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New wave: What will the new-look Wizards be good at in 2019-20?

New wave: What will the new-look Wizards be good at in 2019-20?

This week at NBC Sports Washington is all about Rui Hachimura and the new wave of Wizards players. Today, we examine what the Wizards' revamped roster; what they could be good at and what they may struggle with this season...

Following an offseason of wholesale changes, about two-thirds of the Wizards' roster is new. That means that before they take the floor, we don't really know what to expect.

What will be their strengths and weaknesses? Will they be unusually good or bad at anything? Here are some predictions based on what their current players have done in the past...

STRENGTHS

1. Three-point shooting

 The Wizards ranked merely average in three-point makes and attempts last season, but in terms of percentage were a bottom-five team. They were 26th in the NBA at 34.1 percent from long range, a result of not having enough marksmen beyond Bradley Beal and the partial seasons from Otto Porter Jr. and Bobby Portis.

This year, though, the Wizards have a chance to improve in all three-point shooting categories. They can roll out lineups with five perimeter threats now thanks to a host of big men who can stretch the floor. 

Thomas Bryant, Moe Wagner and Davis Bertans are all proficient from long range. Bertans, in particular, is one of the best in the NBA at his size. Last year, he knocked down 42.9 percent of his threes on 4.4 attempts per game. He is particularly good in the corner where he holds a 53.4 career percentage and shot at a 59.6 clip last season.

C.J. Miles, another newcomer, could also help. He has made 37.1 percent of his threes over the past seven seasons. And same with Isaiah Thomas, a 36-percent career three-point shooter. 

Beal is one of the best long-range shooters in the NBA and now he could find himself in a lineup where all four of his teammates are a threat to shoot from deep. They may not be an elite shooting team, but they could take a step forward from last season.

2. Speed 

The Wizards like to play fast under head coach Scott Brooks and that was not a problem last season even after point guard John Wall was lost due to injury. He only played in 32 total games, yet they still ranked ninth in the NBA on the year in pace factor and were 11th after he went down.

Now the Wizards are bringing in one of the league's most noted speedsters in point guard Ish Smith. He is fast and committed to running, last year ranking eighth in the league in average speed on offense. That should pair well with Bryant, who is quick and active on the fast break for a center.

Bertans could also help that cause. He was fifth in average speed on offense (min. 20 games).

3. Youth

The Wizards flipped their roster this summer to favor youth and financial flexibility over experienced veterans and with that will come some teaching moments. But there should be some benefits from handing the keys to a younger group.

For one, they present upside. The team's ceiling may be lower in the short-term, but they now have some lottery tickets on the roster, prospects that could change their outlook very quickly. Young players could also bring more effort and energy than the Wizards saw last season from high-priced veterans who at times appeared less than thrilled about the team's trajectory.

WEAKNESSES

1. Rim protection

This is a familiar one. The Wizards have had issues protecting the rim for years with many of their attempts to fix it proving unsuccessful. This time around, they didn't do much to fix it at all.

The Wizards mostly added offensive-oriented players this summer. Neither Bertans or Wagner will help much. They combined to average 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes last season. Bryant is their best shot-blocker and that's not a big strength for him at this point.

Defense is likely to be a major, season-defining issue for the Wizards, just like it was last year. Last season, the Wizards were 29th in points allowed and 28th in defensive rating. It could even be worse this time around with Smith and Thomas serving as the front line.

2. Shot creation

Beal proved last season that even amid turmoil and record-setting roster turnover (they played a franchise-record 25 different players), he can still get buckets. No matter if he is double-teamed or guarded by the opponent's best defender, he can break through and put up points.

But can anyone else? After Beal, it's not easy pinpointing who will be the second scoring option. Bryant is probably their second-best player, but he averaged 10.5 points last season.

Rui Hachimura has the tools to be one of their top scoring options, but will be a rookie finding his way at the NBA level. If Thomas is healthy, he could certainly be in the mix. But beyond Beal, they may have some trouble getting points when they need them.

3. Guard depth

With Wall out for possibly all of next season, it seemed logical the Wizards would shore up the point guard spot with a starting-caliber player to hold down the fort. But instead of re-signing Tomas Satoransky or pouring resources into a proven starter, they sort of divvied up the money between two players - Smith and Thomas - who were back-ups last season.

Smith is 31 years old and Thomas played only 12 games last season as he continued to recover from a serious hip injury. What if one of them doesn't work out?

That could put the Wizards in a difficult spot with not much point guard depth behind them. They have undrafted rookie Justin Robinson from Virginia Tech as well as Troy Brown Jr. and Jordan McRae who can play the position if needed. But without Wall, the Wizards have some major question marks at point guard.

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More good injury news for Wizards, this time with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles

More good injury news for Wizards, this time with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles

WASHINGTON -- With their regular-season opener set for Wednesday, the Wizards keep getting positive news with the injuries that have plagued them throughout training camp and the preseason. On Monday, both Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles made their practice debuts and Moe Wagner also practiced after getting hurt in the team's last preseason games.

