Scott Brooks’ lineup changes have provided a minor jolt for the Wizards

Change is hard. And oftentimes, most people are apprehensive to change unless things get really bad and reach the point where there’s no other option. Scott Brooks and the Washington Wizards are no different.

After Washington stumbled out of the gate to a 5-11 start to the season and on the heels of yet another embarrassing loss to Portland at home, there were no imminent signs that Scott Brooks planned on shaking up his starting lineup. That is, until the very next day when it was reported that just days prior, the Wizards had a very heated practice which included multiple verbal altercations with some of them directed at the coaching staff and front office.

Brooks was backed into a corner. There was no way he could trot out the same inefficient starting five once it became not-so-surprising public information that there was chaos swirling through the organization. So he did. Rather than plugging Ian Mahinmi in for a banged up Dwight Howard(because we know how that experiment went), starting on the November 20th contest against the Los Angeles Clippers, he opted to start second-year player Thomas Bryant in his place and also promoted Kelly Oubre Jr. to the starting lineup, sending Markieff Morris to the bench.

Save for a lifeless performance against the Pelicans, and their loss to the 76ers where they were missing Otto Porter, the lineup change injected a jolt into this team as they’ve gone 3-3 since the change and they’ve seen better production from the starters and the bench.

This change looks to have affected Markieff Morris. Night after night, time and time again, there have been too many instances this season where Morris looks like he doesn’t want to be out on the court. Whether it’s standing still as his man drives by him or being a spectator while his man either out-jumps or out-hustles him for a rebound – the fanbase and Brooks were sick of it.

Since being relegated to the bench, Morris has scored in double figures in five of the six games and has eclipsed the 15-point mark in four the of those six contests — something he did just three times over the first 16 games of the season. Not only is his shooting up over this stretch, but it’s also lit a fire under him on the glass. Morris has ripped down 7.7 rebounds per game over this five-game stretch, up from his season average of 5.2 per contest.

The irony in all of this is that Morris is getting essentially the same minutes that he was prior to the demotion, the only difference is, he’s coming off the pine. The bench can either be a major motivator or can break a guy, and in what has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise (save for Friday’s debacle against Philadelphia), it’s been the former for Morris.

Rather than going with the vanilla option and re-inserting Mahinmi back into the starting lineup, Brooks pulled somewhat of a surprising move in giving second-year player Thomas Bryant the nod. It looked like Bryant might not get much playing time this season but he has played well in his limited time with the starters and he’s likely going to get more minutes now that Dwight Howard is going to be sidelined for 2-3 months.

His 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per contest aren’t going to turn any heads but he does all of the intangibles that don’t show up in the box score. He has a relentless motor, is unafraid of banging down low and boxing out his guy, and most importantly; he runs the floor, hard.

The Wizards have talent on their roster, it’s just that everyone knows that the effort is going to be inconsistent at best from its main cast of players. That’s not the case for Bryant and is a much-welcomed sign. Bryant has just played between 12 and 19 minutes since being inserted into the starting lineup and if he continues keeps his energy up and engine revving, I’d be surprised if his minutes didn’t increase.

And what to make of Kelly Oubre? Rather than trying to lead the reserve unit, we’re instead getting the starting version of the Kelly Oubre experience. He’s still had the head-scratching performances but we’re also treated to his occasional one-game explosions like we saw in New Orleans the other night which continues to have fans thinking ‘what if?’ However, until proven otherwise, Oubre is a consistently inconsistent player. It’s just now, he’s getting more time with the starters.

Make no mistake about it, this lineup change and overall roster changes are long overdue. In the meantime, this seems to be an ok option to band-aid this problem before inevitable trades are made and new guys arrive. However, the bigger question still hovers over this team like a stormy cloud — will the franchise need to hit rock bottom again or have internal information become public knowledge before yet another change is made?

Advertisements

Wizards at Pelicans Final Score: Washington falls to New Orleans 125-104 in latest blowout loss

Unlike Monday night, Washington can’t dig themselves out of a 20-point hole against New Orleans and they fall to the Pelicans, 125-104. The Wizards were led by Kelly Oubre and Markieff Morris who each scored 22 points tonight but it wouldn’t be nearly enough to overcome Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and Julius Randle who would combine for 80 this evening.

