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The Corner Three

NBA Nerd Heaven

Winners & Losers Of The NBA's First Quarter

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We all knew this season was going to be special. But I don't think anyone could've possibly predicted the tornado of fun that has unfolded over the opening quarter of the NBA season. Here are just a few tidbits that the 2016-17 season has spat out so far:

- Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double.

- The league's leading scorer (Anthony Davis, 31.6 per game) is on a team that is 7-15.

- JaVale McGee was briefly resurrected as a productive NBA player before Andrew Wiggins buried him again.

- People -- apparently, they sound like UFOs to me -- called Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Willy Hernangomez have become key rotational pieces for the Knicks.

- In his first matchup against his old team, Kevin Durant was posterized by Jerami Grant, blocked by Russ and trash talked by Enes Kanter, before he turned into Anakin Skywalker and decided he wanted to destroy the Thunder with the 'Death Star Lineup'.

- J.R. Smith dapped up Jason Terry in the middle of an NBA game, which resulted in this:

AND WE'RE ONLY A QUARTER OF THE WAY THROUGH THE SEASON!!!

After such a hectic start to the season, it's time to have a look at the winners and losers from around the association:

WINNERS: NBA Writers

Take this from a guy who believes he's a somewhat competent NBA writer: writing about the NBA has never been easier! 

NBA writers have had everything they need so far this season to write about anything they please. Need a storyline? Look no further than Durant vs Westbrook, 'The Process' in Philly, the post-Duncan Spurs, the insane MVP race or the inevitable third installment of the Cavs vs Warriors trilogy at the end of the season. Want some statistics to write about? Just check out the triple-double machines in Houston, Oklahoma City, Cleveland and Milwaukee, as well as the continuous stream of 50 point explosions coming from around the league. Want to write about a big market team to get some pageviews? Somehow, both the Lakers and Knicks are fun, interesting and winning. 

On top of this, the NBA is quickly seizing fan interest away from the No Fun League. Everyone is starting to hop on the basketball bandwagon and because of this, more people than ever want to read about the NBA. If you want to start writing about the NBA, now is the time to do it. 

LOSER: Jahlil Okafor and His Trade Value

Don't let Jahlil Okafor's inflated scoring numbers and high field goal percentage fool you; he's an exceptionally poor basketball player. 

I don't get why Okafor is still in Brett Brown's rotation, he's just not particularly good at anything. He was drafted third overall because of his silky skills down on the low block and the potential he has to be a dominant post threat. But is he really a dominant post threat when he scores at a rate of just 0.82 points per possession down low? This mark by the way, is good enough to rank in the 40th percentile in the association. 

Okafor apologists will point out that the Sixers don't have the spacing necessary to create room for Okafor down low, nor do they have guards that can feed him. But they aren't necessarily the problem. Okafor just isn't as crafty as we once thought, is a black hole when he gets the ball and struggles to get post position:

If he's not a great -- or even competent -- post scorer, what exactly is he doing out on the floor? He's the definition of a defensive liability: 

He barely connects when he screens (kind of important for a big):

And he doesn't offer a whiff of floor spacing for the Sixers (he hasn't made a single shot outside of sixteen feet this season). 

With the big man logjam issue in Philly growing each day, having one of those potential trade chips be this awful is not great for your organization.

Shout-out to the great Nick Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) for these Okafor clips by the way, go check him out!

WINNER: Kevin Durant

I have been one of Kevin Durant's biggest critics since he ditched Russell Westbrook and the Thunder for Oakland. On this very blog I have repeatedly called him a coward and a traitor (something I still stand by today). I believe he deserves all of the hate, boos and Drake bumps he gets after his decision. But no matter how cowardly his switch was, it's hard to critique his move from a purely basketball-oriented viewpoint. After 21 games, the Warriors have unleashed an MVP-caliber version of the Durantula on both ends of the court. 

Standing at 7'0'' tall, with a 7'5'' wingspan and elite athleticism, Kevin Durant should have always been a dominant defensive player, but he has never quite lived up to his potential on that end of the court. This season, Golden State is using him in a variety of different ways defensively to get the best out of him, but mainly as a rim-protector, a facet of his game that the Dubs have desperately required without Andrew Bogut. He is blocking 1.8 shots per game as Golden State's chief rim barricade and forcing his assignments to shoot 10% below their averages from six feet and in, per NBA.com tracking stats. In this role, Steve Kerr is beginning to uncover a side to Durant that we have rarely seen.

