It was only one game, one that didn't count and it was against a team that only dressed eight players, but the first impressions of Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown Jr. in their expanded roles for the Wizards were good on Wednesday.
The Wizards fell to the Nuggets in their first exhibition game at Disney World. More important than the result, however, was the assertiveness and the production from their two most recent first round picks. Hachimura and Brown both took initiative to attempt more shots and do more in the way of playmaking to generate offense for others.
They will have to do a lot more of that throughout the Wizards' stay in Orlando, as Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans are not with the team. That removes the two top scorers and arguably their two top players from the roster. They combine for 45.9 points on 34.2 shots per game.
"Brad's not here and D.B.'s not here, so me and Troy and Ish [Smith] and [Thomas Bryant] have to be the ones to score a lot," Hachimura said. "That's what we talked about before the game. Troy did a good job finding us and passing it around. It was good."
The numbers of Wednesday's scrimmage were skewed by the fact the quarters were only 10 minutes long, but they still showed an increase in key areas. Hachimura, who averages 13.4 points on 11.1 shot attempts per game, scored 18 points on 14 shots. He also had nine rebounds.
Brown is usually good for 9.7 points on 8.3 shots. He scored 12 points on 13 shots and filled out the box score with six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
tough bucket 💪 pic.twitter.com/q2U5hgwyaT— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) July 22, 2020
Hachimura was able to take more shots while not deviating from his usualy game of attacking the rim and carving up the midrange. Of his 14 shots, only two were three-point attempts. There were a few occasions where he passed up threes by stepping in with a dribble or two and firing from around 17 feet.
Part of that was the Nuggets' consistent zone defense, which took away the perimeter.
"I was finding my spots in the midrange. They were open, so I just found it. That's what I'm always practicing," Hachimura said.
Head coach Scott Brooks praised Hachimura's feel for the game and his ability to get to his spots, which isn't always easy for young players. But he would like to see Hachimura expand his range a bit, given the Wizards are missing a lot of three-point shooting with Beal and Bertans. They shot just 26.5 percent from three against Denver.
"There's a fine line. You've gotta be able to every now and then cross it," Brooks said. "His arch is definitely better, his shot is definitely better. There's still a comfort zone. He needs to push himself out there and I think he will."
八 coming down the middle! pic.twitter.com/xWlxFjN5H6— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) July 22, 2020
It was passing that stood out most for Brown. With Beal out, he was leaned on heavily for ball movement with his ability to set others up with accurate and deceptive passes.
Brown had a wide range of assists on Wednesday from no-look fastballs under the rim to halfcourt deep-balls to push the pace.
"I have always played point guard, so it was nothing new to me. Passing hasn't really been something that's uncomfortable for me. Tonight, that's something that we needed," Brown said.
Brooks was pleased with Brown's game, though he said there is still room for improvement with his checkpoints in the offense, areas where he has to make the quick call whether to shoot or pass.
"You can tell this break helped him. Even though I think the game has to slow down a little bit more, but the game has slowed down quite a bit from earlier this season," Brooks said.
The road will only get tougher from here. The Wizards faced a depleted Nuggets team, but will then see the Clippers and Lakers to close out the exhibition schedule. Then comes the real games and a sprint to the finish line for the playoffs.
But through one game, the early returns for Hachimura and Brown were encouraging.
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