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Blake Griffin On Offseason Training, LA’s Moves, More

Blake Griffin discusses his offseason training, the Clippers’ additions, wanting to finish his career in L.A. and more.

Alex Kennedy

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Last season, Blake Griffin led the Los Angeles Clippers to 56 wins and averaged 21.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.

BlakeGriffinInsideOnly12Griffin became just the second player this decade to average at least 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5 assists over a full season, with the only other player to accomplish the feat being LeBron James. And as if you need more evidence of how well-rounded Griffin was this past year, consider that he averaged more points than Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard, he averaged more rebounds than Al Horford, LeBron James and Roy Hibbert and he averaged more assists than Irving, Tony Parker and Goran Dragic.

Griffin has established himself as one of the league’s best players, and it’s in large part due to the work he does in the offseason.

Basketball Insiders caught up with Griffin recently for a wide-ranging Q&A, discussing his offseason training, the Clippers’ additions, the DeAndre Jordan situation, potentially finishing his career in Los Angeles, his acting and improv work, the possibility of being in Space Jam 2 and much more.

Basketball Insiders: You’ve added different things to your game each summer. Where are you working out this offseason and what aspects of your game are you working on?

Blake Griffin: “I did a lot of my offseason stuff here in L.A. I like to get out of the training facility and I work out with my trainer, doing strength and conditioning stuff in El Segundo in his gym. I’ll use just random gyms, like I use this high school gym down in Manhattan Beach sometimes. Then, I kind of bounced around a bit. I did some workouts in New York because I had to be there for a little bit so I worked out there. As far as what we worked on, a lot of face up, off the post, off the elbow, a lot of short roll stuff, getting into the lane, floaters – just because we get so much of that with our spacing of the court and how many pick and rolls we run with CP. [I worked on] a lot of stuff actually off the dribble too, just like one dribble pull-ups and things like that. A lot of post-ups too. This summer, I really did a whole lot and kind of mixed it up. Like last summer, I did so much shooting – a lot of catch and shooting, a lot of pick and pop – and I still did that this summer a lot, but I just tried to kind of focus on literally everything this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: As you mentioned, you spent a lot of time in the gym working on your jump shot last year and it translated to success during the season. Now, after another offseason of work, where is your confidence level with your jump shot?

Blake Griffin: “Every summer and every year, it really gets better and better. I feel a lot more confident going into this season, definitely more so than last season. Each year and each offseason, I try to kind of reflect on the last season and see what I did – what I maybe did too much of, what I didn’t do enough of – and I think last year sometimes I settled [for jump shots] a bit too much. This year, I’m really trying to perfect that balance of pick and pops versus putting it on the floor and making plays, so that’s kind of why I focused on everything this summer. Just being able to use the spacing of our floor, having J.J. [Redick] out there spacing the floor and the same thing with CP when he gets doubled team, [I] just really wanted to being able to have an array of shots and not just focus on pick and pops and catch and shoots.”

Basketball Insiders: I don’t think people realize how hard you work. I’ve known Jamal Crawford for years and he always raves about your work ethic, saying you’re always the first guy in the gym. Can you walk me through one of your typical summer workouts, just so people can get a glimpse of what you do?

