Monday, October 26, 2015

Code Red Executed

By Waleo

Last week, the Washington Redskins’ head coach Jay Gruden said that their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was put on “code red.”  Many observers thought that statement was over the top but actually he had a point.  The quarterback that he decided to ride with in Kirk Cousins just came off of a two interception game against the Jets last Sunday.  The defense has started to struggle and injuries were mounting up.   But let’s be real, it was a code red because there were concerns with the quarterback position that was tied to Jay Gruden’s coaching job; which leads us to Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers.

The pressure was all around FedEx Field.  If Cousins played poorly there was a chance that he and Gruden could be out of town in the near future.  The game didn’t start well with Buccaneers’ quarterback Jameis Winston hitting wide receiver Mike Evans for a 40 yard touchdown reception.  The feeling around FedEx was here we go again.   Then you had Buccaneers’ running backs Doug Martin and Charles Sims gash the Redskins’ defense for big running plays.   It didn’t help that the Redskins’ offense was stagnant against a defense that is known to give up points.   And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, in second quarter Cousins fumbles the ball and Buccaneers’ defensive end Howard Jones recovered the football and took it to the end zone for a touchdown.  That touchdown gave the Buccaneers a 24-0 lead.  Fans started to boo the team and leave the stadium.   Mission code red wasn’t looking good.  At the end of the half the Redskins were down 24-7.

It’s half time.  Many observers thought it was over.  You had Buccaneers’ fans and media representatives grinning with joy.  They all believed that coach Gruden and the Redskins couldn’t complete this code red mission.  It’s the 3rd quarter, yes the same quarter that has provided problems for the team.  Instead of sticking with the trend, the team went away from the norm and came out the half playing spirited.  Cousins lead a four play 60 yard drive capped off with a touchdown pass to wide receiver Ryan Grant (first NFL TD reception of his career).  Wow, a 3rd quarter TD!  The mission is making progress.  With the score now being 24-14, Gruden unleashed his secret weapon in kicker Dustin Hopkins.  Hopkins jogged on to the field and was ready to kick the ball off for a touchback; well that’s what the Buccaneers thought.  Hopkins ambushes the Buccaneers and kicks a perfect onside kick which was recovered by Redskins’ safety Trent Robinson.   The sneak attack was perfect.   Momentum was now on the Redskins’ side.  The Redskins offense takes advantage of the play with Cousins leading the Redskins to a scoring drive—hitting tight end Jordan Reed for three yard touchdown reception.   The score was now 24-21.  Could Gruden successfully execute the code red?

It’s the 4th quarter; the once booing fans are now cheering the home team.  The once happy Buccaneers’ fans are now sweating it out and concerned.   Momentum can be such a beautiful thing.  The Redskins and Buccaneers traded field goals and now the score is 27-24, Buccaneers on top.  Now the drama begins.  Its 1st and 10 on the Buccaneers 46 yard line.  Winston hands the ball off to running back Martin.  Martin breaks it to the outside and looks like he is going to basically end the game with a TD.   But no, Redskins’ cornerback Bashaud Breeland hustles from the other end of the field and tackles Martin at the Redskins’ five yard line—Breeland, staying true to his code red mission.  On that play, Breeland pulled a hamstring.  I guess sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to execute a mission.   Later on, during coach Gruden’s presser, he stated that Breeland’s play was the “play of the game.”   Breeland was just being a good soldier.  Sometimes you need a few good men.  The Redskins’ defense ended up holding the Buccaneers to a field goal (score 30-24, Buccaneers).  Now it’s time for the Captain to execute and complete the code red.

Cousins started the drive with 2:24 at the Redskins’ 20 yard line.  Within this drive, Cousins was precise and sharp leading the team down the field as if he was back in college playing for Michigan State, back then he was known as “Captain Comeback.”  Cousins had a lot of pressure in this game. Before the game he had many detractors wanting to see him benched.  Now was his moment to shut up the critics.  Cousins drove the ball all the way to the Buccaneers’ six yard line with 32 seconds left.   It was 3rd and goal.  Redskins were in a bunched wide receiver set on one side and tight end Reed on the other with man coverage.  Cousins, like the Captain of a mission, threw a strike to Reed in essence to win the game.   Captain Kirk Cousins completed the mission, leading the Redskins to their largest comeback in franchise history.  After the game he even yelled to reporters “you like that.”  Cousins executed the code red, saving the Redskins season.  Cousins has now shown the haters that he does have a clutch gene.  Here are Cousins’ final stats for the game:  33/40, 317 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.  Like it or not haters, I’m not sure if you can handle the truth, but this Captain maybe the quarterback for the entire season.  For one week the code red was executed!

