't really think about it. So now you can focus on your shot, following through, attacking the basket, getting to the free-throw line. Our first unit has been doing a great job all season. That second unit in the beginning had a little bit of a lag. Now we've corrected that."

While Burke and Smith have fallen out of the rotations for Scott Brooks, they've solidifed their spots. Marcus Thornton has always been a staple but his efficiency has increased. He had eight points on 3-for-6 shooting but also created with five assists. He made both of his threes. 

"We were just hoping that somebody would come in and give us 10-12 points, and to my surprise, it was 27. I know Trey can score, but you don’t expect 27," Brooks said. "I thought he played an excellent ballgame, both sides of the floor. thought he was defensively really good.

"He’s not a point guard, he’s not a two. He’s a guard. He can make plays, but he can score. Naturally, he’s a very good scorer. That’s what has changed my view of him as this season has gone. I’m starting to use him more as trying to get us some points off of some pin-downs (and) some pick-and-rolls. I think he’s done a good job of taking that role and doing well in it. Tonight was one of those nights for him. We don’t expect that every night and he doesn’t have to provide that once Brad comes back."

The reserves struggled to score half of the season-high 50 points they produced Friday. The Wizards managed to end the month 9-3 despite Kelly Oubre not appearing to be the same player since his concussion.

If Tomas Satoransky regains his confidence in his shot and Ian Mahinmi can ever get back on the court following his knee procedures, the Wizards may have a much deeper roster going into the second half of the season. Sheldon McClellan, a rookie who started for the third time with Beal out, had eight points in 24 minutes. He's getting his chance. As long as Mahinmi stays out, Daniel Ochefu will get spot minutes.

Now can the Wizards get over .500, something they failed to do repeatedly in what ended up being a 41-41 record for the 2015-16 season, and stay there? 

MORE WIZARDS: Takeways from Wizards' blowout win

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Nassir Little

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USA Today Sports Images

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Nassir Little

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: Nassir Little

School: North Carolina
Position: Forward
Age: 19
Height: 6-6
Weight: 220
Wingspan: 7-1
Max vertical: 38.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 9.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 47.8 FG% (3.6/7.6), 26.9 3PT% (0.4/1.4), 77.0 FT%

Player comparison: Jae Crowder, Justise Winslow

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 11th, NBADraft.net 11th, Bleacher Report 16th, Sports Illustrated 11th, Ringer 14th

5 things to know:

*Little came to UNC as their top-ranked recruit and the sixth-ranked player in his class, but didn't live up to those expectations in his one year in Chapel Hill. There is a debate about whether he will be better suited for the NBA, given his athleticism and playing style. The team who drafts him could come away with a steal if the latter proves true.

*He is more known for his defense at this point. Little is an aggressive and physical perimeter defender who could develop into a Marcus Smart-like pest. Though he didn't force a ton of turnovers in college, Little clearly gave opposing teams problems with his energy and length. 

*There are questions about whether Little will ever be more than a dunker on the offensive end. He is excellent in transition and cutting to the rim, but he didn't do much creating off the dribble in college and needs to work on his outside shooting. He shot just 26.9 percent from three at UNC.

*Little had a strong combine with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and a 38.5-inch vertical leap. Those numbers helped his reputation as one of the most athletic wings in this year's class.

*Both of Little's parents were in the U.S. military. He had a 4.2 GPA in high school and was named Academic All-ACC.

Fit with Wizards: Little fits with the Wizards given he is a small forward and they currently have an opening there. He would also give them something they need in terms of style as a physical wing defender. Little is the type of player who could help them improve their horrid three-point defense.

But Little's raw skillset suggests he may take some time to develop offensively and it brings into question how high his ceiling will ultimately prove to be. The Wizards may be able to find someone with the ninth pick who can both contribute sooner than Little and offer a clearer road to potential stardom.

That said, if Little's game is indeed more designed for the NBA than in college, he could impress in pre-draft workouts and end up rising up the board.

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bol Bol

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bol Bol

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: Bol Bol

School: Oregon
Position: Center
Age: 19
Height: 7-3
Weight: 208
Wingspan: 7-7
Max vertical: N/A

2018/19 stats: 21.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 2.7 bpg, 56.1 FG% (8.2/14.7), 52.0 3PT% (1.4/2.8), 75.7 FT%

Player comparison: Kristaps Porzingis, Thon Maker

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 12th, NBADraft.net 18th, Bleacher Report 9th, Sports Illustrated 17th, Ringer 12th

5 things to know:

*Bol has a chance to be perfectly suited for this era of NBA unicorns. He is over 7-feet tall, yet is highly skilled for his size. He can run the floor, make plays off the dribble and shoot from outside. He is also an adept shot-blocker with the instincts to maximize his height and length.

*Bol is the son of former Bullets player Manute Bol. His father was drafted by Washington in 1985 and played three seasons with the team to start his career. He later returned to play for the Bullets in 1993 for another year. The elder Bol was 7-foot-7 and is among the tallest players in NBA history. He famously was teammates with Muggsy Bogues, who stood just 5-foot-3.

*He only played in nine games with Oregon due to a stress fracture in his left foot. A stress fracture is always ominous for a basketball player, but especially for a big man. If it weren't for the injury, Bol would probably be in the top-five range. Whichever team takes him will be going high-risk, high-reward, not unlike the Nuggets with Michael Porter Jr. last June.

*Bol unsurprisingly turned heads at the NBA Combine. He measured in about 7-foot-3 and with a 7-7 wingspan. If it weren't for Tacko Fall, those each would have led this year's class. Bol also has a 9-foot-7 1/2-ing standing reach. That means he can nearly touch the rim without jumping.

*Perhaps the most interesting stat when it comes to Bol is his three-point shooting. Though it was a small sample size, he shot 52 percent from long range and on nearly three atempts per game. For a guy his size, having any sort of three-point shot is noteworthy and to shoot at that clip is exceptional, no matter the position. 

Fit with Wizards: Bol would be a great fit for the Wizards in some regards in that he plays a position of need and would offer star potential. He also would add rim protection, which the Wizards sorely lack. And it would be a nice story, Bol beginning his career with the same franchise that his father did.

But Bol is the type of risk that the Wizards may not be in position to take. They ideally would get someone who does not have injury concerns, someone who could step right in and represent a legitimate building block for the future. 

Maybe that changes if the Wizards' medical team gives him the clear. But Bol seems more likely to fit with the Wizards if they pull off a trade to adde more picks. If they moved back from ninth and got another first round selection, taking Bol wouldn't be nearly as risky.

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