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Wittman still looking for right combination

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Wittman still looking for right combination

His team may have the worst record in the NBA, but at least Wizards coach Randy Wittman still has a sense of humor. It might be the only thing keeping him together while his team tries to stop the bleeding from an 0-9 start.

“This isn’t fun,” Wittman said before boarding a flight to Atlanta, where the Wizards will face the Hawks tonight [7 p.m., CSN].

“You don’t sleep very good. You don’t eat very good. The bowl of pasta doesn’t taste worth a crap right now.”

Nothing like having a basketball team spoiling a Thanksgiving appetite. But if Wittman is going to be an unfortunate part of Wizards history, he’s not going to take it sitting down.

“Hey, if I don't stay upbeat, how am I going to keep them upbeat?” he said. “I’ve got to be the leader of being upbeat, if that makes any sense to you.

“I can't go in there and be down. ‘Lost again.’ I've got to be: ‘Hey, we did lose again. We lost for these reasons. But look what we did.’

“That's what I’m trying to continue to do with these guys. The belief. I believe. I really do. This group should be winning games without John [Wall] and Nene. We've got to get them to believe that themselves. That's my job.”

To be fair, the Wizards haven’t made that job very easy. In fact, heading into tonight’s game at Philips Arena, Wittman still isn’t sure who is starting five will be 10 games into the season

Here’s why: In five of the Wizards’ first nine games the starters have been outscored by the bench.

With Wall and Nene sidelined by injuries Wittman began the season with a starting five of A.J. Price, Bradley Beal, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker. But when the Wizards’ reserves outscored the starters in four of the first seven games, Wittman yanked Beal and Booker out of the starting five and replaced them with Jordan Crawford and Jan Vesely.

The new starting group responded with a solid 57-point effort Saturday night against the Jazz, but the bench managed a season-low 19 point in an 83-76 loss. Wittman put out the same lineup Monday night against the Pacers and this time the bench outscored the starters 58-31.

Wittman said his players want some consistency, but no more than he does.

“They want that. I want that,” he said. “But nobody has come out and said, ‘This is mine.’ They haven’t, and that’s what we’re trying to get to.”

At Tuesday’s practice Wittman said he tried four different combinations and still wasn’t sure which one to use tonight against the 5-4 Hawks. He said he will continue to review tapes of the last few games to see who worked best together.

What does he see when he reviews those tapes?

“The 13th guy all of a sudden looks good, the second guy looks awful,” Wittman said. “It’s just that fluctuation in play.”

Wittman said he’s not looking for one player to drop 40 points on the Hawks tonight – no one on the Wiz has scored more than 22 in a game – he’s just looking for a balanced performance from his starters and his bench.

“You guys are going think I’m crazy, but we don’t need a Herculean effort by both groups,” he said. “We just need solid efforts, solid play by both groups. We haven’t had that, and we’re still in games.”

And that, more than anything, is what has Wittman more encouraged than discouraged“I think it would one thing if we’re sitting here going into the fourth quarter and we’re down 30,” he said. “It’s a credit that they fight and they’re resilient and they don’t quit. That’s a trait that we want to keep.”

 

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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.”

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller analyze the Wizards' two picks the night of the draft.

They went in-depth on first round pick Troy Brown, Jr. and why the Wizards took him when some big names were still on the board. They also broke down why the Wizards chose to pick a draft-and-stash guy in the second round.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!