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Eastern Conference Finals or Die

By The USS Blogger
I’m going to speak on behalf of the entire Urban Sports Scene podcast in stating that there are two primary questions surrounding the Washington Wizards entering the 2015 season. 

1.  Has Randy Wittman reached his ceiling?
2.  What can the Wizards do to get Kevin Durant in 2016?

For the latter question, I have some ideas. “Pope Kevin” as we’ll start to call him, can and should receive a huge welcome fit for royalty that does not include a fiat. No, No, the DMV’s native son will be treated even better than Francis and we’ll start with ensuring his safety by designating Washington Nationals’ closer Jonathan Papelbon as head of his security. Let’s put that aggression to good use. He can’t save a game for DC, but maybe he can save the Wizards. Next, we’ll have former Washington Redskins’ cornerback Fred Smoot throw him a party on a boat, OH MAN!!! Look, I’m kidding. On a more serious note, this season clearly has to be played out before any push for Durant or any other free agents.   And like with most teams, success largely starts and ends with the coach.  

 In my opinion, Randy Wittman has made a lot of questionable decisions specific to his management of player personnel. And to maintain continuity as well as build chemistry with new team acquisitions (Alan Anderson, Gary Neal, Jared Dudley) changes are needed. To elaborate, here are a few examples.  Kris Humphries averaged 21 minutes per game during the regular season in which he was an effective rebounder, defender, and shooter. In the postseason, Humphries played a grand total of 5 minutes, a span in which he grabbed three rebounds. I’m fully aware of his groin injury, but one sportswriter was quoted as saying “Up until suffering a groin injury on Feb. 25 at Minnesota, Kris Humphries was arguably pound for pound the second best player on the Washington Wizards”.  I’m not going to go as far as saying I fully agree with that sentiment, but it speaks volumes as to the high level in which he played before being benched without cause in the postseason. While I’m a huge fan of Drew Gooden, Nene, and Marcin Gortat, each struggled at various stretches of the postseason, but neither Humphries or former Wizard Kevin Seraphin saw the floor.

Additionally in games that Martell Webster was active (he had 21 DNPs—did not play), Webster played an average of 24 minutes in late season big games versus the Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, and Cleveland Cavaliers.  One could say that the final game of the season versus Cleveland lacks validity which is a game he played over 35 minutes. However, Webster logged 20 minutes in a February loss to the Cavaliers as well. It’s clear that coaches must set and manage line ups according to match ups but, I feel that some of the more inexperienced head coaches struggle to find consistency and tend to panic. A fellow rival head coach, the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra can attest to this, which unfortunately played out in the NBA finals. With Wittman, we’re now hearing talks of “small ball” which can work with the right personnel. Do the Wizards have the personnel? The answer is yes. Do they have the coach to effectively implement this system? That’s the question I’m asking.  

In the Southeast division, the Wizards will be expected to contend with what is thought to be a resurgent Miami Heat team and those scrappy Atlanta Hawks. The consensus amongst the Wizards fans base is confident that this team is capable of defeating most eastern conference foes in a seven game series aside from the aforementioned Cavaliers. Not to discount the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, or Toronto Raptors, but the eastern conference championship will almost certainly go through Cleveland.  So with the talent and depth in place, how far will the Wizards go this season?  Injuries are always an issue and if my inclination is correct, Cleveland will again need to overcome some serious health related obstacles. To this point, Lebron James has evaded serious injury, but last season we saw more effects from the years of wear and tear.

In shifting the discussion back to Kevin Durant, it’s as if I wish the Wizards lose a tough series to Lebron and the Cavaliers in hopes that Durant would feel as though he’s the missing piece. Nevertheless, while not wishing injury on anyone, if Lebron were to be injured or the Wizards somehow evade the Cavs and reach the NBA Finals; just maybe you face Durant for the NBA title. This is all hypothetical, but what is factual in my mind is that the Wizards will need strong play from key positions in efforts to strengthen their lure for Durant, specifically the power forward and center positions. Wizards point guard John Wall and Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook are comparable in many ways, however Durant could potentially see more touches playing with Wall. Additionally, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal is an upgrade from Thunder shooting guard Andre Roberson. 