As we’ve become accustomed to at this point, the Wizards came out sluggish in this one and the Pelicans, mainly Jrue Holiday, capitalized on Washington’s lethargy for 11 points just minutes into the game resulting in a quick 18-10 lead for New Orleans. The Wizards snapped out of it (well, sort of) towards the end of the quarter as the reserves closed the period on a 9-2 run trimming the Pelicans’ lead to 7, 31-24 after one quarter.

The Wizards did that thing again where they’d go on a run and lure you back into this one as they’d cut the lead to 5, 41-36. But New Orleans countered with a 9-0 run of their own and would blow this one open, 67-47 as we’d be heading into the intermission.

Once again, the Wizards made their inevitable second-half run and clawed within seven in the third period, but New Orleans would counter with a run of their own putting all hope of a comeback to rest.

Washington falls 125-104 in their latest blowout loss.

Oubre shines in his homecoming

Kelly Oubre, a New Orleans native came out as one would expect in this one – in full on attack mode.

It was clear that Oubre wanted to put on a show for his friends and family in the crowd and he was a big reason why the Wizards were within striking distance early on as he scored 12 of Washington’s first 24 points.

Oubre, as we’ve become all too familiar with; put his head down and attacked the hole but this time, his contested shots were falling. Oubre also turned in one of his best three-point shooting nights as he was 4-8 from distance with three of those makes coming in the first half.

Oubre ended the night with 22 points on 9-18 shooting to go along with six rebounds, two steals and not a single turnover. If only the Wizards could get this Kelly Oubre on a nightly basis.

Revenge game for Tim Frazier

We all know about the #wizardskiller fraternity and after Wednesday night, we might have to start thinking of forming a #formerwizardskiller group. Tim Frazier of the Pelicans was outstanding against his former squad as he notched 12 points, 12 assists, and grabbed six rebounds (did he do this in his entire tenure in Washington?).

Frazier got the start tonight and benefitted from Washington’s Swiss cheese defense as he was able to get to the hole for some easy baskets with no resistance. In the second period, Frazier then hit two timely three-pointers to answer when Washington went on a run to trim the lead to five.

Frazier was outstanding tonight and his performance is just one game but also a huge reflection on another Wizards mishap. If you remember, Frazier was supposed to be a backup to John Wall but was forced into the starting lineup with Wall’s injury last year. Later in the season, Washington picked up Ramon Sessions and Frazier found himself completely out of the rotation. So, Frazier never really had an opportunity to do what he was brought in to do, backup John Wall.

That’s all moot as this point as now, Frazier is putting up double-doubles against his former squad.

The solution to Scott Brooks’ bench lineups

Death, taxes, and all-bench lineups.

Ever since Scott Brooks took over at the helm as the Wizards’ head coach, it’s been clear that he prefers using a long bench, and playing them together to build cohesion. Whether it was sticking with 2016’s historically bad bench, the ‘not terrible but still not good’ reserve unit of 2017, or this year’s up-and-down reserves—he doesn’t deviate much from his pattern of subbing all of the starters to get a breather in the late first quarter and early second quarter.

We’re less than one-fifth of the way through the season, but many of the bench’s problematic issues have flared up, even though this was supposed to be Washington’s deepest team under Brooks’ watch. With streaky players like Jeff GreenAustin Rivers, and Kelly Oubre Jr. coming off the pine, there have been nights where one of them explodes and carries the team for a stretch, but there have been just as many nights where the bench squanders a lead before the starters can down a cup of water.

Brooks has made one tweak to the rotation that fans have been clamoring for years – bringing in Oubre as the first sub at the six-minute mark for Otto Porter and letting Porter start the second and fourth quarters with the reserves.

The Kelly Oubre experience is already in full effect. He has the tools to go off for a big game as he did against Blazers, Warriors, and Kings; but he still makes many of the same mistakes that haunted him during his rookie and sophomore seasons. A lot of that is on Oubre, but the coaching staff needs to take some of the blame here because they haven’t catered to his strengths by playing him alongside four other players with unclear roles.

Plugging him in with the starters off the bench does wonders for both parties. It allows Oubre to be the fourth or fifth option, where he gets less defensive attention and can take more advantage of his biggest strength, his athleticism. All he has to do alongside Wall is run the floor and bring energy. In return, Wall gets another person to run with in transition and someone who can lighten his load on the defensive end.

