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Wizards put their record where their mouths are

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Wizards put their record where their mouths are

The Wizards’ first victory of the 2012-13 season was significant for a variety of reasons.

Most notably, it took an incredible amount of pressure off coach Randy Wittman, who was beginning to run out of ways to motivate his players after opening the season with 12 straight losses.

But it is worth noting that it took a 26-point loss to the seasoned San Antonio Spurs for the Wizards to understand what they were missing and what they needed to change.

“After we lost to San Antonio, we just basically came together and said, ‘We need turn this around for ourselves. Not for anybody else, but for ourselves,’” forward Chris Singleton said Wednesday night after the Wizards’ 84-82 win over Portland.

“We don’t want to go down in history as one of the worst teams ever and so we’re just going to work our butt off.”

Following that blowout loss to the Spurs, Wittman let his players speak their minds. He wanted their opinions on things they thought they could do better and things the coaching staff could do differently.

“I just feel like he let us be basketball players,” Singleton said. “At the beginning of the season we were all hesitant to say anything. Now, he’s trying to tell us since we’re out there on the court that we should be the ones talking, not him or the other coaches coming back into the huddle and correcting everything. We have to correct ourselves if we’re going to get better.”

Wittman said he took the same approach at halftime Wednesday night. The Wizards and Blazers entered the intermission in a 43-43 tie and Wittman wanted to know what his players had to say about adjustments that needed to be made.

“I let them talk,” he said. “What is positive on the floor? What’s giving us trouble? Tell me. That’s the process we’re trying to get. I want our young guys to understand, yeah, this cross screen is giving us trouble; what can I do?

“Sometimes you hear it [from a coach], but you’re not listening. … I can draw it up on that chalk board and it looks good on the dang on chalk board. But you’ve got to be able to do it on the floor. And if we’ve got guys that have a way to tweak it and make it better for them, they are the ones that can do it and I’m always for that interaction from my players.”

Often lost in the evaluation of the Wizards’ early troubles is the fact that six of their 13 players were not on the roster last season and five of their six starters are playing for the first time under Wittman. Add the fact the Wizards have not had star point guard John Wall and have had Nene for just three games and you have a team still trying to find an identity.

Nene emphasized after Wednesday night’s win that the Wizards are still “very young and immature” and that it may take time for them to play to their potential.

With a Friday night visit to New York to face the 10-4 Knicks followed by a Tuesday night showdown at home against the 10-3 Miami Heat, the 1-12 Wizards will need to be quick studies if they hope to avoid falling deeper in the Eastern Conference standings.

“I don’t think that we can relax,” Trevor Ariza said. “We’re only 1-12.  We just gotta keep working hard every day and keep trying to get better.”

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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Neil Olshey signs extension with Trail Blazers, off the table for Wizards job

Neil Olshey signs extension with Trail Blazers, off the table for Wizards job

After Tim Connelly decided to re-join the Nuggets rather than take the Wizards' vacant front-office position, Washington has been forced back to the drawing board.

The Wizards have interviewed Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver, former Hawks general manager Danny Ferry and Wizards interim team president Tommy Sheppard.

In addition to those names, NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig reported the team could have interest in Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. 

That option was eliminated Friday when Olshey signed an extension to remain with Portland. 

With Connelly and Olshey off the table, there are fewer high-profile candidates left for the Wizards to consider as replacements for Ernie Grunfeld. 

Standig noted that Warriors assistant general manager Larry Harris could also draw interest from Washington. 

The franchise is running out of time to find their new front-office leader with less than a month remaining before the NBA Draft. 

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