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John Thompson III, Sashi Brown, Tommy Sheppard, Ted Leonsis, Daniel Medina of Monumental Basketball // Photo Ned Dishman NBAE via Getty Images

Wizards’ Front Office Flips Page With New GM Tommy Sheppard

As the Washington Wizards embark on a new season, all eyes are on newly minted general manager Tommy Sheppard, who assumed his role this summer, and how he’ll guide the team in a period of rebuilding. Yes, that delightful word every sports fan – especially those in DC – loves to hear. Sheppard took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about the upcoming season and how he may be the leader the Wizards have been waiting for.

On Tap: How are you feeling about the upcoming season?
Tommy Sheppard: We are really excited. Everything we did from April on has built up to this moment in time as we get ready for training camp. We’ve had some pretty amazing turnaround in a short amount of time in terms of how many new players and new staff [have been added to the roster]. I think the best days are certainly ahead.

OT: You worked with former GM Ernie Grunfeld for many years. What did you learn philosophically from him that you will take with you into your new role?
TS: No matter what, you need the very best talent. Talent is the biggest, most important commodity in the NBA. I think there are so many ways to acquire talent. I put a high premium on character. Data-driven ways of scouting and the way we evaluate plays now is a little different. We worked together a long time and I have the most respect for [Grunfeld], but we are different people with different approaches. My challenge now is to execute a vision we are looking at collectively and not just, “Hey, this is how I want everything to look.” It is critical to everyone working with us that they feel like they have a piece of this, and that’s part of the new NBA as well.

OT: Does the team anticipate John Wall playing this season at any time?
TS: We’ve made a huge investment in John. This isn’t about this season. It’s about the rest of his career. Our performance staff has so much fire power and wisdom that they can truly test when someone is 100 percent, and John’s resume speaks for itself. He’s played through so many injuries in his career. But we have to be more thoughtful with load management and stress on players. We’re not going to rush anyone back, and certainly not John. You can’t fix your mind on a date. So, when he’s 100 percent healthy – not a month or a day [sooner].

OT: How do you envision using the G League as a place to develop players?
TS: We used it last year and were tremendously successful. We promoted our head coach of the G League [Jarell Christian], who is now an assistant with the Wizards. Thomas Bryant spent time there, and Troy Brown played there and got valuable game exposure and finished the [season] as a starter. The last roster spots will always change, and we are going to rotate a lot of players through to see what they can do. We don’t want to take away from the core of the Wizards. That’s the biggest piece: developing players under contract.

OT: Is your main focus this season on a playoff run or are you more focused on player development?
TS: This year, because we have brand new coaches and new players, it’s about getting everyone on a foundation and setting a routine. Playoffs to me is the big picture. You want to build something sustainable. We have to have wisdom to be patient and prudent with the money we spend so we’ll have more money in off years. This summer would have been easy to sign [Tomas] Satoransky, [Jabari] Parker and [Trevor] Ariza, but that’s propping up a team that didn’t make the playoffs. Those are good players and we will miss them, but logic told me they are signing one- or two-year deals – kind of like moving from one dilapidated house to another. Sooner or later, you have to bring it down to bring it back up, and I think we’ve done that.

OT: When you do have free time, what do you like to do around DC?
TS: I’m a museum junkie. I love the African American History [and Culture] Museum and the Air and Space Museum. I’m a big fan of SpaceX and what [Elon] Musk is doing, so I try to go back and figure out that history that led to this and what they are trying to create. I’ve got a big family and we live near Annapolis and have horses, so we love to be outdoors. And as far as restaurants go, Chloe down at the Navy Yard is one of my favorites.

 The Wizards’ preseason starts on Monday, October 7 at 7 p.m. with a home game against the New York Knicks. Learn more about the season at www.nba.com/wizards and follow the team on Twitter

Photo: Ned Dishman, NBA Photos

DC Enjoys A New Kind Of Go-Go

After years of planning and construction, people in the DMV can finally travel to into the city to see live go-go. And I don’t mean go-go music, the genre founded by DC legend Chuck Brown. I mean Capital City Go-Go basketball.

With a home court at the brand-new Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast, the NBA G-League’s Capital City Go-Go kicked off their first season in the District last November. Owned and operated by Monumental Sports, the city’s newest professional basketball team serves as a developmental team for prospects who need to improve before jumping to an NBA roster.

