No bench sup­port has Wizards in bind

Fail­ing to find re­li­able backup for Wall in series

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

Washington Gen­eral Man­ager Ernie Grun­feld claimed three of his starters — John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter — at the top of the draft. He flipped first-round picks and some salary cap space for Marki­eff Mor­ris and Marcin Gor­tat. To­gether, the group is viewed as one of the best in the Eastern Con­fer­ence.

The rub comes from the rest of the ros­ter. Grun­feld has not been able to put to­gether a stout bench unit to up­lift his young stars. Wall has been an All-Star four times in the last four sea­sons. Be­hind him at backup point guard have been play­ers like Eric Maynor, who now plays in Italy. Grun­feld then tried a 37-year-old ver­sion of An­dre Miller. Miller was later traded for Ra­mon Ses­sions, a jour­ney­man who lasted 110 games and be­came Wall’s best re­lief. This sea­son, the Wizards have tried three play­ers to backup Wall.

That mi­cro­cosm of fail­ing to find a suf­fi­cient backup point guard shows what re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant hole in the play­offs. Washington sur­vived most of the year with its bench play­ers un­der­per­form­ing. Once the back­ups raised their play, the Wizards went on a tor­rid run through Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. But, the group is back to haunt­ing the starters dur­ing Washington’s first-round series with the At­lanta Hawks, which is tied 2-2.

Washington’s bench numbers are trou­bling through­out. None of the back­ups has been a con­sis­tent boost in the first four games against At­lanta. In fact, the group has been a re­sound­ing detri­ment. A look by po­si­tion:

Bran­don Jen­nings: Grun­feld pulled in his third point guard of the sea­son when he signed Jen­nings af­ter the New York Knicks waived him. He re­placed Trey Burke, who was traded for in the off­sea­son to backup Wall, a role ex­plic­itly stated in the press re­lease an­nounc­ing the deal for Burke, which cost a sec­on­dround pick in the 2021 draft. He has been able to score against At­lanta’s backup point guard, Jose Calderon. How­ever, Calderon was a plus-29 in Game 3, do­ing much of his work in the sec­ond quar­ter when Washington rolled out a bench lineup plus one starter, which, in that case, was Wall. Jen­nings has been a sig­nif­i­cant de­fen­sive li­a­bil­ity when­ever he has guarded At­lanta’s start­ing point guard, Den­nis Schroder, and other­wise.

Bo­jan Bog­danovic: He made progress in Game 4 when At­lanta tried to hide Calderon de­fen­sively on him. Bog­danovic scored over him in the post and was able to find a wide open 3-pointer, which he made.

“I tried to post him up twice,” Bog­danovic said. “I get one bucket, but it’s tough. They play team de­fense like we do. It’s not one-on-one. It’s five guys against five guys.”

Be­fore go­ing 5-for-9 in Game 4, Bog­danovic was 6-for-24 (25 per­cent) in the series.

“Bo­jan and Otto [Porter], they had a nice lit­tle game [Mon­day] night,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Hope­fully, their con­fi­dence and mo­men­tum of that game can car­ry­over for [Wed­nes­day] night’s game.”

Kelly Oubre: The sec­ond-year player’s first foray into the play­offs has been bru­tal. Oubre has com­mit­ted 17 fouls, turned the ball over four times and made just seven field goals. Since a solid 4-for-8 per­for­mance in Game 1, Oubre is 3-for-14 (21.4 per­cent) from the field.

“Foul trou­ble,” Wall said of Oubre. “He’s an ag­gres­sive de­fender … I think just mak­ing smarter de­ci­sions when he’s at­tack­ing the bas­ket, try­ing to avoid charges and he’ll be all right.”

Jason Smith: Be­cause of Ian Mahinmi’s multiple in­juries dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, the Wizards were forced to use Smith as a backup power for­ward and backup cen­ter. His shoot­ing was a rev­e­la­tion. Smith shot a ca­reer-high 52.9 per­cent from the field and 47.4 per­cent from be­hind the 3-point line. Against At­lanta, his numbers are tilted sim­i­lar to Oubre’s. Smith has com­mit­ted 18 fouls and made just six field goals. His time on the floor has been all the more cru­cial in the last three games be­cause of Mor­ris of­ten be­ing in foul trou­ble.

Ian Mahinmi: The backup cen­ter has stood watch­ing the series in a well­tai­lored suit. He said Tues­day that he is on sched­ule to re­turn from his calf in­jury in the first round, though he has yet to practice with the team. Brooks said Mahinmi will not play in Game 5 and that he “doubts” Mahinmi would be avail­able for Game 6 Fri­day. Los­ing Mahinmi has cost the sec­ond group much of the rhythm is had to­ward the end of the sea­son. It also took its best de­fender off the floor, some­one who could makeup for the poor cov­er­age by Jen­nings, and oth­ers, in pick-and-rolls.

Grun­feld spent lav­ishly in the off­sea­son to fill out the bench. Around the trade dead­line, he used the one asset he had, next sea­son’s first-round pick to ac­quire Bog­danovic. Not im­pressed with Burke or To­mas Sa­toran­sky, he pulled in Jen­nings. None of those moves have worked yet in the play­offs, and it has made Washington’s path to get­ting out of the first round a treach­er­ous one.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Washington Wizards backup for­ward Jason Smith has com­mit­ted 18 fouls and made just six field goals in the firstround play­off series against the At­lanta Hawks.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wizards point guard Bran­don Jen­nings has been able to score against Hawks backup Jose Calderon in the series.

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