On the other side of the ball, the Warriors' unselfish, free-flowing offense has given Kevin Durant an ample amount of quality open looks in every game, something that he just didn't get in Oklahoma City with Billy Donovan and Scott Brooks' repetitive, predictable sets that defenses were able to snuff out easily. Durant's looks are of such a high quality that his field goal percentage this season is 56.5%, 8% higher than his career average, while he is shooting 42% from deep, 4% higher than usual. Durant has become an efficiency machine in Oakland and with teammates that will continue to command attention from defenses, Durant's sky-high efficiency is sustainable. 

KD is having such a great season that according to Basketball-Reference, he is the first player in NBA history to average at least 27 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and have an effective field goal percentage of higher than 62%. 

Durant is not only winning at a far greater level than he ever did in Oklahoma City, but his move to the Bay Area has turned him into the best version of himself we have ever seen.

LOSER: 'Jurkic'

When Mike Malone trotted out a starting frontcourt of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic on opening night, NBA nerds like myself jumped for joy. Two young, meaty Europeans who bang down low, crash the boards hard, throw beautiful passes all over the court and have a fiery attitude in the same frontcourt? Yes please!

It was the hope of Nuggets fans and lovers of good basketball that this frontcourt could work, in spite of the glaring athletic and defensive pitfalls it presented. The hope was that the team would be good enough on offense with their two talented big men, that they would be able to compensate for Jurkic's lack of defensive instincts and versatility. By utilizing their incredible distribution and advanced ball-skills for big men in clever 'Horns' sets like this, Malone envisioned the Nuggets being able to destroy opposition defenses:

But it just hasn't worked out like that. With a serious lack of mobility, lineups with Jurkic have leaked points, while on the other end, their offense has failed to puncture holes in defenses across the league. When together, Jurkic gets outscored by an absurd 17 points per 100 possessions. After only eight games of experimentation, Malone benched Jokic (he actually asked to be benched) and has scraped playing the pairing just about altogether, opting instead for smaller lineup groupings.

Nurkic and Jokic have had to stagger minutes, which has led to both of them averaging less than 24 minutes per night -- a horrific number for players as talented as these two. While it might be beneficial for the team going forward, this is an incredibly sad storyline. Any time that young, budding stars aren't able to share the court together or play a suitable amount of minutes is a travesty. 

WINNERS: Buyers at the Trade Deadline

Just as I said at the start of the season, the NBA is the midst of an ideological reform. For years, teams did everything they possibly could to avoid the NBA's hallowed no man's land -- a place where a team is not nearly good enough to be a title contender, but too good to bottom out and garner a high draft pick. If the goal of a franchise is to eventually win the championship, being in no man's land is pointless. 

Due to the rising cap (once again, check out the article in which I explained this in detail at the start of the season) more teams than usual have decided to try and be competitive, by adding established talent. This has completely clogged the NBA's mediocre middle class, best shown off by the Eastern Conference standings, where the third placed Charlotte Hornets and the eleventh placed Orlando Magic are separated by just 2.5 games.

With the lack of teams outright tanking, the path to the bottom and a high draft pick has never been clearer. With the 2017 draft class shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory, expect a ton of teams around the trade deadline to realize that their quest for relevancy in such a cramped NBA is ultimately fruitless and for them to attempt to tank out the season. To do this though, they will have to rid their rosters of veterans that make them competitive in the short-term, but don't add much in the long-run. 

I expect a number of teams, including, the Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings to realize this and become sellers at the trade deadline. With so many teams setting up shop, the trade deadline could become a buyers' market. 

As long as teams continue to cluster no man's land, this will almost certainly happen, which makes for happy viewing for the likes of Danny Ainge and others who will look to strengthen their squads for a title challenge around February. 

LOSER: Mark Cuban's Will-To-Win

The Dallas Mavericks have had a .500 or better record every season since Mark Cuban bought the team back in 2000. Even if he has been riding the aforementioned treadmill of mediocrity for most of those years, Mark Cuban has stubbornly resisted any temptation to rebuild and/or tank. 

Right now, the Mavericks are 4-16 and sit dead last in the Western Conference, seven games back of the eighth seed. Cuban's disinterest in acquiring or developing young talent and reliance upon signing bottom-of-the-barrel veteran free agents has finally caught up to him. Not even Rick Carlisle -- who has made a living off of turning inferior rosters into playoff contenders over the past decade -- and his basketball magic can salvage the Mavs this time. 