Brown has been out all of preseason due to a strained left calf. Miles has also missed all of preseason after having surgery on his left foot in July. Wagner has been dealing with a bruised back after a collision with Joel Embiid of the Sixers. It sounds like he could be fully cleared soon.

Head coach Scott Brooks tempered expectations on Brown and Miles, noting they did not participate in a full practice and that the regular season is just two days away.

"They went through parts of practice, but not the meat of it, not the bulk of it. But it's a good step," Brooks said.

When asked if Brown and Miles would play on Wednesday when the Wizards battle the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks said he doesn't "anticipate that happening." But for them to get out there at all is a good sign given they are slated to be the top two small forwards on the roster.

With Brown and Miles likely still out for the opener, Brooks may have to go with a big lineup including Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans, or with someone with little NBA experience like Isaac Bonga. He had Bonga start in several preseason games with them out.

For Brown, this has been the longest injury absence of his young career. He had never missed this much time previously at any level.

He was just happy to be back on the court Monday, even if he wasn't yet cleared for contact.

"It's just one of those things where I was itching to get back. A lot of time off, it can be good and back. I just tried to use it as a learning lesson," he said. 

Brown and Miles practicing came one day after point guard Isaiah Thomas practiced fully for the first time since his left thumb surgery in September. With so many players out, Brooks wasn't able to get a full read on his new-look roster during the preseason.

But slowly and surely his players are coming back and it may not be long before the Wizards can suit up with the roster they had in mind during the offseason.

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Garrison Mathews is ready to put Lipscomb University on the NBA map

Garrison Mathews is ready to put Lipscomb University on the NBA map

WASHINGTON -- Garrison Mathews, believe it or not, was not always a shooter. He didn't consider himself one in high school or even early in college. But now, at 22 years old, he has a two-way contract with the Wizards and the primary reason is because of his outside shooting.

Mathews, in a sense, has shot his way to the NBA and is now poised to be the first player in the league ever to come from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

"It's a crazy experience," Mathews said. "I enjoy being able to put Lipscomb on the map a little bit. Obviously, they haven't had much exposure and they've given me a lot. It's nice helping and giving back in a way."

So, how did we get here? Well, it wasn't always going to be about basketball. Mathews comes from Franklin, Tenn., where high school football is king. Mathews' grandfather was on the 1962 national championship team at Ole Miss. Mathews at one point was on track to follow in those footsteps.

He played wide receiver and tight end in high school and still misses the game.

"There's nothing like it," Mathews said of football.

But as he grew to 6-foot-5 with speed and an improving jumpshot, colleges came calling. And, once they did, Mathews made the difficult decision to focus on basketball full-time. 

Through his early years in college, Mathews realized playing in the NBA was a possiblity. So, he grinded through summers, sharpening his jumper. 

Slowly, but surely, they started falling more consistently.

"I don't know, it just kind of happened that way," Mathews said of becoming known for his shooting.

Mathews shot 34.9 percent from the perimeter his freshman year at Lipscomb. By his senior year, he was making 40.3 percent on eight attempts per game.

And it wasn't just the volume or the percentage that improved, it was the variety of shots he felt confident to even try. If anything has stood out about Mathews so far during his brief tenure with the Wizards, it is his ability to make shots without his feet being set.

Mathews made a shot in a preseason game against the Knicks on Oct. 7 in which his feet were facing the sideline when he caught the ball off a screen. He turned quickly before rising and knocked it down.

Mathews can straighten out his shooting form mid-air and it's something not many players can do. He has worked on it for years.

"There's a lot of times in my workouts where I'm coming off screens or practicing [dribble hand-offs] where I'm coming off a screen and just jumping in the air. That's part of my regiment when I work out," he said.

Mathews has made shots like that consistently in practice, but doing so in a game is a different story. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has seen plenty of players come along who can't translate what they do in practices to games.

So, he's not ready to crown Mathews as the next J.J. Redick. 

"The percentages will be able to tell us eventually whether those are shots he can make or if we have to have better footwork," Brooks said.

"There's only a few guys that can really square up basically in mid-air and be able to have it. Brad [Beal] has the ability to do that and it took him some time. I don't know if he's one of them, Garrison."

The list of players who make those shots often certainly isn't long. Redick is one, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors can certainly be included. Kyle Korver of the Bucks also comes to mind.

Korver, in fact, spent some time with Mathews before the Wizards' game against Milwaukee on Oct. 13. Mathews says he has long been compared to Korver, so he listened intently to what Korver had to say.

"I appreciated that from him. It meant a lot," Mathews said.

"[He told me that] when he practices, when he does individual stuff, he goes as hard as he can. And then he works on his body almost as much as he does on the court."

Mathews is confident, but also realistic. He said he would like to follow Korver's path, but knows he has a long way to go to carve out a career like Korver has.

"I feel like later in my career I can be a little bit like him. Maybe not as great as him because he's a great shooter," Mathews said. "But it's cool being able to guard somebody that a lot of people compare you to when you were growing up."

Mathews has learned through his development as a shooter that hard work can lead to success and sometimes even in ways that are unexpected. Maybe someday he will be in Korver's shoes, offering advice to a young player looking up to him.

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