Ian Mahinmi

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Energetic and blossoming Kelly Oubre injecting life into Wizards

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Jerome Williams – who played for the Pistons, Raptors, Bulls and Knicks during a nine-year NBA career – scrimmaged his high-school players a few days per week while coaching Findlay Prep, a basketball factory near Las Vegas. As assistant then head coach, Williams worked with several future NBA players, including Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph. In those scrimmages, Williams often wanted to show his young charges what it was like to play against a professional.

But as he neared 40, Williams needed advantages. So, he subtly steered practices toward sprints before entering scrimmages.

Kelly Oubre Jr. was the first to notice Williams’ trick.

“Kelly would be like, ‘Yeah, you’re just trying to wear us down, because you know you’re getting ready to get it,'” said Williams, now 44. “He’d always come back with something to just let me know he’s seeing what I’m doing and it wasn’t going to work. He was intense.”

Then, the games started, and Oubre again separated himself from all the future pros who passed through Findlay Prep. He went hard at Williams, unafraid to foul or even play with anger toward his coach.

“Kelly was, by far, the most intense,” Williams said. “Other guys would have it in spurts. But for a whole season, every day, he was looking forward to the challenge.”

Oubre has carried that attitude to the Wizards, who badly need it. He’s a young, athletic, energetic, feisty, developing bright spot in Washington’s malaise of a regular season.

He’s also the Wizards’ most valuable trade chip with the deadline approaching. And he’s eligible for a contract extension next summer, though his new deal would begin in 2019-20, when John Wall, Otto Porter, Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi are already due a combined $107,593,645.

Does that leave room for Oubre long-term? Short-term, in a year the Wizards hold lofty playoff aspirations, would they prefer someone more polished?

Those overlapping questions will dictate the forward’s future in Washington.

“If I worried about the money, man, my heart wouldn’t be in it,” Oubre said. “So, I’m not worried about anything about the money. I’m just happy I’m on this team.”

The Wizards are happy to have him.

The story of their season: With an established core, they’re coasting. Washington is an underwhelming 26-21 with numerous disappointing showings against bad teams. Effort ebbs and flows, particularly rankling coach Scott Brooks, who stuck a decade in the NBA as a hustle player.

In this environment, Oubre stands out.

“He brings it every night,” Brooks said.

Oubre’s teammates appreciate the spacing his improved 3-point shooting provides. After making less than 30% of his 3s his first two seasons, Oubre is hitting 40% this season. That’s the biggest improvement from prior years to this year in the NBA. Here are the leaders with prior 3-point percentage on the left, current 3-point on the right and difference in the middle (minimum: 100 attempts in both prior seasons and this season):

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That plus incremental improvement elsewhere could land Oubre on some Most Improved Player ballots. His defensive awareness has gotten better, but he’s still prone to getting lost. He attacks closeouts more often, but running him off the 3-point arc lowers his efficiency considerably. He looks to make more plays for his teammates, but that has led to more turnovers.

Oubre has certainly improved, but there are still too many rough edges in his game for me to call him one of the NBA’s three most improved players. However, the growth he’s showing appears to be part of the messy process of a player pushing his boundaries as he develops into a genuinely good player.

For now, Sixth Man of the Year votes could be more attainable. Oubre is tied for seventh among eligible players:

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That’s plenty of potential accolades for someone who seems to appreciate the attention. Oubre has described his eye-catching fashion style as, “I think I’m a rock star.”

“When he wears his clothes and outfits, he swears he’s the swag champ,” Wall said.

Wall said he usually doesn’t see Oubre’s game outfits until arriving to the arena, because Oubre is always on the first bus – going early to put in extra work.

Even his fashion flows into someone who plays with an edge. Oubre’s fiery has already shown several times during his fledgling career.

“He’s not satisfied. He’s not content. He doesn’t feel entitled. He wants to get better,” Brooks said. “I like that about him.”

Brooks also likes Oubre’s fit with Wall, Beal and Porter.

That four-man unit has outscored opponents by a whopping 19.2 points per 100 possessions. Only a Warriors foursome (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia) has performed better while playing so much (315 minutes).

The Wizards’ quartet has excelled with Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris or Ian Mahinmi at center. The lineup is stretchier and switchier with Morris, but it’s just a matter of degree. Wall and Beal are Washington’s best players, and they belong on the court. As versatile, semi-interchangeable forwards, Oubre and Porter spread the floor offensively and allow more switching defensively.

“It’s just a matter of helping the big out on the boards,” Beal said. “We’re all tough and take pride in our defense.”

The Wizards might sometimes be lethargic, but these players take pride in their toughness. It’s almost as if these lineups bait the idle players into a higher gear.

For Oubre, it’s the opposite challenge. Many of his mistakes are born of over-aggression. That’s why he started meditating 5-10 minutes daily.

“I’ve slowed down,” Oubre said. “I’ve been moving at my own pace. I’ve kind of just taken everything that came at me.”

