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Rui Hachimura has to set better screens, will have big challenge in Joel Embiid

Rui Hachimura has to set better screens, will have big challenge in Joel Embiid

WASHINGTON -- Wednesday's practice for the Washington Wizards had to be adjusted due to a slew of injuries in their frontcourt. Without enough centers to run a full 5-on-5 scrimmage, head coach Scott Brooks led a walkthrough of plays, highlighting key areas he would like them to focus on as they prepare to go with smaller lineups out of necessity.

One key focus was screen-setting. Without Thomas Bryant for at least the next three weeks, the Wizards have to make up for his absence, as he currently ranks sixth in the NBA in screen assists per game. The Wizards fall in the middle of the league in ball screens and off-screens, but Bryant sets the majority of them.

At the moment, they are also missing Moe Wagner (ankle) and Ian Mahinmi (Achilles), so all three of their natural centers are hurt. That means rookie Rui Hachimura has to fill the void, as he did on Tuesday in the Wizards' loss to the Magic.

And that means Hachimura, though he's undersized for the five-spot at 6-foot-8, is going to have to set some screens.

"If he's the five, he has to hold the screens and be a screen scorer," Brooks said. "He's going to be able to learn that. I think he's going to pick it up tomorrow. I think today he saw it and our coaches are going to show him some film on it and I think you're going to see some improvement there." 

Brooks added that Hachimura struggled setting screens against Orlando. As Brooks described it, Hachimura was slipping out of his picks too early because that's what he's used to as a forward.

Hachimura is third on the Wizards in screen assists behind Bryant and Wagner, but he says he hasn't been a primary screen-setter since high school. Now he has to help his teammates get free by putting a body on the biggest and quickets athletes in the world.

"I have to be physical offensively," he said.

For the Wizards, these big men injuries are coming at a bad time. On Thursday night, they will see the Philadelphia 76ers, who play an unusually big lineup. Hachimura will have to set screens on players who are larger than him. Even Philly's point guard, Ben Simmons, is 6-foot-10.

Hachimura will also have to deal with center Joel Embiid on defense. Embiid may be the best center in basketball and also the most physically imposing.

At 7-feet and 280 pounds, he is a force down low. He leads the NBA in post-ups per game (7.9) and has a knack for getting to the free throw line. He is fifth in the NBA in free throw attempts this season (8.3/g) and was second in the league last year (10.1/g).

Foul trouble is one way the Wizards' frontcourt situation could get even worse. It's something to keep in mind as Hachimura awaits arguably the toughest challenge of his career so far.

"As young players, you've gotta expect the unexpected. Nobody expected we would have these injuries at the five spot," Brooks said.

"He [eventually] has to guard them all. That's what is going to make him valuable to us long-term, so this is good experience."

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Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

WASHINGTON -- When identifying leaders from an outside perspective, it is only natural to look at the Washington Wizards and see Bradley Beal and John Wall, their two All-Star guards. Logic would suggest they set the tone for younger, less experienced players, that they are the ones the rookies should look up to.

But Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees similar value in less-heralded members of his team, the journeyman veterans to whom nothing has been given. Guys like Ish Smith and Gary Payton II have bounced around the league to varying degrees. In Payton's case, that has included extended time in the G-League.

Brooks has been tasked with creating an environment for the Wizards that is conducive to the development of young players and he believes those types of veterans set an important example.

"If you're really good, you have two or three All-Stars on your team," Brooks said. "But the league is made up of guys like Ish. His story can help the younger guys make it and stay in the league. It's what the league is about. He has the grit, the fiber, the substance and the experience to share with all the players who are trying to make it."

Brooks has used similar language to describe Payton II, who was first signed by the team to a 10-day contract last season. He was let go, then returned this past December and then had his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season earlier this month.

"He's fought and he's been cut many times and sometimes those are the guys you want in your program because they have that fiber, that toughness and that anger because they know that it can go away," Brooks said.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said on several occasions they want Brooks to install a culture and mindset with their young roster similar to the one he helped build in Oklahoma City. Smith happens to remind Brooks of one of his former players with the Thunder.

"I love guys on a team like Ish. We kind of had that guy with Nick Collison [in OKC], just a winning player on and off the court. Ish is the same way. I look at Ish the same exact way," Brooks said.

Collison averaged a modest 5.9 points in 14 NBA seasons, but was so respected for his leadership role that his jersey number was retired by the Thunder last year. 

There is another person guys like Smith and Payton II remind Brooks of and that is himself. Before he became a coach, he was a 10-year NBA player. And he carved out that career as an undrafted, undersized point guard.

He was constantly fighting for his NBA future on the fringe of rosters and was able to stick around only because of his hard work and toughness.

Though he played with some great teammates like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Brooks likes to think he left his own mark.

"I always took pride in having a relationship with the best player to the, well, myself; the worst player," he said.