Yet, Cuban remains opposed to tanking. For a man that knows nothing but winning, accepting that he may have to rebuild his beloved Mavs and endure a few losing seasons is going to be tough (it's like trying to teach Gollum not to love the ring). But he has to do it. Trying to revive a dead season is going to do nothing but devalue their draft pick and set them up for continued failure in the long-term. Whether Cuban likes it or not (he definitely doesn't like it), it's time for a rebuild in Dallas.

I think we should all pour one out for Mark Cuban, because this is going to be a rough season for him. 

WINNERS: Lakers Fans

Lakers basketball hasn't been bearable in over four years. From the 'Dwightmare', to Kobe's body breaking down before our own eyes, to Kobe's farewell tour, to Kobe's shot selection during his farewell tour (in case you haven't noticed, I'm not a huge fan of Kobe's last few seasons), to Byron Scott being an imbecile, it has been a rough few years for Lakers fans. (Then again, Lakers fans don't usually go through a lot of suffering, they have 16 freaking championships and they should have 15, since THEY STOLE THEIR 2010 BANNER FROM MY CELTICS, but I digress.)

Luckily for Lakers fans, they have something to smile about again. And that something, is Kobe's former towel rail:

Luke Walton has changed everything for the Lakers. He has created an inviting team culture that has gotten his squad to work together as a unit, installed a Warriors-esque playbook that has gotten the best out marginal talent and has revived the career of Nick Young -- a feat that so impressive that he should win Coach of the Year for that alone. 

All of this hasn't just led to winning for L.A., but fun basketball. The Lakers are easily a top 5 League Pass team. Their offense is fast, smooth, delightful and relies heavily upon the League Pass requisites of ball movement and floor spacing. Their whole team is long, athletic and love to get up and down the floor, making for hellishly entertaining basketball. Add that on to the depth this squad possesses that makes for a full 48 minute experience and the intricate, detailed offensive sets that Walton draws up for a basketball connoisseur to enjoy, and you've got a ridiculously fun team. 

Watching Lakers basketball is fun again, which makes every Lakers fan a winner. 

LOSERS: NBA Fans Who Don't Like Staring at Stupid Hairstyles

Ugh, NBA players' hairstyles are usually pretty awful, but this season we have reached a new low. You can basically find a terrible example on every team. 

On the Pistons you've got the horrific duo of Beno Udrih, who has decided to add a random blonde ponytail to his head and Aron Baynes, who with the manbun/shaved sides/mask/beard combo, I can only assume told his barber that he wanted the 'axe murderer' look:

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Barnes on the Kings just confuses me with his:

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

I presume that Gerald Green wanted to be a helicopter when he was younger:

Then there's this:

Honestly, any more of this and I might not be able to watch the NBA.

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How The New York Knicks Can Get The Best Out Of Kristaps Porzingis

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

On what was supposed to be the happiest day of his young life, Kristaps Porzingis used his gigantic, gangly, Latvian legs to make his way up to the Barclays Center podium, where in his resplendent maroon suit and newly acquired draft cap, he shook Adam Silver's hand in front of the collective NBA World. He was officially a New York Knickerbocker.

However, even though his childhood dream had been realized, it had to be a bittersweet day for the 19-year-old. His soon-to-be fellow New Yorkers booed, screamed and cried (while simultaneously taking a selfie) at Phil Jackson's choice. The noted talking head that is Stephen A. Smith famously furiously ranted on ESPN (while he was on vacation, no less) in response to the pick, claiming that Knicks fans had been, "Hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok and flat out deceived," by Jackson. 

Of course, this train of thought -- while incredibly popular at the time -- was completely flawed. Anyone from Stephen A.'s camp was of the opinion that just like any large European, he would be 3-5 years away from contributing anything at the NBA level. Of course, just about everyone from this viewpoint had never watched Porzingis play, proving that for the billionth time, you should not attempt to form an opinion if you know nothing about the subject. After all, would you walk into Gordon Ramsay's kitchen and tell him his food is disgusting if your taste buds don't work? Of course not. Not only because of the flawless logic I just explained, but because he might do this to you:

Anyone who actually watched Porzingis's European career would've been astounded by his natural gifts and talent, just like I was. The first time I YouTube scouted Porzingis, my initial reaction was, "WOW! This guy's 7'3'', has the athleticism of a wing and shoots threes!? Holy cow!" 