Now in the front court, the Thunder are arguably  better, led by starting power forward Serge Ibaka and backup center/my prediction for sixth man of the year, Enes Kanter. By the way, is Steven Adams really starting???? To finish this compelling argument, Wizards big men Marcin Gortat, Kris Humphries, Nene, and Drew Gooden will have to definitely prove that Durant choosing Washington is not a downgrade from his current team. Improved perimeter shooting and consistency on the defensive end will likely be the primary determining factors for the Wizards front court. What’s also a fact in my mind is that if the Wizards do not reach at least the Eastern conference finals, bye bye Randy Wittman, and hello to the next up and coming college coach. This would forfeit the chance bringing Kevin Durant home. #KD2DC 

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

5 Things to Watch During Preseason Opener

By Colby Giacubeno

The Washington Wizards will open up their preseason tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers tomorrow at the Verizon Center. After a long offseason, it is finally time for the Wizards to prove their worth out on the floor. Though it is just preseason and the starters won’t see much playing time, there are still signs that can be taken away from each game. Here are five things to watch during tomorrow night’s matchup against the Sixers:

1. Uptempo offense

Since the beginning of training camp, head coach Randy Wittman has emphasized speeding up the pace of the offense for the upcoming season. Last season, the Wizards finished 18th in the league in terms of pace (93.7 ppg). This season though, Wittman has given the reigns to John Wall to force fast-break scoring opportunities. Considering that Wall is one of the fastest players in the league, putting him in more of a uptempo offense should result better numbers for not only himself, but everyone on the team with his ability to create scoring opportunities for others. 

2. Who will play the stretch-4?

The Wizards have a lot of candidates for the stretch-4 position. Players who immediately come to mind looking at this roster to be most effective include Jared Dudley, Drew Gooden, and Martell Webster. Kris Humphries has been working this offseason on extending his range behind the arc to put him in the running. Throughout the preseason, Humphries will have to prove to Wittman that he can be a viable option when the Wizards need three-point shooting and rebounding.

Nene has also been working on his outside shooting. He won’t be the first option as the Wizards look to put more shooters on the floor, but he is also open to backing up Gortat at center during these situations.

3. Kelly Oubre Jr.’s progression

Oubre Jr. had a decent showing in Summer League for the Wizards this offseason. One flaw was his three-point percentage, which was an abysmal 25 percent. Although his percentage didn’t say so, Oubre Jr. shoots with tremendous confidence that will be sure to improve during his rookie campaign this season.

The 19-year old is extremely mature for his age even addressing the media. When asked after day two of training camp about his shooting woes this summer, Oubre Jr. responded immediately, “I can shoot. I could shoot in summer league too. I’ve just been working on it in the gym and it’s falling now in training camp.”

Oubre Jr. will have a tough battle with seasoned veterans in terms of playing time. He has been getting his share of reps during training camp with Alan Anderson out with an ankle injury and Dudley only participating in non-contact drills. The youngster needs to take advantage of every repetition to earn his minutes on the court this season.

4. Does new offense mean more outside shots?

The emphasis on playing a smaller and quicker line up should result in more outside shots being hoisted for the Wizards. Last season, they were 27th in three-point attempts at 16.8 per game.

Now, with marksman all around the floor, Wall should have a field day getting into driving lanes and kicking out for open shots. The Indiana Pacers have also made this adjustment and it was evident in their first preseason outing, as they attempted 35 shots beyond the arc. With players such as Beal, Porter, Dudley, Neal, and Gooden, this year the Wizards could rank in the top 10 of three-point attempts per game.

5. A more aggressive Porter

One thing that Otto Porter has been working on throughout training camp is his aggression. Last season especially during the playoffs, he proved that he can feel it up from outside, but if the Wizards want to take the next step and become a contender, they need Porter to be able to finish around the rim.

The Georgetown product addressed the media after day five of training camp on his increased aggression offensively, “That’s just a part of my game that’s evolving, you know being more aggressive and attacking the rim. I’m looking to score or find my teammates. That’s how we have to play, we have to play aggressive. We spacing the court, that allows more driving lanes and fly-outs.”

Porter will be filling in for the loss of Paul Pierce, who had an astounding impact on this team in just the one season he was there. Now, Porter will look to step into the starting role and prove why the Wizards drafted him with the third overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

In terms of finding the rotation, Wittman  said, “I am not even close to that.” He followed by saying, “Don’t read into anything we are doing in preseason because we gotta do that.” Once the season-opener approaches, he will have a better feel for the final rotation and how they will play this season.

The Wizards face the Sixers today October 6 at 7:00PM ET and can be seen on CSN or NBATV.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Wizards Need Otto Porter to be Otto Porter

By Colby Giacubeno

Last season as the Washington Wizards entered the playoffs as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Their first opponent was the Toronto Raptors, a team filled with young players and talent, but not star to count on during big moments. Paul Pierce made his voiced his opinion when he told the media Toronto lacked the it factor that it took to win in the postseason.

Pierce had the experience of playing brilliant in postseason games throughout his 17-year career. In his short time with the Wizards, Otto Porter was the player that benefitted most. Porter was the 3rd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Being a top-5 pick usually comes with huge expectations, but the 2013 draft can be regarded as the weakest there has been in years.

