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Wizards want to develop young players, but also compete and it's easier said than done

Wizards want to develop young players, but also compete and it's easier said than done

As much as this season for the Wizards is about player development, head coach Scott Brooks still wants to win and we saw that dichotomy clash on Wednesday night in Washington's 121-106 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

After his team entered the second half down by eight points, Brooks went away from first round picks Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura in favor of veterans C.J. Miles and Davis Bertans. Brown logged only 17 minutes on the night and Hachimura topped out at 21. 

For Hachimura, it was more understandable as he did not have it offensively. He was 0-for-5 from the field with zero points, showing no signs of life while battling a tough Pacers defense. Plus, 21 minutes is still a decent amount of floor time for a rookie playing in just his seventh NBA game.

But for Brown, who has now played four games since returning from a calf injury, it's difficult to understand why he only played the minutes he did, unless there was a setback with his health.

Was he playing great? No, his seven points and two rebounds and 3-for-9 shooting line didn't jump off the box score. His -17 +/- rating did stand out and not in a good way.

Brown, though, should have some room for error. Wednesday's game had shades of last season when Brown couldn't earn the trust of the coaching staff, even when it seemed clear he was better than some of the guys getting more playing time.

That was frustrating for Brown and his proponents, but it was at least justified by the team holding postseason hopes. They were an older, more experienced team and Brown was 19 years old.

But this year, the calculus has changed. The organization is taking the longview and holds no delusions about their ceiling this season. This year is more about their young players improving than it is about wins and losses.

The 15th overall pick a year ago, Brown's development is crucial for the Wizards and their future. So is Hachimura's, yet the two of them combined for 12 minutes in the second half.

Now, Brooks' approach in one game will not define the entire season. Brown may end up getting plenty of playing time when it's all said and done.

And Miles is a good and accomplished player. He looks healthy after recovering from foot surgery and, if that continues, he gives the Wizards a better chance to win in the short-term. If he has a bounceback year, he could even be a nice trade piece come the deadline in February.

But with Brown, Hachimura and other young players on the Wizards, the hope is that this season presents an opportunity for them to play real minutes. The Wizards need to find out which players are worth keeping, which ones could be used in trades and which ones aren't worth investing in long-term.

Committing to that is easier said than done and Wednesday night's game was a reminder.

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Pelicans' star rookie Zion Williamson out vs. Wizards

Pelicans' star rookie Zion Williamson out vs. Wizards

The Wizards will have to wait until next year to face Zion Williamson for the first time.

The Pelicans' star rookie will sit out on Friday night as the Wizards face New Orleans at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Williamson is resting on the second night of a back-to-back. The Pelicans played the Kings on Thursday night.

The Wizards also missed Williamson last July in the Summer League after he suffered a knee injury in his first game in Las Vegas. They also had one of their games this season against the Pelicans cancelled due to the NBA's long hiatus because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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Someday, the Wizards will see Williamson and when they do, it will be interesting to watch him match up with Rui Hachimura, who was in the same draft class and plays the same position. Williamson was the No. 1 overall pick and Hachimura was picked ninth.

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For now, the Wizards will battle a Pelicans team headlined by Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball.

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As he prepares to back up Bradley Beal, Jerome Robinson improving in key area

As he prepares to back up Bradley Beal, Jerome Robinson improving in key area

Jerome Robinson has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the Wizards roster so far during their time in Orlando. With increased minutes, Robinson has been able to play more freely and not wonder when All-Star Bradley Beal was at the scorer's table ready to check-in and take his place.

Through four games, Robinson is averaging 17 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 36 percent from three on 6.3 attempts per game. His 55 effective field goal percentage is second only to Thomas Bryant among the Wizards' regular rotation members.

Most noteworthy has been Robinson's overall consistency, as that has eluded him so far in his career. In four games at Disney World, Robinson has reached double-digits in scoring each time. He had never scored 10 or more in consecutive games previously.

"That's something that we've talked about with Jerome and we're working on with him," head coach Scott Brooks said. "I like his approach. In order to have a consistent game, you've gotta have a consistent approach going into a game. I think he does a pretty good job. As a young player, he has a pretty nice routine that he sticks with."

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Producing on a regular basis next season could be difficult in the role Robinson is expected to serve. He will be behind Beal, who plays a lot of minutes (he led the league last year) and who holds a very large share of duties on offense. Brooks mentioned the chance Robinson plays some small forward next season, just to make sure he gets on the floor.

Backing up Beal is important, as the Wizards know full well. They have had some trouble finding a solution at that spot on their depth chart. Those personnel issues may say as much about the difficulty of the role as the players they have tried in fulfilling it.

Brooks knows from experience as a player and coach how tough it can be in general to thrive as a bench player.

"You have to be able to do it. To stay in this league and stay in rotations and get consistent playing time, you've gotta perform consistently," Brooks said. "That's the hardest thing. That's why you see a lot of role players get moved around and role players that don't end up staying for a long time. It's hard to stay in this league if you're not consistent."

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Robinson, 23, said he has been in contact with Beal throughout his time in Orlando. Beal has told him to be aggressive looking for his own shot. So far, he's been able to do that. Robinson is averaging 12.5 shots per game in Orlando after taking only 6.2 shots per game in previous 13 games with the team since coming over in a February trade.

Scoring, though, isn't necessarily what Robinson will need to focus on. He has one of the higher ceilings defensively of any player on the Wizards. His physical defense on the perimeter stands out, partly because that isn't a forté for many of their players.

Robinson is committed to getting better on that end of the floor.

"If you can't guard your guy or help the next man, you won't play. Defense is huge for me. From a personal standpoint, I would love to be All-Defense someday," he said.

Point guard Ish Smith has been around long enough to spend plenty of time both as a starter and a reserve. He understands the challenge of playing on the bench, and has even backed up stars. But for him, the best approach is to keep it simple and just strive to leave the game to the starters in a better place than it was when he checked in.

Smith is seeing good signs from Robinson and believes he can make the most of what will be a very different role next season than he is serving in Orlando.

"I know for Jerome, the consistency he's playing with by knocking down shots in Orlando, he's going to do the same [in D.C.]. He just needs to continue the way he's playing and his confidence will grow with each shot," Smith said. 

"So, he'll be fine. Just don't worry about the 'I'm playing behind a star, so don't let me mess up' kind of mentality."

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