Marcin Gortat had an underappreciated, but uneven season with the Wizards

As the NBA evolves into a shooter’s league, traditional centers are quickly becoming extinct and Marcin Gortat is no exception. Once the Wizards traded for Markieff Morris during the 2015-2016 season, it was clear that the Wizards were shifting their focus away from muscle to spacing. And just this offseason, the Wizards made a run at Al Horford in hopes of putting four shooters around John Wall.

Even though traditional centers are fading away, Marcin Gortat managed to turn in his best season as a Wizard averaging a double-double for the year with 10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds. On top of that, the 33-year-old was the only Wizards player who played and started all 82 games this season.

Gortat was rock solid for a majority of the season. However, he went through a bit of a slump in late February and March as his numbers dipped to 7.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest. This happened to coincide with the Wizards’ team struggles so like years past, Gortat became the punching bag for Wizards faithful.

Things didn’t get easier for Gortat when the Wizards entered the playoffs as he had arguably the hardest individual matchups in both rounds. First, he had to guard the bruising Dwight Howard and then he had to try to lock down the rangy Al Horford.

Gortat struggled to score in the Atlanta series but managed double-digit rebounding numbers in four of the six games (including 18 rebounds in Game 4). In the second round against theCeltics, he was able to move more freely on the offensive end. He notched three double-doubles in the series with double-digit rebounding efforts in six of the seven games.

There’s no denying it, Gortat is getting older, but he’s adjusted to the evolving NBA. He’s not a stat stuffer anymore but performs many little things that don’t show up in the box score. This season, Gortat led the NBA in screens leading to baskets. So although he doesn’t get an assist per se, he’s accounting for a minimum of 12 additional points on a nightly basis.

He continues to make the most of his touches around the rim, making 68.9 percent of his attempts there this season. The issue here is that his touches and shot attempts went down from previous years. He only attempted 8.2 shots per game, the fewest of his career since arriving in Washington.

As the Wizards switched their offensive scheme, Gortat received fewer and fewer touches in the post as most of his points either came on pick-and-rolls or putbacks. In the rare instance that Gortat would get the ball in the post, it often felt like he needed to take the shot as he wasn’t sure when he’d touch the ball next. He struggled on those opportunities, shooting 46.2 percent in the paint and 40.9 percent in the midrange area.

Gortat isn’t in an ideal situation as he’s on the wrong side of 30 playing a position that is slowly dissolving. He mentioned in his exit interviews that he’ll talk with his agent this offseason to see if Washington is the best place for him as it’s clear that the Wizards are looking to get younger and more athletic at the center position.

His season didn’t end on a high note as he became less and less involved in the offense as the season wore on. However, his durability, rebounding, and ability to do the dirty work can’t be questioned.

Kelly Oubre made some improvements, but still has a ways to go

Kelly Oubre Jr. played just six seconds in Game 7 as the Wizards lost to theBoston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And just like that, his season ended the same way it began; with one big question mark.

Coming into the 2016-2017 campaign, the expectation was that Oubre would step into the backup role left vacant as the Wizards opted not to re-sign guys likeGarrett Temple and Jared Dudley. The hope was that the second-year player would slowly morph into a 3 & D player that the Wizards have sought out sinceTrevor Ariza’s departure. And although Oubre did improve from his rookie season, he still has a ways to go.

Even though Oubre struggled to score at times, Scott Brooks often opted to play him over Markieff Morris with the starters to close out games during stretches in December and January. However, when he spent time playing alongside the second unit, he struggled to score.

Although Oubre’s minutes essentially doubled from last season to this season (10.7 to 20.3), his scoring never came around. The second-year player worked with Drew Hanlen this offseason to try and improve his offensive game but it never came to fruition. He averaged more points this season (6.3) but that was due to his increased usage and shot volume.

In what looked like it would be another ho-hum season with just minor improvements, Oubre turned in the best stretch of his career starting with a 16 point and 7 rebound game as the Wizards beat the Cavs, 127-115 on March 25th. That kicked off a stretch where Oubre would average 11.4 points per game over the next 10 games, the best stretch of his career.