Although I have driven the Porzingis bandwagon since day one, I don't think anyone could've possibly expected Porzingis's rise through the NBA ranks to be this rapid. The big question mark surrounding Porzingis's NBA potential was whether or not he could match the physical nature of the association. He put those doubts do bed last season, showing off incredible toughness (that he may or may not have developed in 'Latvian Crips', according to the great Michael Rapaport) that allowed him to go toe-to-toe with the league's largest low post brutes, despite his thin frame. 

With the physicality of the NBA not affecting his game, Porzingis was a standout in one of the strongest rookie classes in recent memory. He racked up 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, per game, in just 28 minutes each night. Pretty good for a guy who was originally rejected by his fan base, right? Throughout the season, he showed off the frightening athleticism, defensive instincts, versatility and shooting range that made him such an attractive prospect for the Knicks' front office. 

After his impressive rookie campaign, Porzingis walked into this season with expectations galore. It's easy to forget, but Porzingis only acquired the right to drink three months ago, he's nearly two whole years younger than Buddy Hield. It would've been easy for the Zinger to crumble under the pressure, just like a regular 21 year old would, but that's just not who he is. With the mental fortitude of a veteran, Kristaps trained throughout the offseason, even working out with Russell Westbrook, improving his game every day. 

Over the opening 17 games of this season, all of that hard work is showing through. Porzingis has improved in just about every aspect of his game. He has bumped his scoring into the 20s, boosted his field goal percentage by nearly 7%, increased his three-point accuracy to 40% from 33.3%, while taking over two more per game and has lowered his scarily high turnover percentage. Critics will point out that his rebounding rate has dropped by around 3%, but the team as a whole is rebounding at almost exactly the same rate as last season, meaning that Porzingis's poor rebounding numbers aren't affecting the team. 

Porzingis has well and truly made the leap to a new dimension and is on the verge of becoming a star-level player. But with his body, athleticism, work ethic, maturity and pure talent, to go along with the ability he has shown in-game, he should already be that star, even if he is only a quarter of the way through his second season. The problem is that Jeff Hornacek is holding Kristaps back and therefore the entire team back. 

The primary way Hornacek is doing this is by simply not running enough of the offense through him. Porzingis is a multi-dimensional unicorn who can score and create better shots for others in a variety of different ways, but Hornacek has limited his team's success by restricting his touches. Porzingis averages 60.4 touches per game, according to NBA.com, which is a pretty healthy mark for a star player, especially considering that Carmelo Anthony only touches the ball 57.9 times per night in comparison. But when factoring in that NBA offenses these days tend to have bigs operate at the top of the key to open up an offensive set and have those same bigs initiate the offense with dribble hand-offs and side-to-side ball movement, it's far too low. Big men like, Marc Gasol, Karl-Anthony Towns, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin all average above 70 touches each game, a number that towers over Porzingis's. 

Recently Hornacek and his Knicks have worked to get Porzingis more of the ball, something that neatly correlates with the team's upswing in form. In fact, the Latvian's touches per game almost perfectly correlate with success. In wins, Porzingis averages 65 touches per game, whereas in losses, that number drops to 58. 

These extra touches can't just be short spurts with the ball either, Porzingis needs time with the rock in order for him to create offense for himself and others. Currently, the Knicks are using him purely as a pick-and-roll/pop man and a spot-up shooter, with Porzingis averaging just 1.43 seconds with the basketball per touch. That number is less than Tarik Fucking Black's average. That needs to change immediately. For a guy that can handle the ball more effectively than every 7-footer in the league and take most bigs in the association off the dribble, he needs to be used as more than purely a rim-roller and floor spacer. 

