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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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NBA offseason grades: Wizards, Magic highlight Southeast Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: Wizards, Magic highlight Southeast Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Southeast Division...

Washington Wizards, B+

2017-18 finish: 43-39, 1st round of playoffs
In: C Dwight Howard, G Austin Rivers, G Troy Brown, Jr., F Jeff Green, C Thomas Bryant
Out: C Marcin Gortat, F Mike Scott, G Ty Lawson, G Tim Frazier, G Ramon Sessions, F Chris McCullough

Given the circumstances of their salary cap situation, the Wizards did quite well for themselves this summer. They shook things up by trading Gortat and actually got something solid back for him in Rivers. They then filled Gortat's spot with an eight-time All-Star in Howard and did so at a bargain price, the taxpayer mid-level exception. They also added Green at a nice price and Brown, who acquitted himself nicely in the Summer League. Whether the Wizards made a major leap forward is debatable, but the potential is there for them to re-install themselves as contenders in the East. The possibility things go wrong is also there, but all in all, a strong summer for the Wizards.

Atlanta Hawks, B

2017-18 finish: 24-58, missed playoffs
In: G Jeremy Lin, C Alex Len, G Trae Young, G Vince Carter, G Kevin Huerter, F Justin Anderson, F Omari Spellman
Out: G Dennis Schroeder, C Mike Muscala, C Dewayne Dedmon, G Malcolm Delaney, G Isaiah Tayor

The Hawks did a nice job with the draft by picking up an extra first round pick just to move back two spots (from third to fifth) in their trade with the Mavericks. They added Young with the fifth pick and then got Huerter later on at No. 18. The Len signing at two years and $8.5 million looks like a bargain and they added a nice mix of veteran free agents and young players to develop. It will probably be a few years before the Hawks are back in the playoffs, but they seemed to take a step forward this summer.

Miami Heat, D

2017-18 finish: 44-38, 1st round of playoffs
In: F Duncan Robinson
Out: G Dwyane Wade, G Wayne Ellington, F Luke Babbitt

The Heat had one of the least impactful summers of any team in the NBA. The biggest addition they have so far, and this is true, is Robinson. They didn't make any draft picks and struck out in free agency. What they did do is let go of Wade, Ellington and others. The only way the Heat improve year-over-year is if their young guys like Bam Adebayo or Justise Winslow take a big step forward. 

Charlotte Hornets, C+

2017-18 finish: 36-46, missed playoffs
In: C Bismack Biyombo, F Miles Bridges, G Devonte' Graham
Out: C Dwight Howard, G Michael Carter-Williams, G Treveon Graham

New Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak quickly turned the franchise into a different direction this offseason by trading Howard to the Nets. They then added Biyombo in a deal with the Magic and acquired Bridges through the draft. There isn't a lot to love or hate about the Hornets' offseason, so they fall in the middle of the grading scale. The real question now is what they do with Kemba Walker, who has just one year left on his contract.

Orlando Magic, B+

2017-18 finish: 25-57, missed playoffs
In: C Mohamed Bamba, C Timofey Mozgov, F Justin Jackson, F Jarell Martin, G Jerian Grant
Out: G Mario Hezonja, C Marreese Speights, G Arron Aflalo

The Magic had a strong summer. The re-signed forward Aaron Gordon, a rising young player, and drafted Bamba, who has the tools to become an All-Star and a dominant defensive force. They had some questionable moves, like trading for Mozgov, but the future looks a lot brighter for the Magic than it did just a few months ago.

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Familiarity for coach and GM should allow Capital City Go-Go to hit ground running

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Associated Press

Familiarity for coach and GM should allow Capital City Go-Go to hit ground running

Despite being a brand new franchise with a new roster and new facilities, the Capital City Go-Go will carry into their inaugural season a level of continuity. Both their general manager and head coach are familiar with what they are getting into and the people they will be working with.

GM Pops Mensah-Bonsu is no stranger to the D.C. community and the Wizards franchise. He made a name for himself starring at George Washington University, spent time with the Wizards as a player in their 2013 training camp and remained a frequent visitor to Wizards games as a scout for the Spurs in recent years.

"To be back in the community and the first general manager of the G-League team is special," Mensah-Bonsu said. "This is D.C.’s team. I want them to embrace us."

Head coach Jarell Christian played college ball in Virginia and goes back several years with Wizards coach Scott Brooks. Christian joined the Oklahoma City's G-League staff when Brooks was in his final year as head coach of the Thunder.

Christian began his coaching journey with an eye trained on how Brooks goes about his job.

"My introduction to pro basketball was under Coach Brooks and his philosophies. A lot of that stuff, I believe in wholeheartedly. That’s my foundation," Christian said. "I got a chance to know him through training camp and throughout that season. He and I developed a bond and a relationship that stood the test of time. To this day, we still talk often. It’s just another chance for me to reconnect with him and to continue to grow our relationship."

The Go-Go intend to make what they do as similar to the Wizards as possible. When guys like Devin Robinson, one of their two-way players, is called up he can step right in without a learning curve of the playbook or how they practice.

Having Christian in place will help that process in particular.

"There won’t be any issue or any slippage with guys going up and down to know what’s in store for them," Christian said. "A lot of the stuff that the Wizards will do, we will implement with the Go-Go. Just some offensive and defensive concepts. Some of the playcalls and the terminology will be the same."

"Whatever you see the Wizards doing, you will probably see the Capital City Go-Go doing, too," Mensah-Bonsu said.

The symmetry between the G-League and the NBA teams will also be helped by the fact they will share the same practice facility. Their proximity will come with many advantages from the Go-Go perspective.

"I think it’s going to help motivate these guys. We’re going to be practicing in the same place that the Wizards do and the Mystics do," Mensah-Bonsu said. "I think if these guys can see Dwight Howard and John Wall and Bradley Beal walking around every day, it will help motivate them to get to that next level."

"The exposure our players get with the Wizards [front office], the Wizards personnel, being able to watch them practice daily, watching their practice habits and what their routines may be, is really big," Christian said.

That element will also apply beyond the players. Christian, who is just 32 years old, will get to watch how an NBA coaching staff operates on a daily basis.

Christian has yet to take a tour of the new building in Ward 8, but he has seen blueprints. Among the amenities the Go-Go will enjoy that other G-League teams do not usually have is a dedicated dining area.

Many G-League teams do not go to that length.

"A lot of organizations do not provide food for their players on a daily basis, but we will. That’s the No. 1 thing in my opinion that’s gonna set us apart from our competitors," he said.

The Go-Go won't take the floor for their first game until November, but it seems like a good foundation is starting to take place.

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