Otto Porter would also be a beneficiary should Brooks continue to go with this approach. Porter has been in and out of Brooks’ doghouse this season, but giving him the green light with the reserves could be a way for both sides to get what they want. Whether you’re in the ‘Otto isn’t aggressive enough’ group or on the ‘Wizards coaching staff doesn’t run enough plays for Porter’ side of the fence, here’s an opportunity to change both narratives as he’d be the focal point of that unit, not to mention, probably the best player on the floor at that time.

This has the makings of a win-win for both guys as Oubre would be put in a better position to succeed, and Porter could continue to be an outstanding third option while also having a shot to be an alpha for the bench unit.

We’ve seen Brooks coach up close and personal for two years full seasons and some change now and it’s clear that some habits die hard with him. There isn’t really a downside to utilizing this rotation more as this current iteration of the all-bench unit has had a rocky start to the year. And the upside? It might generate more confidence in two of the more up-and-down players on this roster, which would be a huge boost for the team.

Wizards at Kings Final Score: Washington’s bad habits reappear in 116-112 loss to Sacramento

For those that didn’t feel like staying up late, don’t worry; you’ve seen this movie before. Washington got out to a sluggish start but took control in the second and third quarters only to collapse in the fourth against the lottery-bound Kings. Washington losses to Sacramento 116-112 and it looks like we might already have issues in the locker room.

There’s something cooking between Scott Brooks and Otto Porter

Otto Porter scored just five points tonight on 2-6 shooting. It wasn’t his lack of aggression though, the real story here is that Porter only logged 21:33 minutes of playing time. After playing half of the first quarter, Porter never re-entered the game until the tail end of the second quarter. Even more surprisingly, he was glued to the bench down the stretch in the fourth quarter when things were getting tight.

There’s clearly a ton of tension between Brooks and Porter right now considering Porter wasn’t even on the floor in a close and winnable ball game.

Kelly Oubre continues his solid play 

Kelly Oubre Jr. turned in yet another solid performance with 22 points (8-13 shooting) knocking down five three-pointers to go along with nine rebounds. As the first player off the bench, Oubre was an instant spark with his energy on the defensive end and running the floor in transition.

Ironically enough, with the season looking like it might be heading south, Oubre is starting to play some of the best basketball of his career.

The Wizards shot a franchise record 42 threes  

We all thought this would turn into a track meet and sure enough, we were right. As a result, the Wizards took a franchise high 42 threes tonight but only knocked down 14 of them (33 percent).

Wizards at Blazers Final Score: Big nights from Oubre and Morris propel Washington to their first win of the season, 125-124

Third times a charm, right?

Washington wins their first game of the season 125-124 in an overtime thriller against Portland on Monday evening. Markieff Morris, who likely turned in his best game in a Wizard uniform led the team with 28 points with a career-high six three-pointers with four of them coming down the stretch in the fourth quarter and in the overtime period. Kelly Oubre, who also turned in one of his best games in a Wizard uniform scored 22 points on 9-13 as the Wizards get in the win column with an impressive road victory.

Bradley Beal, who scored 51 points the last time he stepped foot in the Moda Center had a bounce to him from the get-go. He started the game 3-3 from three-point range and was getting to the basket at ease en route to 19 first-half points.

Both teams shot the ball well in what turned into somewhat of a track meet and we’d be all tied up at 62 at halftime.

Things came to a screeching halt in the third quarter as the teams only combined for 31 points in the period but the Wizards led, 78-77 entering the fourth quarter.

And that’s when things started to heat up. Whenever one team threw a punch, the other team had a counter. A late three from Al-Farouq Aminu in the corner put the Blazers up 102-97 and looked to be the dagger for the Wizards. However, Washington would counter with a Kelly Oubre layup and the foul to go along with a three-pointer from the wing from Morris to give the Wizards a fighting chance.

With Washington trailing by 3 with 15 seconds to play, John Wall found himself with the ball in his hands but passed up an open three to find Beal who drilled the three to tie the game at 111 and we’d be heading to overtime.

Markieff Morris came up big with another three-pointer from the same exact spot in the overtime as the Wizards were trying to pull away.

But with seconds remaining, the bank was open late in Portland as John Wall pulled up from the corner and drilled a shot off the glass giving Washington the 123-119 lead.

Wall would have a chance to tack onto that lead but missed two crucial free throws with just six seconds to play. Regardless, Washington hangs on for the victory.