Unfortunately, that hot stretch didn’t fully carry over to the playoffs as Oubre’s numbers reverted back to the mean as he averaged 5.8 points and 2.3 rebounds; very similar to his shaky and inconsistent regular season numbers.

Now, Oubre enters a very pivotal offseason. Unlike Porter, he will not be forced into a starting role in his third season. That means Oubre will need to continue to make strides in his game keeping in mind that his minutes will probably hover around the 20-minute mark again next season.

In a recent interview, Oubre stated that he’ll be working out with Bradley Beal this summer to work on creating his own shot and setting up others. This seems like a big mistake. Oubre still has not become a knockdown shooter or a lockdown defender. To flourish as a key bench player next season, he’ll have to raise his three-point shooting percentage. His jump shot did look much cleaner this season than when he entered the NBA but the only issue was, it still never went in at a high rate. Shooting 28.7 percent from distance isn’t going to cut it.

Like his rookie campaign, Oubre would either shoot a three-point shot or would try to drive all the way to the hole and finish in traffic. There was an improvement here as Oubre connected on 57 percent of his field goals within eight feet from the hoop, but keep in mind that includes plenty of easy, uncontested dunks off of turnovers. When he tried finishing over seven-footers in halfcourt situations, it often led to poor shot attempts or turnovers before he even got a chance to get a shot up.

In addition, Oubre should focus on improving his perimeter defense. Wizards fans salivate over Oubre’s physical tools as he stands at 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, but he hasn’t become a great on-ball defender, yet. He still gambles too often on defense, is overzealous, and commits far too many fouls.

As Oubre enters one of the most important offseasons of his career, he’ll be best suited in trying to hone in his shooting and defense rather than worrying about creating his own shot. Because when it boils down to it, his evolution and ceiling as an NBA player most likely mimics that of Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter more than it does Paul George or Kawhi Leonard.

Wizards at Celtics Game 7 Final: Beal’s 38 isn’t enough as Washington falls to Boston, 115-105

Bradley Beal scores a game-high 38 points but it wouldn’t be enough as the Celtics beat the Wizards 115-105 with a balanced team effort. Otto Porter scored 20 while Markieff Morris and John Wall chipped in with 18 points a piece but the Wizards got no help from their bench and ran out of gas late.

The Wizards looked jittery from the get-go and it showed. Washington started the game just 1-7 from the field which allowed the Celtics to get out to an early 10-2 lead and forced Scott Brooks to call a timeout. The timeout settled the Wizards in as they then countered with an 8-0 run of their own to get back in this one. Washington thrived in transition early and scored 10 first quarter points in the fast break but trailed 27-23 after one quarter.

With the bench unit it, the Celtics stretched the lead out to six behind Boston’s nice bench play. Kelly Olynyk had several back door cuts for easy layups while Crowder was also able to get open for easy baskets forcing Brooks to put the starters back in early. After starting just 1-5 from the field, Bradley Beal started to come alive on the offensive end as he scored 14 points in the half and the Wizards led 55-53 at halftime.

Washington’s offense was rolling the start the third quarter. Everyone was sharing the wealth as the Wizards led by as many as six, 70-64 midway through the third quarter. Marcus Smart, who’s struggled mightily in this series, knocked down two three-pointers to tie the game for the Celtics. But playoff Bradley Beal would have none of it. Beal got hot in the quarter including a streak where he connected on six straight field goals and was the Wizards only offense at times. However, the energy plays and 50/50 balls were won by the Celtics and as a result, that propelled them to a 85-79 lead entering the fourth quarter.

The Celtics went on an 18-2 run to stretch the lead to 13, 94-81 and it looked like this game might be over. But after a timeout, the Wizards answered with a quick 7-0 run of their own. The fourth quarter had a ton of pace to it, something that was absent during the rest of the game. The Wizards and Celtics went back and forth exchanging jumpers but it was Boston and Kelly Olynyk who hit the big threes down the stretch whereas Washington ran out of gas.