But make no mistake: Oubre isn’t losing his edge.

“That’s who I am,” Oubre said. “I have a lot of energy 24/7. I’m just blessed that I do.”

Draymond Green, Bradley Beal ejected in Warriors’ comeback win over Wizards

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)  — Golden State lost its emotional leader when Draymond Green was ejected shortly before halftime. The defending champs were sloppy again, even forgetting several plays after one timeout and still somehow won – but it has hardly been easy so far.

Kevin Durant had 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists to help rally the Warriors from 18 points down and beat the Wizards 120-117 on Friday night, a game marred by a fight between Green and Washington’s Bradley Beal that led to both being tossed.

With 19.5 seconds left in the second quarter, Beal held the front of Green’s jersey with his left hand while grabbing Green around the jaw with his right. That enraged Green, who threw his right arm in frustration and wrapped arms with Beal as if hugging, then other players joined the scrum.

“It was a scuffle. I’m not going to go into details about it. I’ll do that with the league tomorrow,” Beal said. “We just got into it and things got out of hand and we both got ejected. I told my teammates I can’t put myself in a situation like that to leave them out there to battle out against a tough team without me out there.”

Green had to be pulled away from the skirmish by Andre Iguodala and Warriors security personnel. Green was tossed after getting his second technical foul. The back of his uniform was torn from near his right shoulder down to his waist.

“I thought Draymond defended himself and bit the bullet of being ejected for the game,” West said.

Green was hit with his first technical at the 8:05 mark of the second quarter for arguing an offensive foul call. He had six assists, three points, three rebounds and three blocks before his early exit.

 

 

Three questions the Washington Wizards must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 49-33, advanced to the second round of the playoffs but fell in seven games to Boston.

I know what you did last summer: John Wall was dreaming big, he was trying to recruit Paul George to come to Washington. It’s a nice thought, but the Wizards never had the cap space or assets to come close to a deal for another star player. What the Wizards could do was lock up their own and make small moves to try to improve a 49-win team. Wall got a four-year, $170 million contract extension that keeps him in Washington through his prime. When Brooklyn came in with a $106 million offer for Otto Porter the Wizards matched it, not that they had much of a choice — it was match or create a massive hole in their roster (without the money to replace him with anywhere near the same quality). The Wizards got Tim Frazier for the 52nd pick to give them some needed help at the point behind Wall. Mike Scott is a bit of a gamble but a low-cost one and maybe he can be a stretch four. They picked up Jodie Meeks, who if he’s healthy can knock down shots.

THREE QUESTIONS THE WIZARDS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will there be any help off the bench this year? Last season the Wizard’s bench play was flat-out terrible. Don’t take my word for it, Marcin Gortat said they had one of the worst benches in the league. Or, think back to the playoffs when the Wizards were falling to the Celtics in Game 7 and Wall was obviously exhausted, walking back on defense, but Scott Brooks couldn’t take him out for a rest because he didn’t trust anyone off the bench for even a few minutes.

To help, Washington picked up Tim Frazier as a backup point guard this summer, he is solid and will be better than Trey Burke was last season (or Brandon Jennings, who was brought in to take Burke’s minutes mid-season because Burke was that bad). Jodie Meeks was signed this summer and can space the floor and knock down shots if he’s healthy. Mike Scott maybe plays some minutes as a stretch four.

However, what the Wizards are really counting on to help the bench this season is internal improvement. Kelly Oubre should take a step forward going into his third season, have a good one and he can push for a contract extension next summer. Tomas Satoransky was up and down as a rookie and faded as the season went on, hopefully his shot can improve and he can contribute more. Then there is Ian Mahinmi. If his knees let him — and he recently had another surgery on them — he certainly can help get some stops off the bench, providing a presence in the paint.

Notice there is a lot of betting on health and players developing, still if a couple of those bets pay off the bench will be less of a black hole than a season ago. However, it’s likely still going to be a weakness and the Wizards will lean heavily on a strong starting backcourt of Wall and Bradley Beal.

2) Can the Wizards play more consistent defense? For the month of January last season, the Wizards had the sixth best defense in the NBA allowing 103.5 points per 100 possessions, and not so coincidentally they went 12-4 that month. After the All-Star break last season, the Wizards were the fourth worst defense in the NBA, allowing 110.7 points per 100 possessions (worse than the Kings without DeMarcus Cousins, worse than the tanking Suns, and worse than the Knicks). They were just above .500 in that stretch.

The Wizards are capable of good defense, but they don’t bring it night in and night out. This is a team that is by far at its most dangerous when Wall is leading them in transition, but for the best running teams (including the current Warriors) that starts with stops and steals on the defensive end. If Washington gets more stops, Wall gets out in transition more often, and the Wizards are just better.

With most of the same players back in the same system, an improved defense will be more about focus and effort than some dramatic change. Coach Scott Brooks has to get through to them and get them focused on that end.