Still, Porter was expected to provide quality behind Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster at the small forward position. His rookie campaign was a disappointment to say the least, averaging just 2.1 points and 1.5 rebounds and only appearing in 37. Granted, the position at the time for the Wizards was deep, there were still expectations for Porter to come in and prove his worth of being the third pick.

Coming into his second season, Ariza was gone, but Pierce had been signed to help mature the young Washington team and instill a winning attitude throughout the organization. Porter was seeing more time now that he was second on the depth chart with Webster dealing with a back injury.

The Georgetown product was putting up better numbers than his rookie year, but still not consistent enough to make the Wizards bench a threat at the position. Once the postseason came along, the emergence of Porter did as well. Head Coach Randy Wittman finally made the adjustment in the lineup moving Pierce to the power forward position in order to supply John Wall with more shooters on the floor.

Porter was put in at small forward and seemed to have a rebirth in the opening series against the Toronto Raptors and it carried on into the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks. Since he hadnt been producing much throughout the season, both teams defensive focus was on everyone but him.

Porter took advantage of their disregard by hitting the offensive glass and converting on open opportunities from the lackluster defense. For the playoffs, he averaged 9.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. It was evident that Pierce had a tremendous effect on Porters confidence throughout the postseason.

Looking forward to this season, Pierce is gone and Porter as asserted himself as the frontrunner for the starting position.

A starting position usually comes with a lot more responsibility, but Porter addressed the media after day three of training camp keeping it simple with the Wizards expectations of him, They want me to continue to do what I do, knock down corner threes, rebound, and defend.

It will remain to be seen whether or not he can transfer his success from last seasons postseason to this season. The Wizards arent asking him to be anything out of his potential, they just need Porter to put up the solid numbers his did late last season and do so consistently.  One thing is for sure, if Porter can play at the high level consistently this season, he will be a key piece as the Wizards make a run for the Eastern Conference title.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Oubre Jr. Showing Promise Thus Far During Training Camp

By Colby Giacubeno

As NBA Draft night was approaching, Kelly Oubre Jr. of Kansas University was a very intriguing prospect to many teams because of his high-ceiling potential. The Washington Wizards were determined to bring the 19-year-old to the nation’s capital and worked out a trade with the Atlanta Hawks that would send Oubre Jr. (the 15th overall pick) to the Wizards in exchange for two second-round picks and the 19th overall pick, Jerian Grant of Notre Dame.

The Hawks then sent Grant to the New York Knicks in exchange for Tim Hardaway Jr.
The known behind Oubre Jr.’s game was his ability to shoot from the perimeter along with his length, which made him menace especially toward the end of his freshman season at Kansas. Questions still surrounded him as to whether or not his work ethic would improve in order to become a productive player in the NBA.

The first time Oubre Jr.’s skills were put to the test in a Wizards uniform was during the Las Vegas Summer League. Throughout six games, he led the team in scoring with 16.6 points and also chipped in with 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. Although his averages were impressive, his 25 percent shooting from three-point range was alarming since that was supposedly the strongest aspect of his game.

After acquiring Jared Dudley, Gary Neal, and Alan Anderson during the offseason, it was difficult to predict where Oubre Jr. would find his minutes during games. But throughout the first two days of training camp, he has been able to display his worth and why the Wizards traded up to get him.
Oubre Jr. credits Alan Anderson for being the most helpful throughout his first two practices as a professional, “He’s been on the sideline working on his rehab, but he’s been in my ear saying the most out of everybody,” Oubre Jr. said.

Anderson sat out of both practices this week, as he continues to rehab his injured ankle. While the Wizards want him on the court as soon as possible, they won’t rush the process.

Oubre Jr. responded to how he plans to separate himself from the veteran players, “Stay in the gym. That’s what Otto said in his interview and that’s definitely what I do. I’m trying to be a workaholic. And just to make sure I’m the best and I know that I can compete and have confidence at this level.”
Throughout the first two days, he has been getting the majority of his reps at the shooting guard and small forward positions. With Anderson still nursing his ankle injury and Dudley only participating in non-contact drills, the rookie can take advantage of the extra repetitions.

In regards to taking on the role of a rookie, Oubre Jr. understands he has to pay his dues, but also understands he will be a key piece in the team’s success providing scoring off the bench, “I’m just ready to play. I’m ready to help this team win as much as I can,” he said as he was addressing the media Monday.

Oubre Jr. and the Wizards will continue their training camp at Towson University’s SECU Arena for tomorrow before returning to the Verizon Center for the remainder of the week.