There’d be no comeback this time as the Wizards fall short, 115-105. No Eastern Conference Finals this year and that’s how the season ends.

Wizards vs. Celtics Game 6 final score: Wizards win 92-91 thanks to John Wall’s late three

John Wall buried a three-pointer with 3.5 seconds left as the Wizards beat the Celtics 92-91 to force a Game 7 on Monday night.

After laying an egg in Game 5, the Wizards came out with much more intensity and was the team making all of the hustle plays. However, that didn’t translate on the other end as the Wizards struggled to score at times in the first half. Fortunately, Bradley Beal connected on three of his first four shots to give the Wizards an early lead.

The Celtics’ shooting in the first quarter was even worse. Boston connected on just 4 of their 17 shots in the first quarter but only trailed by five, 22-17 as the Wizards missed a golden opportunity to stretch the lead out but couldn’t due to missed layups and free throws.

With the lead stretched to seven, Washington’s bench came in and blew the lead. The Wizards regained control with a 12-2 run midway through the second quarter to take a 40-30 lead but once again, missed opportunities plagued Washington. John Wall was getting rejected at the rim, Markieff Morris missed a dunk, and the Wizards missed seven free throws in the first half.

Avery Bradley dunked home an alley-oop with just seconds remaining as the Wizards lead quickly disappeared with the Celtics leading, 42-41 at halftime.

Even after starting the game just 1-12 from the field, Wall continued to stay aggressive. Wall went on a personal 7-0 run to get the Wizards back in this one and tie the game at 50. Like games past, Washington felt like they weren’t getting the calls and at times in the third quarter, it got into their heads. Forced shots on the offensive end led to easy dunks or layups for the Celtics on the other end.

The Wizards continued to hang around though. With under a minute remaining, Wall drove and spun past Kelly Olynyk for 2 of his 13 points in the quarter as the Wizards trimmed the deficit to three, 69-66 entering the fourth quarter.

Beal was the Wizards’ only offense to start the fourth quarter. His shot wasn’t falling from three-point range but continued to attack the hole and pull up for mid-range jumpers. With the lead seesawing back and forth, Isaiah Thomas hit a step-back jumper over Markieff Morris to give the Celtics the lead with under three minutes left. Thomas then hit a three over Wall to give the Celtics a 87-82 lead with under two minutes remaining and the Wizards looked dead in the water.

Beal, who started the game 0-7 from three-point range knocked down his first of the game late in the fourth to cut into the lead. After two Wall free-throws to tie the game, the Celtics executed a perfect out of bounds play resulting in a Bradley jumper. Beal would answer on the other end. But once again, the Celtics would execute another out of bounds play, this time with Horford knocking down the jump shot with 7.1 seconds remaining to put the Celtics up by 2.

With the ball in the frontcourt, Porter struggled to inbound it on a play designed for Beal. Wall ended up with the ball in his hands and hit a three over Bradley to give the Wizards a 92-91 lead.

The Celtics would miss a desperation shot at the buzzer to ensure this series will go a full seven games. The winner will be decided in Boston on Monday evening.

Wall, Beal, and Morris get no help

Wall, Beal, and Morris scored all 51 points in the second half for the Wizards. The bench had its moments in the first half, but never amounted to much in the second. Bradley Beal took over in the fourth quarter as he stayed in attack mode throughout the quarter. Morris and Wall helped bring it home with some big shots late.

Wizards sneak out with a win

If were going to be frank, the Wizards probably should not have won this game. They didn’t play like the desperate team for long stretches of this game and were losing the hustle plays in the second and third quarters. The team was too worried about getting calls rather than playing the game at times. However, Wall and Beal carried them late with clutch baskets. Sometimes that’s enough. Now they’ll have a chance to make the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night.

Wizards at Celtics Game 5 Final: Wizards no-show in Boston, get blown out 123-101

Avery Bradley scores a playoff career-high 29 points as the Celtics blowout the Wizards, 123-101. The Wizards didn’t treat this game like the most important contest in nearly 40 years as they pulled a complete no-show. John Wall led the way with 21 points while Bradley Beal chipped in with 16 and outside of those two, there wasn’t much to talk about.