Kelly Oubre Jr. has his best game as a Wizard

After two head-scratching performances through the first two games, Oubre had turned in his best effort of the season and probably his career. The four-year player was instant energy off the bench with 22 points and six rebounds on 9-13 shooting while knocking down all three of his three-point attempts.

Oubre was outstanding tonight evidenced as Brooks trusted him enough to play him nearly 40 minutes. The Wizards played a ton of small ball tonight and it was Oubre who was on the court not for his offense, but for his activity on defense and commitment to defensive rebounding.

The box score doesn’t tell the whole story as you’ll only see one block and one steal, however, Oubre was on-time with his defensive rotations, had multiple deflections, and was committed to defensive rebounding.

If the Wizards can get this Kelly Oubre off the bench consistently, they’ll be a scary team.

Markieff Morris has his best game as a Wizard 

Markieff Morris was also outstanding tonight with 28 points on 9-15 shooting to go along with a career-high six made three-pointers. Down the stretch, whenever the Wizards needed a big basket, Morris provided it. Morris knocked down four of his six three-pointers in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and the overtime period to give Washington a fighting chance in this one.

Not only was Morris knocking down his three-point attempts, but they also went to him on the block on multiple occasions and he came through with a bucket. Morris, who was forced to play center for most of the evening came up big on the defensive end and like Oubre, he was committed to defensive rebounding and crashing the glass.

If the Wizards can get this Markieff Morris on a consistent basis, they’ll be a scary team.

Small ball comes up big

The Wizards had no choice but to play small ball for most of the game on Monday. Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith were ineffective in the first quarter and Mahinmi left the game with back spasms giving coach Brooks no other option but to go small.

It paid off on the offensive end as the spacing was on point resulting in guys getting more open looks than usual. Even more importantly, everyone was committed on the defensive end, specifically, crashing the glass which really allowed the small ball lineups to flourish.

With the injury to Mahinmi, it looks like we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of this going forward.

Wizards at Raptors Game 5 final score: Washington falls apart late in 108-98 loss to Toronto

The Wizards had no answer for DeMar DeRozan who scored a game-high 32 points as the Raptors beat the Wizards 108-98 taking a 3-2 series lead. Kyle Lowry scored 17 points but Delon Wright exploded for 18 off the bench for a Toronto team who can now close this series out on Friday night.

John Wall tried to will the Wizards to victory with 26 points, 9 assists, and 9 rebounds, but he ran out of gas late and none of the other Washington players were able to pick up the slack.

Bradley Beal scored 20 points and Kelly Oubre had a nice game with 14 points but it wouldn’t be enough as the Wizards now find themselves on the brink of elimination.

Washington falls apart in the fourth quarter

Washington played outstanding tonight – through three quarters. The Wizards took every punch from the Raptors but the one Toronto landed in the fourth quarter was just too much for Washington to overcome.

The Wizards led by five, 87-82 on a Kelly Oubre dunk just minutes into the fourth quarter and it looked like they might go on a run.

But that’s when everything started to fall apart as Toronto outscored the Wizards 26-11 to close out the game after that play. Regular season bad habits like turnovers, being loose with the ball, and taking very tough shots reared their ugly heads late in the game as Washington started the quarter just 6-17 from the field and scored just 20 points in the period.

Tip your cap to the Raptors’ bench, mainly, Delon Wright who came alive in the fourth quarter. With Toronto up one and the shot clock winding down, Wright hit a three from the right wing to put Toronto up 97-93 and the scoring onslaught ensued. The Wizards looked gassed down the stretch and showed no life over the final six minutes of the game as the final score wasn’t indicative of how close this game was.

Washington needs a complete 48-minute effort on Friday if they’re going to keep their season alive. Because like we saw in Game 1 and again tonight, playing the Raptors tough for 3.5 quarters isn’t enough to come away with the win.

A third scorer never emerges

John Wall continued to stuff the stat sheet with 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. Bradley Beal chipped in with 20 (just 3 in the fourth quarter) but the team didn’t get a whole lot of offense from anyone else aside from Kelly Oubre (14 points).

The Wizards looked like they were trying to get Otto Porter going early on as he scored four points on 2-3 shooting in the opening minutes of the game. But Porter never really got going after that opening stretch as he ended the night with just nine points on 4-9 shooting.

Bradley Beal struggled once again in the fourth quarter as he only scored three points – on a three-pointer in garbage time. With Beal missing shots and Wall looking gassed in the fourth quarter, no one else emerged to get baskets for the Wizards.