Blake Griffin: “A typical day, when I’m really into the full swing of things in the offseason, starts early in the morning because I don’t really sleep in. I wake up around 6:45 a.m. and I’m starting by 7:30 a.m. or sometimes 8:00 a.m. Every now and then, I do kind of a crazy week where I start my workouts at 6 a.m. just to kind of mix it up and make me concentrate a little bit more, taking me out of my comfort zone a little bit. I do that for a week once a month. But once I start with my trainer, we do a lot of corrective stuff early like balance, all of my stuff for my back and any type of little problems I have, we just work on correcting those things. Then, we move on to weights and then for conditioning we do like basically a heart rate training program. It’s kind of a more efficient way of training and doing cardio. We mix it up though. I did a lot of pool stuff this summer, a lot of swimming this summer, which I love. I did a lot of that two summers ago, so I got back into the pool a lot, did a lot of swimming, I’ll do some sand workouts and just kind of mix up the cardio just so I’m not constantly just doing the same thing – running on the treadmill or on the court. After weights, we do that, then I go straight into basketball and we’ll do ball-handling and then we do a lot post-up moves like hooks and things like that and then kind of work our way out. So that’s probably another hour and a half. I try not to be on the court for a ton of time. For me, it’s more about me doing everything [in] game speed and [taking] game shots rather than just catching and shooting and going through the motions. That’s about an hour and half and then a lot of times I mix in yoga. And this summer I really focused a lot on my body, just unloading just as much as I loaded. I’ll do a lot of yoga, do a lot of deep tissue stuff, a lot of stretching and things like that. I thought last summer I worked really hard, but I also didn’t do as good as job of taking care of my body from a deep tissue and stretching standpoint so I made that more of an emphasis this year. It’s a long time working, like five or six hours a day, but I see the difference now in the way my body feels. Going into training camp, I probably haven’t felt better so I’m excited about the work we put in this summer.”

Basketball Insiders: You guys were very active this summer, adding players like Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith and others. What are your overall thoughts on the offseason additions?

Blake Griffin: “I’m very excited, man. Obviously with the whole DJ (DeAndre Jordan) thing – that was a priority bringing him back and everybody kind of knows about that – that kind of almost overshadowed all the other things we did. Adding Josh Smith to our bench is huge, adding Lance Stephenson, adding Paul Pierce with all of his his experience, I thought we did a really good job this summer of just putting a plan together of guys that we wanted and positions that we wanted and then going out and actually getting it done. I feel really good about our bench, but obviously, like every team, we have to put it together. But I’m excited, especially since the past of couple weeks we’ve started having more guys in [L.A.] and our team is starting to take a little shape just through our workouts and playing pick-up. I think this could be a special season for us.”

Basketball Insiders: Do you think this will be the most talented team you’ve played on?

Blake Griffin: “Yeah, it absolutely has a chance to be. I’m always hesitant to say that because you know how it is, guys get a roster and it all seems great but sometimes it doesn’t work out. But I think the thing I’m most excited about is just everyone’s eagerness. Like Lance and I were just talking earlier in the summer he was like, ‘I’m just ready to come in and play basketball, I’m ready to help win games,’ and everybody is saying those things. When that’s the main focus, I think it just kind of puts you in a position for success. Obviously, like I said, we have to see how everything turns out and we have to put in the work, but we definitely have the chance to be one of the most talented teams. I think three years ago, when we had Eric Bledsoe coming off the bench, we had Lamar Odom, we had Grant Hill and we had that whole team, we were talented and we had a lot of experience too. This team is a little bit different in that we might not have the same experience and championship experience, but we do have guys that have been in the league and been successful and are very talented as well.”

Basketball Insiders: I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the DeAndre Jordan situation because it’s been covered a lot. But in your Players Tribune article, you mentioned the moment you started realizing DeAndre was having second thoughts about his decision to go to Dallas. But what was going through your head when you initially heard DeAndre had agreed to a deal with the Mavericks? It obviously all worked out, but that must have been a scary few days.

Blake Griffin: “Yeah, it was, it was. When he first told me that [he was going to Dallas], before it had even come out, it was hard. Because, at the time, that’s what he said he wanted and I thought that’s what he wanted so I was happy for him. But at the same time, it’s like, ‘Uh oh, now we got to really go find guys and put a team together.’ I’m a believer in, ‘Okay, that didn’t work so we got to find something else.’ I didn’t want to just automatically say, ‘Oh, we’re not a contender anymore,’ even though the reality is he is a huge part of our team. I try not to even let myself think like that, being one of the leaders of this team. But I remember talking to CP that day and he was just like, ‘What do you think?’ And I’m like, ‘We’ll be alright, we just got to figure it out…’ But obviously having him back is just a huge relief.”