Things looked good as the Wizards connected on their first two shots of the game to take an early 4-0 lead. But that would be the only lead the Wizards experienced tonight as the Celtics countered with a 13-0 run en route to blowing the doors off of Washington. The Celtics were on fire in the first quarter led by Bradley who scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting as the Celtics led 33-21.

Things didn’t get any better for Washington in the second quarter when the bench came in as Boston’s lead ballooned to 20. The Wizards were able to get the lead down to 15 but the Celtics countered with easy baskets whenever that happened. Boston shot 58 percent in the half with Bradley and Jae Crowder combining for 39 points as the Wizards trailed 67-51.

The Wizards showed a bit of fight in the third as they were able to cut the lead to 14 at one point. But Boston quickly answered with three-pointers from Thomas and Smart to end all hope. Washington cleared the bench early in the fourth quarter as the reserves would ride this one out to a 123-101 loss.

Washington no-shows in biggest game of the year

You would think that a pivotal Game 5 on the road would be enough for Washington to bring their A-game? But clearly, it wasn’t. Washington no-showed in the most important game of the year. They were lazy on defense, had zero flow to their offense, and would watch as Boston made all of the hustle plays. Outside of Wall and Beal, who also looked disinterested at times, the only player who came to play tonight was Kelly Oubre.

Wizards have no answer for Avery Bradley

Bradley struggled mightily in the two games in Washington, but not tonight. Bradley came out on fire connecting on 10 of his first 13 shots of the ball game. He was knocking down threes, getting dunks in transition, and pretty much just getting any shot he wanted. Bradley set the tone and the Wizards were so consumed with containing Thomas that they let Bradley get loose. As mentioned, Bradley scored a playoff career-high 29 points on 12-19 shooting including 4-7 from three-point range.

Celtics vs. Wizards Game 4: Washington uses 26-0 run to blowout Boston, 121-102

After missing his first nine shots, John Wall connects on 8-16 the rest of the way en route to 27 points as the Wizards blow out the Celtics 121-102. Bradley Beal led the team with 29 points and Otto Porter added 18 as the Wizards use a 26-0 run in the third quarter to run away from Boston.

Boston looked locked in from the beginning, specifically, Thomas. After scoring just 13 points in Game 3, Thomas connected on his four three-point field goals to give the Celtics an early lead. Porter scored 10 in the quarter but Boston went 5-8 from three-point range and led for the first time after the first quarter in this series, 24-20.

After starting 0-9 from the field, John Wall connected on a long three-point field goal. That sparked an 11-2 run at a pivotal time as Washington found themselves down by as many as 12, 40-28 in the second quarter. Wall would score 14 points in the second period after a scoreless first quarter as we’d be tied at 48 at halftime.

Amir Johnson scored the first five points of the third quarter and that’s when everything changed for Washington. After two free throws, Morris would gobble an offensive rebound and kick it to Bradley Beal for three to spark a 26-0 run for the Wizards. During this run, Washington turned Boston over nine times resulting in 21 points. The Wizards clamped down on defense, specifically Otto Porter who got his hands in passing lanes that resulted in easy layups in transition. Wall had no issues getting to the hole as he easily beat Thomas off the dribble for layups and mean mugs to the crowd. The Wizards flipped the five point deficit into a 74-53 lead.

Washington connected on 13-17 field goals to start the quarter as they would enjoy a 90-68 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Scott Brooks opted to go with the starters for a tad longer than usual but probably for insurance purposes as the Celtics never cut the lead to closer than 17 after the 26-0 run. Jason Smith added a cherry on top to this one as the Wizards tie the series at two games a piece.

26-0 run sparks Wizards

Amir Johnson scored five quick points in the third quarter. It was all over for Boston after that. Washington amped up their defense turning the Celtics over nine times during the 26-0 run which was the deciding factor. Porter shot gaps for steals and easy layups on the other end.

