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Wizards fall to Knicks on Summer League finale, as Moe Wagner shows improvement

Wizards fall to Knicks on Summer League finale, as Moe Wagner shows improvement

The Washington Wizards lost to the New York Knicks on Saturday night in the Las Vegas Summer League. Here are five observations from the game...

1. As was a theme in the Summer League, the Wizards played short-handed on Saturday night in their Las Vegas finale.

They were again without Troy Brown Jr., as he was (we now realize) shut down after suffering a left knee contusion in their second game last Monday. He was out and so was Rui Hachimura, who sat due to rest, and Issuf Sanon, who left the team to join the U-20 Ukraine national squad on Friday.

We knew Sanon would be missing because interim president Tommy Sheppard said as much on Thursday's ESPN2 broadcast and Brown's absence wasn't surprising. The Hachimura decision, though, is noteworthy.

Though he has no reported injury, the Wizards clearly wanted to take it slow with their ninth overall pick in the Summer League. He played in the first two games, missed the third, played in the fourth and then missed the fifth. He had his best performance in their fourth game, a win over the Hawks on Thursday, so perhaps the Wizards wanted him to end on a high note.

It is interesting, however, to contrast to how the Knicks handled their top guys. Both R.J. Barrett, the third overall pick, and Mitchell Robinson, one of their best young players, appeared in all five of the team's games. Barrett and others reportedly lobbied Knicks management to let them play in the fifth game after the original plan was for them to rest.

The Wizards handled things differently. But that said, Hachimura still saw more action than many top ten picks including Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Darius Garland, Jarrett Culver, Jaxson Hayes and Cam Reddish.

Really, it was an underwhelming Summer League in that regard. Many of the most intriguing players either played very little or not at all.

2. The outside shots again were not dropping for Moe Wagner, who wrapped up an overall frustrating 2019 Summer League. But in this game he did a much better job of compensating for his bread-and-butter three not being there.

Against the Knicks, Wagner was more aggressive and successful at attacking the rim. Though his three wasn't sharp, opponents still respected his pump fake and he made them pay.

Wagner isn't the fastest guy and he doesn't get a lot of lift when he jumps, but he is fairly smooth around the rim. He can scoop layups off the glass and finish with either hand. He also isn't afraid of contact.

Wagner ended up with 20 points (6-14 FG, 0-4 3PT), eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He closed the Summer League having averaged 10.8 points per game on 31 percent shooting.

3. The biggest standouts in this game were on the Knicks. Barrett had his best game of the Summer League and Mitchell Robinson was absolutely dominant. Barrett had 21 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds while Robinson put up 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Robinson looked like the best player in all of Summer League this year.

The Knicks also may have found something in Ignas Brazdeikis, who like Wagner hails from Michigan. Brazdeikis scored with confidence during his time in Las Vegas and finished well with 17 points and eight rebounds against the Wizards. 

The Knicks are largely a dumpster fire, but they have done a nice job finding diamonds in the rough. They did it with Robinson, Allonzo Trier and may have uncovered another gem with Brazdeikis, the 47th overall pick.

4. Isaac Bonga is a guy who should make the Capital City Go-Go fun to watch this season, but who also has a long way to go before he's ready to make an impact at the NBA level. At 6-foot-8, he's got great size for a guard and moves really well. But his shot, ball-handling and defense need some serious work.

The good news is that the Wizards can take their time with him and give him an opportunity to develop in the G-League. He's the type of player that would probably fizzle out quickly if he had to cut his teeth in the NBA. But the Wizards now have a place they can send Bonga to figure it out.

Don't be surprised if he ends up helping the Wizards. It just may be a year or two.

5. We saw in the fourth Summer League game how Garrison Mathews can shoot. In the team's fifth and final game we saw just how confident he is in his jumper.

Mathews, who finished with 11 points, was attempting threes from the 25-30 foot range, just letting it go. On one play, he got fouled on a miss that he released with 18 seconds on the shot clock. It was a fastbreak where the Wizards did not have a man advantage.

Mathews has some intriguing potential as a shooter, but needs some polish before he's ready for the NBA. It seems like he will spend a good portion of the start of next season in the G-League, even though he is on a two-way contract. But if you end up attending a Go-Go game, expect Mathews to fire threes from all over.

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5 things we've learned about the Wizards around the quarter-mark of the season

5 things we've learned about the Wizards around the quarter-mark of the season

In an 82-game NBA season, there is no natural quarter-mark. Technically, that would be at halftime of a team's 21st game.

But now that the Wizards have played 23 games this season, they have a nice three-day break, which provides an opportunity to step back and take stock of what we've seen so far. And for these Wizards, that evaluation process is extra interesting because they had so much roster turnover in the offseason.

Really, these past two months have been an introductory period where we got our first glimpse at a team almost entirely comprised of new players. According to Basketball Reference's continuity table, only the Warriors have seen fewer minutes played this season by players who were on their team last year.