Basketball Insiders: From the outside looking in, it seems like that DeAndre situation was great for the team. Things were put out in the open, relationships were evaluated and it seems like there was progress made. Is that accurate, and do you think that situation helped the team moving forward?

Blake Griffin: “I think so. You could say it was a team building experience and team building exercise, in an unplanned way. But that whole article I wrote was kind of just trying to show that it wasn’t quite what everyone thought it was, from the drama standpoint. You know, he was having second thoughts and of course, as his teammates and his friends, we want to be there for him. It wasn’t like we were like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to go in here secretly and do all of this stuff and try and get him back.’ And in that sense, it kind of goes the same way for our team. Like, I think people think that our team has all of these personal relationship problems, but it’s not really like that – it’s not really like that at all. Yes, it did help, but it’s not like we were just in turmoil, you know what I mean? I do think it’s going to help though because anytime you do something like that and you sit down and really talk about things I think it helps because it’s communication and that’s necessary within the team. But again, I don’t think people really understand our dynamic as a team and they don’t understand that we all are very close and there’s nobody that hates each other on our team. [Rumors like that] couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Basketball Insiders: When I look at your team, you have two Most Valuable Player candidates (yourself and Chris Paul), a former Coach of the Year (Doc Rivers), a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (DeAndre Jordan), a Finals MVP (Paul Pierce), a two-time Sixth Man of the Year (Jamal Crawford) and a combined 23 All-Star appearances. Yet, there’s this perception that you aren’t a legitimate contender. Last year, I predicted that you guys would make the Finals and I was mocked and laughed at on Twitter. Does that motivate you or piss you off?

Blake Griffin: “You know, all of those things are true. We do have a guy in DJ that is a defensive force and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. CP, year in and year out, is one of the best point guards in the league, if not the best. Doc obviously has a great reputation and has had a lot of success. But for us, we haven’t done anything and we know that. Paul Pierce is an NBA champion and obviously a future Hall of Famer, but this is his first year with us so I don’t think we as a team look at it as us being automatic contenders because we haven’t done anything, man. We’ve all been together and we’ve won two division titles, you know what I mean? That’s not getting it done and I think if you talk to our team, everybody will say that. At the same time though, yeah it does motivate you because you want that respect. But you have to earn that respect and I think we’re still in the process of earning that respect and we have to accomplish something. So it’s kind of a weird thing: we should use that as motivation, we should want that respect and that should be our chip on our shoulder, but we understand it a bit. I get it, you know? No one is going to give you the title until you’ve actually earned it and we haven’t earned that title of being a contender yet because we haven’t even been to the Western Conference Finals yet. That’s the fight though, that’s the battle that we have to overcome and I think we’re all ready for that.”

Basketball Insiders: How nice is it to be one of the best teams in the league while the Lakers are struggling. I know the Clippers have often been viewed as the little brother and the worse team in L.A. You experienced it early in your career when they were winning titles and you guys were struggling. How nice is it to be the dominant team in L.A. by a huge margin?

Blake Griffin: “The Lakers have had so much success in the past that this town is a Laker town and people love the Lakers. But that being said, we’re gaining some [ground], we’re gaining some fans. The funniest thing to me, and I think this kind of sums up the relationship between us and the Lakers, is during my rookie year – the year I was hurt – when I was sitting out I would go to our game when it was a Lakers home game and we’d run on the court and the Lakers fans didn’t really boo. There might have been, like, two or three people booing, but they’re the ones who always boo. Now, when we run out, it’s the whole stadium and you kind of feel that hate, and I think that’s because now we have a team that can compete with them every year and we have a team that has won games against them, whereas we never really had that before we were all here. Like I said, what the Lakers have done with their championships, those are never going to go anywhere and they’ve earned those and we’re trying to get to that level. I think you kind of feel the pressure a little bit and the change in the way that the Lakers fans treat us, but you get that. I think it’s great for basketball, I think it’s great for L.A. and I think it’s great for us.”