“It’s good basketball, a lot of talent and a lot of highlights,” rookie guard Chris Chiozza says. “The people we have on this roster are incredible. We have NBA guys, some people that should be in the NBA, people trying to get into the NBA and people that are trying to get called up. We’re a fun team to watch.”

The NBA G-League is the official minor league of the NBA, providing players out of college like Chiozza, foreign prospects from overseas or even high school grads forgoing college the opportunity to test themselves at a higher level of competition. There are currently 27 teams, and the games can be seen on ESPN, NBA TV and local networks.

For years, the Wizards sent players they were interested in to neighboring teams, but now they’ve finally established their own developmental program. However, the team is far from just a little brother to the Wizards, as the quality of play is nothing to undermine. In its inaugural season, the team is off to a successful start at 15-11, good for second place in the Southeast division.

“It’s been pretty good,” head coach Jarrell Christian says. “Nobody really knew what to expect coming in, but I think obviously we’ve won some games. Once you develop a team and the players as individuals, the wins will follow. I think our guys have done a really good job at becoming better players and better men on and off the court.”

While every pro sports team views winning as the ultimate goal, being in the minor leagues involves adjusting this mindset as individuals on the roster are constantly working on their own skills in the hopes of getting a contract with an NBA team. Several players have been on both DC teams since October including Jordan McRae, Devin Robinson and the team’s top pick from last year’s draft, Troy Brown Jr.

“I looked at a recent boxscore for the Wizards, and there were four or five guys who had played for the Go-Go this season,” Christian says. “That’s the whole reason why we’re here. The fact that we’ve been able to get those guys playing minutes before playing in an NBA game is why we exist. I’m excited about it, and we have a talented team.”

While a majority of rosters will include a number of younger players, veterans who refuse to give up on the dream of the major leagues round out the rest of the spots. Former University of Maryland guard Pe’Shon Howard is no stranger to playing in the G-League after suiting up for the Sacramento Kings’ developmental team last season.

“This [first year] has gone really well,” Howard says. “For a team that’s pretty big, with the staff and players we have, it’s really well put together for a first year. We have an identity and the coaches have us playing confidently.”

As a veteran, Howard understands the importance of balancing the team’s success with his own skill development. Scouts, coaches and fans are always drawn to teams that win, which in theory will help players get to that next level.

“For me, the main thing is competing and winning,” Howard says. “I think for me and this organization, we all know that winning is the easiest way to [personal] success. It makes it a lot easier to develop and adjust, because it’s not always about me. I always want to be on a team that wins.”

With talented players, innovative coaches and a beautiful new arena, the Go-Go have largely shunned any growing pains by establishing themselves as a tough out for other teams. Don’t miss out on the remainder of the season, as the team marches toward the G-League playoffs, because these are high-level players making music on the court.

“I think a big part of us being an expansion team is being innovative,” Christian says. “We have to continue to see what works best as a staff and for our players.”

For more information on the Capital City Go-Go or for tickets to future games, visit https://capitalcity.gleague.nba.com.


Long Island Nets v Capital City Go-Go

The Entertainment and Sports Arena Breathes New Life Into City

After more than a year of construction starting in summer 2017, the Entertainment and Sports Arena opened last September in Southeast DC. The multiuse facility, designed to host everything from concerts to e-sports competitions, is the practice facility for the Wizards, Mystics and Capital City Go-Go – and the home court for the latter two teams. On Tap spoke with Events DC President Gregory O’Dell about the $65 million, 4,200-seat arena’s local impact and future programming.

On Tap: What has the response from the local community been like so far?
Gregory O’Dell:
The response has been overwhelmingly fantastic. One of the things we wanted to do was put people to work. We had more than $10 million in construction contracts in [Ward 8], and more than 50 percent of the staff in the building are from Ward 7 and Ward 8. We thought this would be a great catalyst [for Congress Heights] and will drive foot traffic there. It’ll be the start of a wider and broader project.

OT: Now that it’s been operating for a few months, has the arena met expectations?
GO:
It has. We’re seeing the diversity in the programming that we wanted. People are coming from across the city and it gives people access to Congress Heights, which will bode well for the future and the community.