3) Is Kelly Oubre ready to step up? Earlier in this preview we talked about how the Wizards are banking on internal development to push them past the 50-win mark and deeper into the playoffs. The biggest question here is Kelly Oubre. There was a time when some around the Wizards thought he could develop into a guy who would push Otto Porter and give them more wing options, but last season Oubre played 20 minutes a night scoring 6.3 points and pulling down 3.3 rebounds a contest. He shot 28.7 percent from three and had a single digit PER of 9.1. His defense gives him some value (he can defend pretty well on the wing), but last season he was still a slightly below average NBA player.

This is his third year and the Wizards are counting on him to take a big step forward. Do it, and he can start to push for a contract extension next summer, but he’s got a lot to prove first. If he’s going to be a quality 3&D guy in the NBA, he has to shoot better than the 28.7 percent he did from deep last season. His defense can get him on the court, but he needs to score more consistently to stay there. In theory, and improved Oubre could play in a small lineup with Porter and Morris, and that would have potential. But Oubre has to be more of an offensive threat for any of that to work.

It’s a tight market recently, and teams are not paying on potential the same way they used to. Oubre needs to show he’s ready for the next step, then the rest of it will fall in line for him.

Wizards confident in how John Wall will develop during super-max extension

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The NBA’s new designated-veteran-player rule hasn’t exactly worked as intended.

DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Kyrie Irving have all been traded before eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract. Though each situation is unique, teams might be leery of paying the super max well into a player’s 30s. If eligible, players would likely demand the maximum available salary, though. And, obviously, not all players are enticed by the possibility of a super-max deal, anyway.

But the Wizards signed John Wall to a designated-veteran-player extension, which projects to be worth a whopping $169 million over four years.

Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

In brokering this deal, the Wizards had to project how Wall’s game will develop over the course of the next five or six years. That’s a long time, but as team president Ernie Grunfeld explained in detail, they feel very comfortable about Wall’s future.

“Thirty is still very young in the NBA nowadays. But we’ve seen John grow every single year. He’s improved every year he’s been in the league. The last four years he’s been an All-Star. This past year he was an elite-level player making the All-NBA team. He’s improved his shooting, he’s improved his knowledge of the game. The game has really slowed down for him. His first two or three years he was just up and down the floor trying to get to the basket and get layups. Now he reads the floor and he reads the situations and makes the right plays at the right times,” Grunfeld said.

There are three primary reasons a designated-veteran-player extension makes more sense for Wall and the Wizards than most cases:

1. Wall is particularly young for someone with his experience level. He was just 19 when drafted. Players can’t receive a designated-veteran-player salary until their ninth season, when many of them are already or close to declining. Wall’s extension will kick in for his 10th season, when he’ll be just 29.

2. Wall’s extension added just four years to his contract. A designated-veteran-player extension must bring a player’s contract to a total of six years. Because Wall still had two years left on his deal (not possessing a player option on his rookie-scale extension), his latest extension added just four years at the super-max salary. That’s far less risky for the team. It would have been risky for Wall to wait until next summer to sign, as he’d have to make another All-NBA team to remain eligible for the super max.

3. Washington already committed to max contracts for Otto Porter and Bradley Beal that run through the first two seasons of Wall’s extension. Ian Mahinmi is still on the books for more than $15 million during the first. Even without extending Wall, the Wizards might not have had significant cap flexibility. Better to keep their franchise player.

Will Wall be worth $47 million at age 32? Probably not. Will he be worth $44 million at age 31? I wouldn’t take that bet.

But Washington might get enough surplus value during the first two years of the extension, when Wall projects to earn $38 million and $41 million, to make it worthwhile. More importantly, players of Wall’s caliber aren’t easily attainable. Even if his salary outpaces his production, the Wizards couldn’t simply find a fair-value replacement who even nears Wall’s output. There’s simply value in having him.

Report: Wizards matching Otto Porter’s max offer sheet from Nets

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Otto Porter is reportedly signing a max offer sheet with the Nets, which would be worth $106,524,975 over four years.

The Wizards have indicated at every turn they’d match any offer. With the pressure on, that stance apparently isn’t changing.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

This is the right move. Porter – an excellent outside shooter and cutter who plays solid team defense – fits well around more ball-dominant players like John Wall and Bradley Beal. Capped out, Washington had no mechanism to adequately replace him.

The only question is whether the Wizards should have just given Porter a five-year contract in the first place. The max on that would have been $143,684,850, though perhaps they could have found a middle ground between that and the average salary on the offer sheet. Porter is just 24, and in a few years, Washington might regret not having him locked up longer. (See Gordon Hayward with the Jazz in 2014.)

Either way, Porter’s high starting salary will push the Wizards into luxury-tax range. Look for them to try trading Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi and/or Jason Smith. Washington probably must attach a sweetener to dump those players, so the team must weight the cost-benefit of that relative to just paying some luxury tax.