That was the difference tonight as the backcourts essentially canceled each other out but Toronto had a third guy (Wright) explode for 18 points whereas Washington did not.

Washington couldn’t buy a basket in the second quarter

Ty Lawson drove into the teeth of the defense finding Kelly Oubre on the left wing for a three-pointer at the 9:02 mark giving Washington a 33-31 lead. After that bucket, the Wizards would go ice cold from the field.

Washington’s next made field goal came on a runner at the 3:56 mark to end what was a five minute and six second drought without a made basket. Fortunately for the Wizards, they were playing stout defense and were and were getting to the line where they knocked down 8-11 attempts in the first half.

Washington shot just 7-21 (33 percent) in the period and all things considered, it could have been a whole lot worse as the Wizards were down just one, 48-47 at halftime.

If I told you before the game that the Wizards would shoot 37.5 percent from the field in the first half yet would trail by just one, 48-47 at halftime; we’d all take it.

Game Notes

  • Marcin Gortat turned in another nice game with 10 points and 12 rebounds
  • The rotations and late game play calls remain a head-scratcher for this Washington team
  • The Wizards shot just 5-26 from three-point range
  • When a series is tied at two games apiece, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win the series 83 percent of the time

Wizards at Spurs final score: San Antonio stifles Washington in 98-90 loss

The Washington Wizards had no answer for LaMarcus Aldridge who scored a game-high 27 points as the Spurs beat the Wizards 98-90 on Wednesday evening.

The Wizards stayed afloat through the first half of this game on the backs of Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre. They combined for 23 of Washington’s 44 first half points as they trailed by just six at halftime, 50-44.

The tide turned in the third quarter. After Washington cut the lead to three, 52-49, the Spurs went on a 17-5 run to blow the game open en route to handing the Wizards their 18th straight loss in San Antonio.

The Wizards made a late run and were able to get as close as 12 with less than seven minutes left, but Scott Brooks had already waived the white flag and decided not to re-insert his starters.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, the loss drops them to sixth in the Eastern Conference thanks to the 76ers defeating the Grizzlies earlier in the evening. That’s just life in the Eastern Conference playoff race these days.

Takeaways

San Antonio Spurred the Wizards tonight

The Spurs roster has two 40-year olds, a couple of players that you’d have to google to make sure you’ve got their names right, not to mention multiple a few aging stars – yet here they were diving for loose balls and showing a sense of urgency that was lacking from the Wizards tonight.

San Antonio made all the hustle plays, grabbed 12 offensive rebounds, and they were just a step faster than Washington tonight, even though the Wizards hadn’t played since Saturday. There was a sequence in the third quarter where San Antonio missed three shots but Dejounte Murray was there to grab all three offensive rebounds and the Spurs’ persistence eventually led to free throws for Pau Gasol.

To compound their issues, Washington’s live-ball turnovers led to points on the other end for San Antonio. Washington turned the ball over 14 times resulting in 21 points for the Spurs.

Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre eat. Everyone else? Not so much.

Beal singlehandedly kept the Wizards in this one for most of the first half. After missing his first shot of the game, he connected on his next five field goals for 11 first quarter points. The rest of the team only made three shots in the quarter.

He started the second half with a tough layup and foul amongst the trees as the Wizards were able to trim the lead to three 50-47 early in the second half. But the duo of Beal and Oubre didn’t get much scoring help from their teammates and got blown out as a result.

Kelly Oubre’s scoring has been up and down since the All-Star break. He turned in a pretty good performance in this one with 21 points and 10 coming in the first half. What’s the best way to bust out of a scoring slump? Get easy baskets – like this dunk in transition.

Oubre did just that as he wasn’t settling for jumpers early on as seven of his nine first-half field goal attempts came in the painted area where he connected on five of them.

Oubre scored 11 points after halftime, but most of them came in garbage time.

Game Notes

  • Mike Scott and Jodie Meeks both missed the game with flu-like symptoms. They probably wouldn’t have been enough to make the difference, but their absence goes to show just how razor-thin the Wizards are at certain positions
  • Small ball isn’t always the answer – The Wizards went big with Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi matched up against LaMarcus Aldridge and they also went small with Markieff Morris guarding him. None of the guys were effective in slowing him down

Up Next: Washington heads back home for a game on Friday against the Denver Nuggets during which they’ll retire Phil Chenier’s number.