Basketball Insiders: You’ve done some improv work with hilarious comedians and actors, including one of my favorites: Ben Schwartz. When did you start getting into improv and acting, and do you aspire to have an acting career?

Blake Griffin: “I’ve been into comedy and improv for as long as I can remember. I remember watching Saturday Night Live for as long as I could remember. I use to watch improv shows and standup comedy, just any kind of comedy. I’m a huge fan of comedy. Now, I’ve gotten the opportunity to kind of do some cool things and meet some awesome people, like Ben, but I’m not an actor. I don’t think acting is the route I’m going to go. I’m a fan of all of that stuff and I like doing it, and there may be sometime where I get to do something. But down the road, after my career, I probably won’t be acting [full-time]. It’s not really my thing, because right now it’s just all basketball and all of the stuff I get to do is on the side and it’s extra. But it is a lot of fun for me and I really do enjoy it.”

Basketball Insiders: Do you know what you want to do when your playing career ends? Would you be interested in broadcasting, coaching or anything like that?

Blake Griffin: “Right now, I will tell you this: I definitely will not get into broadcasting. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say definitely, but I probably won’t get into broadcasting. That’s just not something I’m looking to do. But I do enjoy helping kids and helping guys, so maybe coaching or helping guys workout, something like that. Then, away from the court, there’s different things. I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of awesome people out here who have helped me a lot, so maybe a long time down the road I could get into the production side of things. But basketball is what I know and what I love, so maybe down the road [I’ll do] a little bit of coaching. But as of now, it’s pretty much a no on the broadcasting front.”

Basketball Insiders: Well, there is one movie everyone can imagine you in and that’s Space Jam 2. Your recent Marvin the Martian commercial got some Space Jam fans excited. Would you like to be in a Space Jam sequel if it ends up being made?

Blake Griffin: “Oh absolutely, absolutely. I’d love to be involved in any capacity, really. Space Jam was a huge part of my childhood. I actually had a Space Jam themed birthday party as a teen. Then, when I turned 21, my friends got me a Space Jam cake again just to re-live the glory days. It has been a big thing for me so being able to be involved in any capacity would be great, even just being one of the guys that’s in there would be cool. I think it would be a lot of fun. If you told me when I was 8 years old that I could possibly have a chance to be in Space Jam 2, it would have blown my mind. That would just be like another check off the bucket list.”

Basketball Insiders: Los Angeles seems perfect for you given your interests and laid-back personality. Could you see yourself finishing your career with the Clippers?

Blake Griffin: “Yeah, I mean L.A. is my home now. This is where I got drafted and I’ve been here since the beginning. I’ve been with this franchise during some bad times. You know, it hasn’t always been like it is now; anytime you have a chance to go from that to this, you feel invested. I’m not looking to go anywhere. With that being said, you never know [in this business]. But I’m happy here, I love it here, and I would love to finish my career here.”

Here are some more of Alex Kennedy’s offseason interviews:

Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard

Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green

Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell

Sacramento Kings’ Rajon Rondo

Orlando Magic’s Elfrid Payton

Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford

Los Angeles Lakers’ Lou Williams

Denver Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay

New York Knicks’ Arron Afflalo

Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner

Portland Trail Blazers’ C.J. McCollum

New York Knicks’ Kyle O’Quinn

Portland Trail Blazers’ Ed Davis

Los Angeles’ Larry Nance Jr.

Brooklyn Nets’ Willie Reed

 

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?

Dylan Thayer

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In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)

The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.

Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category.  Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them. 

In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season. 

2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)

As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.

Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.

Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.

3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late. 

In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation. 

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)

Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.

Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season. 

5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)

Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.

If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)

While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP. 

It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.

While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?

The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.

Dylan Thayer

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After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.

Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.

But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.

Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.

Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.

It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.

Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.

If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.

The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.

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