Bradley Beal was knocking down three-pointers, and John Wall was doing Wallstar things as the Wizards turned this game upside down over a five minute stretch in the third period.

John Wall was an All-Star tonight

After starting 0-9 from the field, Wall connected on 8-15 field goals the rest of the way as he’d score 27 points to go along with 12 assists. Like Porter, Wall was also very active on the defensive end as he led the team with five steals and was able to get the team rolling in transition. Once Wall settled into the game, he really controlled the pace of this one and was able to knock down shots and find his teammates for easy baskets.

Bradley Beal turns in his best performance of the series

After a couple of underwhelming performances, Beal led the team in scoring tonight with 29 points including going 3-6 from three-point range in the most important game of the year. Thomas was matched on Beal to start this one and once again, Washington went straight to him in the post. Later, they ran Beal off of screens for wide open jumpers as the 5’9” Thomas had no chance of blocking him. Beal shot an impressive 69 percent (11-16) on a night when the Wizard needed him.

How the Wizards slowed down Isaiah Thomas in Game 3

Isaiah Thomas burned the Wizards in Boston through the first two games of this series. After a very impressive Game 1 performance where Thomas scored 33 points, he scored 53 in Game 2 with 29 of those coming in the fourth quarter and overtime periods. There were a lot of opinions on what the Wizards should do to stop the little giant and in Game 3 on Thursday night; the Wizards made all of the right adjustments.

First off, the Wizards made Thomas work on the defensive end. If Thomas was guarding Wall, the Wizards would run the pick-and-roll with Gortat as the 5’9 Thomas could not fight over that mountain of a screen.

Once Washington exploited that matchup, coach Brad Stevens moved Thomas onto Bradley Beal. Scott Brooks countered this by running Beal off of screens. Once again, Thomas was put in a position where he had to fight through a Gortat screen and Beal was able to cash in with easy jumpers.

Lastly, the Celtics tried hiding Thomas on Otto Porter. That didn’t work out too well either. In Game 2, Wall, Beal, and Kelly Oubre tried posting up Thomas with only Wall having any real success. Last night, Washington ran isolation plays for Porter to catch the ball at the elbow, clear out the strong side of the court, and let the taller Porter go to work. Porter capitalized with two post-up jumpers he was able to get up without much of a challenge:

Defensively, Washington made several adjustments that threw Thomas off of his game. He finished the night with just 13 points on 3-8 shooting and missed both of his three-point attempts.

The game plan in the first half was the same as Game 1 & 2. Wall and Beal went over screens as the Wizards did not want to relinquish any clean three-point attempts. And while that strategy worked in the first half, they added another adjustment to keep Boston from making a comeback in the second half.

Bradley Beal was the primary defender on Thomas in the third quarter and the Wizards played him differently as a result. Markieff Morris or Marcin Gortat would show, allowing the screener to roll and forcing Thomas to go around the screen as the defender recovered or try to split the defense. As you can see here, the show from Morris allows Beal to recover enabling him to catch up with Thomas.

This is something that Washington did not do in Games 1 and 2.

Lastly, the Wizards exerted a great amount of desperation and hustle plays that we weren’t seeing in prior games. Back in Boston, when a high screen-and-roll was set, Wall and Beal looked like they were blindfolded running through a forest as they ran right into screens and gave up on the play shortly thereafter. This allowed Thomas to shoot open threes and pull up in the midrange where he is very dangerous and effective. That was not the case Thursday evening as rotations were crisp and players were able to recover resulting contested shots around the rim.

The Wizards played with an edge and tenacity on defense that was absent in Games 1 and 2. In fact, this was the first time since January 27th that Washington held an opponent under 90 points.

Now the Wizards have a blueprint that they can use and continue to add new wrinkles to in order to keep Thomas boxed in. It’s no easy task, but it’s pretty clear that if you can shut down Thomas, you can shut down the Celtics’ offense. If the Wizards make Thomas work hard on the defensive end and throw a bunch of different looks at him on the offensive end, it’ll give the Wizards a much better chance to win Game 4.