With all that in mind, here are five things we have learned about the 2019-20 Wizards after basically a quarter of the season has passed...

Bertans was a steal

The highlight of the Wizards' season so far is definitely the emergence of Davis Bertans, whom the Wizards acquired over the summer in the NBA trade equivalent of a casino heist. Somehow, after only giving up the Euro-stashed Aaron White, they brought in what has so far been the best three-point shooter in the league this season. General manager Tommy Sheppard hadn't even had the interim tag taken away when he made the move in July, which should be a very good sign of things to come.

Bertans is their second-leading scorer with 15.7 points per game and is shooting an absurd 46.5 percent from three. He has doubled his attempts from last season with the Spurs, from 4.4 to 8.6 per game, and somehow his percentage has gone up. That's unheard of.

Bertans has been so good that it is inevitable the Wizards will field calls leading up to the Feb. trade deadline from contenders looking to add a shooter. But should they part ways with a guy who can shoot this well at 6-foot-10? Maybe if they were undergoing a long-term rebuild it would make sense, but team chairman Ted Leonsis doesn't want it to take long and neither does Bradley Beal. Bertans is the type of guy you keep if you plan to compete for the playoffs sooner than later.

Beal may have a shot at All-NBA

Though his shooting percentages have suffered from a recent slump, Beal is putting up monster numbers now in his first season as the face of the Wizards' franchise. He's averaging career-highs in points (27.4/g) and assists (7.0) while also adding 4.5 rebounds per game.

You know what those look like? All-NBA numbers. Consider the fact only three players in the last decade have averaged at least 27 and seven in a full season: James Harden, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. All three guys did it multiple times during that span and only one of their seasons, 2015-16 for Harden, didn't end with an All-NBA nod. Somehow Harden was snubbed despite averaging 29 points and 7.5 assists that year.

So, it could happen where Beal keeps this up and still falls short. But helping his cause are injuries at the guard position with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each out long-term.

It's really hard to make All-NBA on a team that wins fewer than 30 games, but it has happened before and Beal might be the next to do it. If he does, the Wizards signing him to a contract extension before the season will look even smarter because if he hadn't signed that deal, All-NBA would qualify him for a supermax.

Rui is already good, could be very good

It didn't take long for rookie Rui Hachimura to show he belongs at the NBA level. Most rookies take years before they can impact games the way he has, with averages of 14.4 points and six rebounds per game. That is especially impressive for a guy who was taken ninth overall.

We still don't have a great read on what Hachimura's ceiling is, whether he will ever develop into an All-Star. But he's already shown enough to say he will be a productive NBA player for many years to come. The Wizards have found another franchise building block.

They may have another one in Moe Wagner. He came over as a Lakers castoff in the summer and has done nothing but exceed expectations. He's averaging a solid line of 11.6 points and six rebounds per game while ranking seventh in the league in true shooting percentage (68.2).

Thomas is back, at least partly

Isaiah Thomas is currently sidelined with a left calf injury and there is an argument their best point guard is Ish Smith, but Thomas has already proven plenty of people wrong with the way he has played this season. There was so much mystery surrounding him entering the year because he only played 12 games for the Nuggets last year and hadn't shown he could be healthy in the past two seasons.

So far this year, though, he has been a solid offensive player with averages of 12.6 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 41 percent from three. He may never be the All-NBA player he once was, but Thomas clearly still has plenty of days left in his career.

They're probably going to get a high draft pick

Sure, most of us didn't think the Wizards would be very good this year. But given they have so many new players, they deserved some time to show us what they could do before we drew conclusions about their likely fate this season.

So far, they have actually been surprisingly good on offense. They are currently fourth in both points per game and offensive rating. Few would have predicted that coming in.

But their defense may be even worse than we thought. They are dead-last in points allowed and in defensive rating. And, because of that, they appear safely headed towards the draft lottery in the offseason.

Maybe they can turn things around and fight for a playoff spot, but at 7-16 on the year it looks like the Wizards will be picking high in the June 2020 draft. Though it would have been fun if they were a surprise team this year, that is probably for the best in the big picture. 

They can get another blue chip prospect and add him to a core that includes Beal, John Wall, Hachimura, Thomas Bryant and maybe Bertans, if they can find a way to keep him. Add someone like Cole Anthony, James Wiseman or Anthony Edwards to that mix and the 2020-21 Wizards could make some noise. For now, there are going to be a lot of high-scoring games with the Wizards coming out on the wrong end of them more often than not.

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Former NBA Commissioner David Stern has emergency brain surgery

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USA Today Sports Images

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern has emergency brain surgery

The NBA says former Commissioner David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage Thursday and had emergency surgery.

The league says in a statement its thoughts and prayers are with the 77-year-old Stern's family.

Stern served exactly 30 years as the NBA's longest-tenured commissioner before Adam Silver replaced him on Feb. 1, 2014. Stern has remained affiliated with the league with the title of commissioner emeritus and has remained active in his other interests, such as sports technology.

Zach Brook contributed to this report.

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