Other than just giving him more of the ball, Hornacek needs to look at unleashing his unicorn at center. When the Knicks line Porzingis up at the five, with Carmelo Anthony at power forward, they are nearly unstoppable offensively. When these lineups have been played this season, the Knicks score at an absurd rate of 130.8 points per 100 possessions, according to NBAwowy.com. Defenses around the league struggle to deal with the Melo-Zinger combo on a regular basis, but when New York employ lineups with super-spacing, defenses part like the Red Sea:

Defenses just can't deal with five three-point shooters on the floor at one time, especially when one of those shooters is Team USA's all-time leading points scorer and another is a 7'3'' beast who can explode to the bucket at any time as a pick-and-roll man. When the Knicks do go to a Porzingis pick-and-roll with this lineup, defenses are immediately forced into a pick-your-poison scenario. If they help on the Porzingis rim-roll, they can stop the initial action, but risk leaving a bomber open from beyond the arc. If they don't help, they risk getting dunked on:

With a traditional center on the court, these pick-and-rolls become a lot easier to defend, as the floor spacing isn't nearly threatening enough to not help Porzingis's roll, especially when a guy like Joakim Noah is in the game. These groupings have become the Knicks' versions of the vaunted 'Death Lineup'. Only, the Knicks barely use their game-changers and they have already lost the same amount of contests the Warriors did all of last season.

The big question around these Knicks' lineups is if they can defend at a high enough rate. According to NBAwowy.com, when Melo and Porzingis spend time at the four and five together, the defense concedes 116 points per 100 possessions. While that mark is horrific, it still gives these combinations a net rating of plus-14.8, a points differential that is larger than the league leading Warriors. However, these lineups should be theoretically better defensively. The smaller size allows for switching across the perimeter, which can cut-off circulation for a lot of pick-and-rolls and drives for opponents. 

On top of that, contrary to popular belief, Porzingis is a far better rim-protector than Joakim Noah, at least, at this stage in their respective careers. Noah is lacking athleticism after his multiple body breakdowns and is no longer the ferocious defensive terror he was a couple of seasons ago, while Porzingis uses absolutely all of his gigantic frame to bother shots everywhere. The numbers back this up too. From 6 feet and in, Porzingis causes his assignments to shoot a remarkable 14.4% below their average, whereas, when shooting against Noah, opponents make their attempts at a rate 4.9% higher than their average at the rim. 

Jeff Hornacek has all the evidence and complimentary pieces he needs to turn Kristaps Porzingis into the superstar he can be. By allowing Porzingis a fairer share of the ball and tinkering with his lineups in a way that makes it impossible to defend the big man, Hornacek can make sure all those boos at the Barclays Center back on draft day of 2015, will never be heard again. 

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Are The Washington Wizards Doomed?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

About a year and a half ago, the Washington Wizards were a team to be feared. With a young, exciting, athletic, evolving roster, they took the 60-win Atlanta Hawks to six games in the second round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs, before they were cruelly eliminated on their own floor. Wizards fans will know it as the series that John Wall sprained his wrist and missed three games, costing them a Conference Finals berth.

If John Wall never barreled into the floor of the Phillips Arena, who knows what could've happened? The Wizards would have had a date with LeBron's Cavs in the third round, which doesn't sound particularly appetizing, but remember, Kyrie Irving missed part of the original matchup against the Hawks with a knee injury. So there's a chance -- albeit, a small one -- that had John Wall never sprained his wrist on the play above, the Wizards would've been looking at an NBA Finals appearance.  

With a core that was young and ready to develop, they were supposed to improve upon their postseason success. They looked as if the potential was present to eventually push for a title. Not to mention that with their constant improvement, they became a legitimate destination for Kevin Durant. After their 2014-15 campaign, the Wizards were truly on top of the world. 

However, since their elimination from the 2015 Playoffs, the Wizards have been downright awful. Last season the Wiz missed out on the playoffs with a 41-41 record and played a lot worse than a quick glance at that number would suggest, as their 11-6 final stretch inflated their win-loss numbers. This season, a lot of NBA analysts (including myself...thanks a lot for making me look Dumb, Wiz) believed that with a new head coach that is slightly more competent than Randy Wittman -- which by the way could be literally any other human being -- at the helm in Scott Brooks, improved depth and internal improvement, the Wizards would be back to winning ways. 

Although it's still incredibly early,  the Wizards are proving that this train of thought was incorrect. Scott Brooks' squad is 5-9 and have looked lost on both sides of the basketball. They rank a sub-par 17th in offensive efficiency and a horrific 25th on defense, marks good enough for them to be outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions. The Wizards have improved as of late, winning three of their last four, but wins at home versus the Knicks and Suns, to go along with a victory on the road against the appalling Magic, aren't particularly impressive. 