"This game, it's a family and it's fun and it's about relationships; empowering and inspiring one another. You don't have to be a star player to do that. I've had great conversations with Olajuwon. I've had great conversations with players that only play on a 10-day or a year in the league. I took pride in it and I think Ish does the same thing. I think it's pretty important that we all are blessed and honored to be in the league, that now it's your job to leave your situation better than when you started it. We have a couple of guys on our team that can really carry on what we want our team to be about."

Ultimately, though, the Wizards' young players have to put in the necessary work to reach their potential. Brooks can teach them lessons directly and guys like Smith can do so indirectly.

But the players themselves have to understand the message.

"Now it's up to the younger players to listen to it. It's one thing to listen to John and Brad, but there's a great chance you're not going to be as good as John or Brad. There's a chance you're going to be a player like Ish," Brooks said.

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Mystics unveil 2020 schedule, featuring the first-ever Commissioner's Cup

Mystics unveil 2020 schedule, featuring the first-ever Commissioner's Cup

The Washington Mystics and the WNBA have announced their schedules for the 2020 season.

Expanded to 36 games for the first time in the league's history, each team will have an additional home and away contest on the year. As defending WNBA Champions, the Mystics will play the WNBA's first nationally televised game of the season at home on May 16 against the Los Angeles Sparks on ESPN. Other teams will open their season on May. 15 and May 17. 

It will be the first of four Mystics games that will be broadcast across the country. They also host the Storm on June 2 (ESPN2), the Sun on June 28 (ESPN2) and Sept. 20 (ABC) - all of which are at home. 

The schedule also includes a full month off for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics from July 13 - Aug. 13. After the athletes return stateside, the WNBA will host the inaugural Commissioner's Cup which will feature the top two teams from each conference based on conference record. The Commissioner's Cup is a new addition to the league in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement. 

WASHINGTON MYSTICS 2020 SCHEDULE

May 16: Los Angeles Sparks at Mystics - 4:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)
May 20: Mystics at Indiana Fever - 7:00 p.m. ET
May 22: Mystics at Atlanta Dream - 7:00 p.m. ET
May 29: Mystics at Seattle Storm - 10:00 p.m. ET
May 31: Mystics at Phoenix Mercury - 6:00 p.m. ET

June 2: Seattle Storm at Mystics - 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
June 5: Indiana Fever at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET

June 7: Mystics at Chicago Sky - 6:00 p.m. ET
June 9: New York Liberty at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET
June 11: Atlanta Dream at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET
June 14: Chicago Sky at Mystics - 3:00 p.m ET

June 17: Mystics at Chicago Sky - 8:00 p.m. ET
June 23: Mystics at Minnesota Lynx - 8:00 p.m ET
June 25: Mystics at Indiana Fever - 7:00 p.m. ET
June 28: Connecticut Sun at Mystics - 3:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

July 3: Mystics at Atlanta Dream - 7:00 p.m. ET
July 5: Mystics at Connecticut Sun - 3:00 p.m. ET
July 6: Mystics at New York Liberty - 7:00 p.m. ET
July 8: New York Liberty at Mystics - 11:30 a.m. ET (Capital One Arena)
July 10: Minnesota Lynx at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET

July 13 - Aug. 13: Olympic Break

Aug. 14: Commissioner's Cup

Aug. 16: Atlanta Dream at Mystics - 3:00 p.m. ET
Aug. 18: Mystics at Dallas Wings - 8:00 p.m. ET
Aug. 21: Las Vegas Aces at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET
Aug. 23: Los Angeles Sparks at Mystics - 3:00 p.m. ET
Aug. 25: Phoenix Mercury at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET
Aug. 28: Dallas Wings at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET

Aug. 30: Mystics at Dallas Wings - 4:00 p.m. ET

Sept. 1: Mystics at Las Vegas Aces - 10:00 p.m ET
Sept. 3: Mystics at Los Angeles Sparks - 10:30 p.m. ET
Sept. 6: Mystics at Phoenix Mercury - 3:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 8: Mystics at Seattle Storm - 10:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 11: Minnesota Lynx at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 13: Indiana Fever at Mystics - 3:00 p.m. ET

Sept. 16: Mystics at New York Liberty - 7:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 18: Los Vegas Aces at Mystics - 7:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 20: Connecticut Sun at Mystics - 3:00 p.m. ET (ABC)

In addition to the rematch of the 2019 WNBA Finals on June 28 and Sept. 20, the Sun and the Mystics will square off in Connecticut on July 5.

After a contentious WNBA Semifinals matchup with the Las Vegas Aces, the two will play on Aug. 21, Sept. 1 and 18. Liz Cambage's "get in the weight room" comment electrified an already competitive series and became a memorable one on and off the court. 

There is one back-to-back on the docket on July 5 and 6. It will also be a part of three road games in four days at the beginning of July. 

All home games will be at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast D.C. except for July 8's game against the New York Liberty. That contest will be in their old home confines of Capital One Arena.

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