OT: How has the relationship with the Wizards, Capital City Go-Go and Mystics bolstered the arena’s programming?
GO:
I’ll give lots of credit to Mayor [Muriel Bowser] and [Monumental CEO] Ted Leonsis. The Wizards enjoy the training facility, [as well as] the fans of the Go-Go and Mystics. They’ve all been supportive of us and we enjoy having them there.

OT: Have there been any unforeseen setbacks?
GO:
Everything has gone smoothly. In fairness to the city, they’ve done an incredible job with the infrastructure job of the campus. There are growing pains for everyone when there’s construction, and we’ll have to make adjustments with the growth, but it’s nothing to complain about and we’re pleased.

For more information about the arena and news about future programming, visit www.esaontherise.com.

The Entertainment and Sports Arena: 1100 Oak Dr. SE, DC; 202-249-3000; www.esaontherise.com

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: John Wall #2 and Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards pose for a portrait during media day at the Entertainment and Sports Arena at St. Elizabeth's on September 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Wizards Hope New Additions Will Help Shake Slow Start

The Washington Wizards should be reminding themselves it’s early, because it is. Even though our hometown team has started slowly out of the gate, the nucleus of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. are undeniably talented. And in an Eastern Conference that’s more top-heavy than deep, these three athletes should be more than enough to get the team into the playoffs.

And as the Wizards’ new additions get acclimated in head coach Scott Brooks’ system playing with the aforementioned stalwarts, the squad should play better as the 2018-2019 season continues.

Fresh faces include future Hall of Fame center Dwight Howard, combo guard Austin Rivers and veteran Jeff Green. Each player brings a skill set missing from the Wizards roster in past seasons, as the team often sputtered due to its lack of depth.

The team shifted from longtime starting center Marcin Gortat to Howard, a player who’s undoubtedly been one of the greatest at his position for the past decade. Though he’s only 32 years old, he’s been playing in the NBA since the 2004-2005 season so he has some mileage on his legs, which could be a cause for concern later in the season.

He’s averaged nearly 18 points and 13 rebounds per game during his career, providing a consistent presence on the boards and in the paint on both sides of the court. Because of early injuries, Howard has missed much of the team’s lackluster start to the season; however, he should make his triumphant return in early November.

Meanwhile Rivers can play the point and off-ball, and is a capable scorer who averaged 15 points per game last season for the Los Angeles Clippers. His flexibility gives the team a reliable third guard, a piece they’ve been searching for since signing Wall and Beal to big extensions in the past few years.

As of late October, the team is 1-5 with several noticeable areas they could improve. Their rebound rate is dead last in the league with a paltry 42.9 percent. Considering the Wizards play with the third-highest pace, they’re leaving ample rebounds unaccounted for, giving other teams opportunities to get second and third shot attempts.

Howard should help with this significantly upon his return, as the team has been forced to go small and play undersized guys like natural power forwards Markieff Morris and Green at center for extended minutes.

Green is another newcomer who should help the Wizards down the stretch of the season. The power forward provides shooting and athleticism off the bench, and always has the potential to score 20-30 points in any game. The knock on his game throughout his career is the inconsistency of these flashes, because as exciting as they are when they’re happening, it can be maddening to watch when they’re not.

Returning players rounding out the team are Morris at forward, small forward Kelly Oubre Jr., center Ian Mahinmi, guard Tomas Satoransky and center Jason Smith.

Wing Troy Brown Jr., the team’s first-round pick of the 2018 NBA draft, should also provide punch off the bench as he gets more comfortable playing in the league. At 6-foot-7, his length will help on the defensive side of the ball against Eastern Conference teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors.

So yes, the Wizards have gotten off to a slow start, fielding a bottom-10 offensive (104.9) and defensive (114.5) rating so far this season. But with the talent of the roster and most of the season still ahead of them, it’s not time to panic yet. The new additions will help, but Wall, Beal and Porter Jr. will be relied on heavily to steady the ship as the calendar progresses – something they did two years ago.

For more information about the Washington Wizards and to purchase home game tickets, visit www.nba.com/wizards. If you want to hear more basketball opinions from Trent Johnson and a few of his friends, check out his podcast Trolling the Paint on Spotify, iTunes or Anchor.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200; www.capitalonearena.com