Much of their disappointing opening can be attributed to the lack of progression from their young guns. We are in the third year of hoping Bradley Beal will make the leap...and he still hasn't made the leap. Otto Porter has stepped up his game, but is still no more than a solid starter, when he really should be one of the league's budding stars, seeing as the Wizards drafted him third overall back in 2013. Kelly Oubre is fun, but hasn't inspired any confidence two seasons into his career. Hell, even John Wall, their bona fide star, still hasn't added a remotely consistent jump shot to tack on to his athletic drive-and-kick mastery, and is arguably the same player he was at the end of the 2015 season. Without internal development, it's going to be difficult for the Wizards to improve on their mediocre selves. 

The rest of the blame can be shifted on to the questionable coaching of Brooks. Firing Randy Wittman was supposed to introduce more creativity and give the Wizards someone that actually knows how to coach a basketball team. To this point, the hiring of Scott Brooks has just brought more of the same to D.C., something the Wizards' front office should have seen coming after his time in OKC. 

The offense is slightly more intricate and involves a tad more movement than in previous years, but in essence, it simplifies down to the same ol' boring, predictable John Wall pick-and-rolls, which for years have been the Wizards' entire source of offense. Many felt that by removing Wittman, John Wall's load would decrease and the offense would start to loosen up, but exactly the opposite effect has taken place. Wall's usage rate has jumped by 4.9% from last season, to 33.5% (the sixth highest in the league), a number that is 6.4% higher than that promising 2014-15 season. In addition, Wall is averaging the second most seconds per touch this season in the association, at 5.49, trailing only James Harden in this category. And on top of this, only Harden and Russell Westbrook have a higher percentage of their team's points created through assists. Wall creates 20.4 points through assists per game, while the Wizards as a team only generate 47, absolutely staggering numbers considering Wall only plays 33 minutes per night.

While building an offense around Wall seems logical, it has a terribly negative effect on the team's overall performance. Wall does quite literally everything for this team, nobody else creates offense for themselves and nothing effective can be conjured up without him, so much so that the Wiz are an absurd 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Wall on the court.

Of course, as previously mentioned, both James Harden and Russell Westbrook are also heavily relied upon by their respective teams and the Rockets and Thunder both are above .500. The problem for D.C. is that a team based around Wall is far less dangerous than one with Harden or Russ. Teams around the league duck under ball-screens for Wall, daring him to lay bricks from the outside, walling (slow clap) off lanes to the basket, which can stop middle penetration and an offense based around a drive-and-dish star like Wall. Houston and OKC's stars don't have this problem, as their outside jumpers are dangerous enough that lanes to the rim open up on command. Simply put, an offense based around Wall in the same fashion that Billy Donovan and Mike D'Antoni have their teams set up will not work. 

The easy fix to this is obvious: get the ball out of Wall's hands a tad more. While his jump shot-less game make him a strange off-ball candidate, by using him in more off-ball actions, specifically as a screener, he would become a fantastic decoy, using his gravity to create better quality looks for others.

Just juicing up their attack with some more motion in general, as well as introducing some more detailed, difficult-to-defend offensive sets surrounding Wall is also important for the Wizards going forward. Teams like the Hawks and Spurs make a living getting shooters open through creative offensive actions, something Bradley Beal will benefit from immensely. Just check out this play, to see what Beal should be doing on a regular basis:

This set starts off with Beal running a UCLA cut, before giving Markieff Morris a back-screen, which leaves Beal's defender (Brandon Knight) trailing him. This then develops into beautiful flex action (or screening the screener), which gets Beal attacking in rhythm as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, with Knight absolutely knackered due to the sheer amount of obstacles he's had to fight through. Beal misses the shot, but it's still a quality shot that has been generated. Unfortunately, Brooks has barely implemented this type of stuff into his dull offense. 

Not only is the offense lacking in creativity, but it also is running at a lethargic pace. A team that has John Wall as their primary ball-handler should not be operating at the sixteenth fastest pace in the league. Wall needs to be flying up and down the court with speed, turning defenders inside out with his lightning quick moves and blowing by slower dudes before he assaults the rim. 

Currently, the Wiz are probably just a tad too big in terms of sheer size in order to pull off a high speed system. But D.C. still have the tools to go small and wreak havoc on teams league-wide. As long as the Wizards start to give more minutes to Kelly Oubre, this will be possible, as Oubre and Porter could lineup up as the two forwards in a small-ball look. This wouldn't only up the ante on offense either, Scott Brooks' 25th ranked defense theoretically would improve too. By going small, the Wizards could switch more frequently, adding a new-found aggressive look to Brooks' conservative defensive system that has leaked points this season.

