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Wizards take out Knicks to close preseason

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USA Today Sports

Wizards take out Knicks to close preseason

The Washington Wizards beat the New York Knicks 110-103 in their final preseason game on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

How it happened: The Wizards closed out their preseason schedule on Friday night, once again playing a team that sat their best players. The Wizards played five total exhibition games. Four of them were against NBA teams, including twice against the Knicks. Each and every time, their opponent saw opportunity to give their stars some rest.

On Friday night, New York held out both Kristaps Porzingis and point guard Frank Ntilikina, the eighth overall pick in this summer’s draft. Joakim Noah also sat out this one as the Knicks punted their matchup against the Wizards for the second time this preseason.

The Wizards did, to be fair, sit John Wall. But they played everyone else including Bradley Beal, who was clearly the best player on the court. Beal scored in a variety of ways and ended up with 24 points, four rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes. He shot 7-of-13 from the field.

Jason Smith started at power forward for the third time in five preseason games. At this point he appears to be the favorite to start there during the regular season when Markieff Morris is out recovering from sports hernia surgery. Smith had another very impressive game with 17 points in 22 minutes. He hit three threes, including two from the corner. He had eight attempts, which shows where his confidence is at right now to fire away from long range.

Tim Frazier started at point guard in Wall’s place and had another solid game. He had eight points, four assists and four rebounds in 25 minutes. He did, however, have four turnovers.

The Knicks held on with the Wizards through three quarters. They were down just two after the third quarter, 83-81. The Wizards held on, as the Knicks finished their preseason without a win.

What it means: The Wizards got out of the preseason with no injuries to their regular rotation guys. They did, of course, lose Sheldon Mac to a season-ending Achilles injury in their win over the Cavs. Overall, it was a productive preseason. Smith seems ready to step in for Morris and finding a solution at power forward was the biggest objective for the Wizards before the season begins. Mike Scott looks more than capable to be the backup at power forward, as well. He's healthy and has shown some flashes on offense.

Satoransky had his best game: When head coach Scott Brooks pulled Frazier, he used Tomas Satoransky as the backup and not Donald Sloan, who is fighting for a roster spot. Satoransky looked more comfortable than he has maybe ever on an NBA court. He hit a pair of jumpers from about 18 feet out, showing no hesitation in his delivery. Satoransky finished with 10 points, five assists, four turnovers and three rebounds in 22 minutes. Two of those points came on this dunk, which is one of the nicest plays we saw in the Wizards’ preseason:

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Not much of Felix and Sloan: Brooks must have his mind close to made up when it comes to the final roster spot between Carrick Felix and Sloan. Felix didn't play until the fourth quarter and Sloan didn't see the floor at all. Neither guy appeared in their previous preseason game, which was surprising. Felix already appeared to be the favorite and Brooks' rotation provided further evidence of that tonight. Felix played the entire fourth quarter, once again with max effort.

Oubre showing initiative: We don't know yet if this will carry over into the regular season, but Kelly Oubre, Jr. looks like a different player offensively. He was relentless in attacking the basket on Friday night, including with his right hand which has been limited in years past. Oubre clearly put in some work this offseason on his ball-handling and could be worthy of a larger role on offense. Oubre finished with 21 points in 23 minutes and shot 9-for-13 from the field.

Here's an example of his aggressiveness off the bounce:

Up next: The Wizards will open their season on Wednesday night at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. The game is set for ESPN and should feature the NBA debuts of both of teh last two No. 1 overall picks: Markelle Fultz (2017) and Ben Simmons (2016). The preseason is over, folks. Next time the games will actually count for something.

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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