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Why 'lost' Markieff Morris will find himself in Wizards' offense


Why 'lost' Markieff Morris will find himself in Wizards' offense

The call didn't come in until about one hour before tipoff, when the Wizards were notified that Markieff Morris, who hadn't even shot around with his new teammates, was able to play in Friday's game vs. the Detroit Pistons. 

He came off the bench and logged 22 minutes in his first action here, a day after being traded from the Phoenix Suns for DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries and a protected top-9 pick. 

"I think he was completely lost," said Marcin Gortat, who along with Jared Dudley played with Morris in Phoenix, when asked how the 6-10 forward looked. 

It was a comical yet honest assessment. Morris was 2 of 8 for six points with two rebounds and two turnovers. His first field goal came with 1:08 left in the third quarter when he freed himself with a pump fake, blew by his brother, Marcus, and dropped in the floater. 

In the end, the Wizards (25-28) won their second game in a row 98-86. 

Morris was given a sheet with a few play calls to get him used to some terminology but a plus in the Wizards' pace-and-space style is they play a lot in flow, meaning without play calls. They push tempo off misses and makes by the opponent, taking advantage of John Wall's superior speed to advance the ball. 

But anyone who is a ball-handler, Bradley Beal, Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple or Dudley, has the green light to push tempo, find the mismatch as the defense is in scramble mode and exploit it. 


If that doesn't work, flow into pick-and-roll sets which is where Wall and Gortat flourish. And the power forward, be it Dudley, Nene or Morris, will establish screens on the opposite sides of the lane as ball-handler decides which option to take. 

"I've played against everybody in this locker room so it's one of those things where you kind of know them already," Morris said.

All of that should make the process easier for Morris as the Wizards left immediately afterwards for Miami where they'll play the Heat on Saturday for their third game in three nights coming out of the All-Star break. 

"The guy has no idea what we are doing and that's the hardest thing when you come out. He had no practice," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I just said go out there and play like it's a pick-up game. ... He's going to be fine. He's an intelligent player, good basketball IQ, good size, we can do some different things with him from a defensive standpoint that we haven't had the luxury to do so I see a lot of good things."

Wittman can relate to Morris' situation. When he played, he was traded from the Atlanta Hawks after five seasons to the Sacramento Kings. And soon after that he was sent to the Indiana Pacers where he ended his career in 1992. 

"When it first happened to me when I was in the league and I spent five years with a pretty good team in Atlanta, you get traded it's tough," Wittman said. "That first time, no matter what people say -- 'It's part of the business' -- it's tough being traded to pick up and come to a new city, new teammates, new equipment manager, new everything, to feel comfortable. Having guys he's played with, Jared and March, I think will help."

Morris didn't find out until the last 10 minutes of Thursday's practice session with the Suns, just before the 3 p.m. trade deadline expired, that he was on the move. It was welcomed news given his tumultuous fifth season there in which he clashed with coaches, teammates and was suspended.

"I had a good five years in Phoenix, I really appreciate everything they’ve done for me," he said. "My past is the past, and I’m happy for a fresh start, and I’m happy to be in Washington." 

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Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

The NBA is so perimeter-oriented these days that often the first statistic cited for a player leaving college for the pros is three-point percentage, regardless of the position. Even big men are expected to knock down threes, for if they can't then there is less space on the floor and like Neil deGrasse Tyson, NBA teams love them some space.

Three-point shooting, however, is not a strength for Wizards' first round pick Troy Brown, Jr., at least not yet. In his lone season at Oregon, he shot just 29.1 percent from long range. Brown can play multiple positions, from point guard to small forward, and shooting is important to be successful at all of them.

Brown and the Wizards, though, are not concerned about his potential to develop an outside shot in the long-term. Brown addressed the issue after his pre-draft workout with the Wizards earlier this month and cited a very specific reason not to worry.

"I don’t think it was my mechanics. I think it was my shot selection this year," he said. "Some of the shots I was taking weren’t very good. It’s about repetition, getting in the gym and putting up shots. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job showcasing that and I feel like a lot of teams are impressed with my shooting."

Brown knocked down plenty of shots in his workout with the Wizards. That helped convince them to select him at No. 15, as they see a guy with potential to become at least a serviceable shooter from long range.

“We’re very confident that we can improve it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "From what I understand, he’s very coachable and he wants to get better. That’s a big part of the step in developing a young player."

Team president Ernie Grunfeld seemed to agree with Brown's personal assessment, that it's not a problem with his mechanics per se. Surely they will tinker with his shot once he gets in their development system. But they don't see the need for a dramatic overhaul.

"He's got a nice stroke," Grunfeld said. "Obviously, when you're a freshman coming up to another level there are different things you have to work on, and we have a really good player development staff and we're going to get him to work right away."

Players of Brown's ilk developing an outside shot at the NBA level is more common than many may think. Just because someone isn't a good shooter in one college season, doesn't mean they will never be able to develop the skill once they mature as a man and a basketball player.

Though Brown's scoring repertoire may seem limited, plenty of players have gone from rags to riches offensively at the professional level. Brown may have to begin his NBA career helping in other ways, like on the defensive end, before his scoring abilities round into form.

Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler could be seen as a best-case scenario example. He made only 36 threes in three years in college and shot just 35.3 percent as a junior. When he was Brown's age, as a freshman he averaged only 5.6 points, and as an NBA rookie he shot just 18.2 percent from three.

Through years of hard work, Butler turned himself into a 20-point scorer with a respectable outside shot, including a career-beset 37.8 percent from three in the 2014-15 season. Some guys take more time than others. At only 18 years old, Brown has plenty of time to figure it out.


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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”


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