All that I have just mentioned will turn the Wizards into a better team. But, these changes, along with ones that aren't suggested by a random sports blogger from New Zealand won't make up for the fact that this Wizards team is kinda broken from a team-building standpoint. As of right now, they have more than $120 million invested into Bradley Beal, someone who is unproven and a guy who has only played more than 63 games in a season once. They've got $28 million per year wrapped up in centers who don't fit the changing landscape of the NBA. Scott Brooks has seemed pretty useless so far and he's locked up for the next 5 years on a $35 million contract, which makes it difficult to fire him. We don't even know if their two best players like each other (hint: they definitely don't). To put it bluntly, Ernie Grunfeld has done a horrible job managing this team. 

It's all about to get worse this offseason too, when their third best player, Otto Porter, is a restricted free agent. In a league that is desperate for long, switchy wings, the other 29 teams will go gaga for Porter's current ability and potential. Wing-needy teams with max cap space like the Kings, Pelicans, Nets and Magic will dive deep into their wallets for Porter's services in the offseason, potentially all ready to give him a near-max deal in the current cap climate. Think I'm wrong? Just remember that Allen Crabbe got a 4 year, $75 million offer-sheet from the Nets last season. Otto is better than Crabbe and with another cap spike expected, Porter's yearly figure could match what Beal is earning. 

Should this happen, the Wizards would have to match any offer-sheet, regardless of size. Losing one of their best assets for nothing is beyond stupid (so, probably right in Ernie Grunfeld's wheelhouse actually). But this would shoot the Wizards way over the cap (even accounting for another spike) and doesn't leave them any room for further improvement.

I've seen Wizards fans on Twitter and on forums claiming that they have cap flexibility, but the truth is they just don't. Beal, Ian Mahinmi, Marcin Gortat, Wall and Markieff Morris will earn a combined $77 million next season. Add on Porter's $20+ million and the Wizards are almost capped out with just six players. Of those players, only Beal, Wall and Morris's contracts are tradeable, but all of them are key pieces of the Wiz's core. Gortat and Mahinmi aren't vital going forward, but earn $12 and $16 million respectively next season, play a position that is not in any sort of demand, with extra years tacked on to both deals, making them unattractive to any other team -- like, approaching levels of unattractiveness that only Gortat's old mohawk knows of.

Extending Porter means that the Wiz will have their long-term roster locked in, with no real path to improvement outside of internal leaps from Beal and Porter. At most, this means the Wiz are a 5th-7th seed for the foreseeable future, if everything breaks right. Perfectly mediocre, with no way up. Is that really where the Wiz want to be? It's where the Dallas Mavericks have been for the past four years, and look how well that's worked out for them.

The only way the Wizards can avoid this is by dealing one of their two stars, ditching salary, acquiring a boatload of assets and setting their win-now timeline back a few years, where it should be when they have such a young core. Brooks is great at developing prospects, so it could be an ideal route. 

In a potential trade, Beal wouldn't give the Wizards the massive return they need from a franchise shaking move like this. Wall, on the other hand, would. A dynamic point guard in the meat of his prime would be appealing for a number of teams. As Kevin O'Connor pointed out earlier this month, dealing Wall to a team like the Denver Nuggets would give the Wizards the assets they require. Denver have a number of excellent young pieces -- such as, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic -- to go along with two first rounders (one from Memphis and their own) in the stacked 2017 draft class (the Wizards would already have a high draft pick due to them tanking in this scenario too) and a developing point guard who can take over from Wall in Emmanuel Mudiay. Plus, the Nuggets have enough cap room to absorb one of the Wizards' bad contracts that is eating at their cap room. A trade like this might be too hard to turn down. 

In my opinion, the Magic, Celtics, Suns, Heat and Timberwolves are also teams that could use John Wall, that could compensate with enough assets in a trade. 

This isn't a route that Wizards fans will like, but it is the path I would take if I were Ernie Grunfeld. Their young core needs to grow and shouldn't be stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity, without the necessary room to improve. They need to set their win-now timeline back a few years and get ready to build around Beal, Porter and the gazillion assets they could recover from losing Wall.

So are the Washington Wizards doomed? No. 

Could they be doomed in the near future? Absolutely.

All stats are from NBA.com, ESPN, NBAwowy.com and Basketball-Reference. All stats are up to date, as of Thanksgiving. 

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