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Wizards draft prospect draws inspiration from Celtics' Isaiah Thomas as prolific, but short scorer

Wizards draft prospect draws inspiration from Celtics' Isaiah Thomas as prolific, but short scorer

Marcus Keene couldn't help but notice the parallels between him and Celtics star Isaiah Thomas this past season. As Thomas was en route to his second All-Star appearance, Keene was lighting up college basketball as the best scorer in the country. Both are just 5-foot-9 and renowned experts at proving people wrong.

It was Thomas' 2016-17 campaign where he scored 28.9 points per game, third-best in the NBA, that helped convince Keene to leave Central Michigan University after his junior season. With a 5-foot-9 star making headlines at the NBA level, Keene feels he can capitalize on a building momentum for the little guys.

[RELATED: 5 things to know about Wizards' draft prospect Josh Hart]

"People were comparing me to Isaiah Thomas all year. He was averaging close to 30 all year, I was averaging 30-plus all year. This was the right time for me to come out," Keene said after working out for the Wizards on Tuesday.

Keene also noted how CMU was not going to play any high-major schools next season and how averaging 30 points per game is a feat he would feel pressure to recreate. But much of his decision was about Thomas and other small NBA guards paving the way for him.

"I look up to Isaiah Thomas because he's my size. I played against [Cavs guard] Kay Felder as well back in college. I know little guards like that. The ability to score the ball is what people think we can't do at the highest level. Them two showed it, especially Isaiah Thomas, but even [Suns guard] Tyler Ulis later on the year he started showing he could score, as well," Keene said.

Thomas has proven for years that he can score at a high level, but it wasn't easy and it didn't happen overnight. He was the last player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft and Keene may not even be that fortunate. He is currently projected to go undrafted by many mock drafts and wasn't invited to the NBA combine last month, a slight he called a "slap in the face."

[CSN MOCK DRAFT: Is Lonzo Ball slipping past No. 2?]

Still, Keene remains fully confident he can score in the NBA.

"I was pretty good in college, pretty good in high school as well. I feel like I can score the ball on anybody. I've played with NBA pros before. I was able to get my shot of on big guards and little guards, it really doesn't matter. Scoring isn't really a problem. It's really the other things that I have to work on," he said.

Keene has played against several NBA players like Hawks forward Taurean Prince, Celtics guard Marcus Smart and in high school he played against Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. He believes the key for success will be doing a lot of the same things Thomas does well.

"The ability to draw contact. He knows how to get bigger guards off of him. We smaller guards know we have to get to our spots. We have been small all our life. It's not like we shrunk or something. We've been small, so we've learned how to score on bigger guards. He knows how to get to his spots. I know how to get to my spots," he said.

Keene knows the odds are against him getting drafted. But all he wants is a chance to continue proving people wrong.

[RELATED: Wizards host two good options for their second round pick]

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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually come into existence. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclamations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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