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LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 1: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards handles the ball during a game against the LA Clippers on December 1, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein

Wizards Continue to Surprise as Offensive Powerhouse

The start of the 2019-2020 season seemed like a period of rebuilding for the Wizards, with the seventh youngest roster in the league, a few injuries including an Achilles tear from star point guard John Wall, and the departure of players like Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

But, just 15 games into the season and actually performing better than expected, the Wizards have pleasantly surprised many. The team has shown they are a force to be reckoned with on offense.
Shooting guard Bradley Beal is at the front of this force, with power forward Dāvis Bertāns and center Thomas Bryant right there with him. Bertāns is shooting above 40 percent from the 3-point line, and Bryant holds a 55.8 FG percentage.

Currently, Beal puts up almost 30 points and averages 7.1 assists per game. But despite Beal’s unbelievable scoring, his focus is not on averaging a certain amount of points.

“I think [scoring] is more or less expected of myself,” Beal says. “I just do whatever I can to help the team win. Whatever I can do, that’s what I try to accomplish.”

The 6-13 Wizards have some new faces on their roster, including rookie Rui Hachimura. Younger players like Troy Brown Jr., who’s in his second season, and new player Mo Wagner continue to make a name for themselves. Also leading alongside Beal are players who have seen plenty of time in the league like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith and C.J. Miles.

Brown Jr. feels having such a young team gives them an edge and the ability to learn from more experienced players.

“It allows us to grow, develop, and bond on and off the court together, but it also allows us to learn from and take advantage of the advice the vets on our team give,” he explains. “Not many guys have the opportunity to learn from a Bradley Beal, C.J. Miles or John Wall at such a young age in their career.”

The saying “defense wins championships” might not apply to this Wizards’ team, but don’t be too hasty in writing them off just yet. Although, head coach Scott Brooks said to NBC recently that having a top-rated offense and low-rated defense does not cut it.

One player who has been playing consistently well on both sides of the ball is Wagner at center.

He has brought intensity to the offense as a playmaker, scorer and rebounder, and is very dominant on defense. His outstanding play is not limited to inside the paint – he is a threat outside the arch also, shooting just below 50 percent from the 3-point line.

If Wagner can keep his fouling to a minimum, he is destined to earn more playing time from Brooks. Wagner says this is the first year he has really been given a big opportunity, and he works every day to take advantage of it.

“I just try to bring an energy and help wherever the team needs me. Run the floor and get rebounds, be solid defensively, take and knock down open shots – that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Thomas, on the other hand, has been in the league for almost 10 years. He knows the type of play that is required to be successful in the NBA, but historically underperforms on defense.

A highly talked about topic among fans is who should start in the point guard position during Wall’s absence: Thomas or Smith. But Thomas says he is primarily focused on becoming known as a leader on the team and doing whatever it takes to help the Wizards obtain wins.

“I’m just looking forward to a really great season and helping in any way possible,” he says. “A leadership role is something that I’ve always done. It just comes naturally: to lead by example, lead vocally.”

What do the Wizards need to do to have the best possible season? Play harder and with a smarter defense. That has become evident to most anyone who has watched them play so far this season. They have shown they can light their opponents up on offense, move the ball well, and favor the pick-and-roll to make plays, create space and find open shots.

If they stray away from having one of the worst-ranked defenses in the league, they would be scary good. Currently, the Wizards average 6.8 steals, 4.1 blocks and 32.2 defensive rebounds per game. With the exception of defensive rebounds, the Los Angeles Lakers – the top-rated defensive team in the league – are almost doubling the Wizards’ numbers on defense.

While unlikely, only time will tell if the Wizards can turn things around enough on defense to earn a playoff spot. Beal says for him, this season is about fostering winning habits on and off the court.

“I’ve told myself that this year is about having patience. We have a lot of new faces, a new system and young players that are developing. [We’re] just putting in the work, getting better every day and learning from the mistakes we make.”

The Wizards play at Capital One Arena four more times this month. For tickets and more info on the team, visit www.nba.com/wizards.

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

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

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