WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 106-99 on Sunday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...
1. Earlier this season, when the Wizards first saw the Ja Morant-led Grizzlies, I compared the two franchises in terms of which one was closer to contention. At the time, I said the Wizards were closer in part because they had Bradley Beal, while the Grizzlies were still looking for their first certified star to emerge.
So, about that.
In the time since that first meeting on Dec. 14, the Grizzlies have soared into the playoff picture with Ja Morant playing not just like a star, but a potential superstar in the making. And Jaren Jackson Jr. has continued to blossom while Brandon Clarke has looked like the steal of the draft.
The Wizards have the advantage of being in the Eastern Conference, but this Grizzlies team is legitimate and they showed why on Sunday night as they beat the Wizards in Washington. Morant had 27 points, 10 points and 10 assists for his first career triple-double. Memphis has now won 14 of their last 18 games.
2. There is a cliche in basketball, really in all of pro sports, that by this time in a player's first season, they are not rookies. They are rookies in name only because of the experience they have already accrued over a series of months.
Some guys learn quicker than others and Rui Hachimura is one of them. He hasn't looked like a rookie really this whole season, from basically the moment he stepped on an NBA floor.
The way he has so smoothly adjusted coming back from injury is yet another example. It may have taken him one game to knock off the rust, but now it's like he never left.
This game featured a few plays that were great examples of perhaps his best trait. He plays at his own pace and doesn't let opponents speed him up. That is usually something rookies take time to grasp, but he just has it.
And part of that is his ability to get to his spots on offense. He knows exactly where his hot zones are and he gets to them consistently.
Hachimura had another strong night with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes. And he looked like an eight-year veteran along the way.
3. Moe Wagner's game keeps growing, particularly on the offensive end. We're at a point in the season where his efficiency does not appear to be a fluke and he is adding to his repertoire at a quick pace.
In this game, Wagner impressed with several drives to the rim off the dribble. On one, he went baseline and finished between two defenders with his left hand. And not long after, he drove right and scored through contact from Jonas Valanciunas.
Wagner was billed as a shooter coming out of college and he has so far backed that up in Washington more so than he did when he was with the Lakers. But he can also put the ball on the floor with both hands and weave his way through traffic pretty well for a big man.
Wagner might have more potential than people give him credit for. He had 19 points and nine boards. He shot 7-for-11 from the field.
4. Sunday was the first game for newly acquired shooting guard Jerome Robinson with the Wizards. He was brought in from the Clippers in the three-team trade that shipped Isaiah Thomas out of Washington.
The Wizards are hoping Robinson can follow the same track guys like Wagner and Thomas Bryant have. Like them, he wasn't getting minutes with his previous team, but should be have a better opportunity to play in Washington.
The early returns on Robinson, the 13th overall pick in 2018, were solid. He's pretty quick and athletic. And he's also not timid, considering his struggles as a pro so far and the fact he's entering a new situation. In fact, one of the first times he touched the ball he reared back trying to throw down a poster dunk.
Robinson's first points came on a three to beat the buzzer at the end of the first quarter. That's what the Wizards hope he can do at a base-level early in his career here, knock down outside shots.
Robinson had five points in 16 minutes.
5. With Robinson and Shabazz Napier now in the mix, it looks like the minutes have gone away for combo guard Gary Payton II. He didn't play on Friday against the Mavericks nor did he in this one.
It's too early to tell whether it will be temporary or permanent. Head coach Scott Brooks has a tendency to throw new players right into the fire to see what he has. Last season, he did that with Ron Baker, Wes Johnson and others. Those guys played quite a bit early on before getting let go by the team altogether not long after they were acquired.
Brooks has to figure out what he has in Napier and Robinson and, at least for the time being, that means no Payton II.
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