Photo by Keith Allison for The Sports Capitol

Wizards Playoff Notebook: Morris, minutes and the fourth quarter fade

BY BEN STANDIG | APRIL 15 , 2018

Scott Brooks often reminds those asking questions about heavy minutes for his leading men that time on the court is not the only factor.

“We’ve found ways to be more efficient in practice without putting a lot of wear and tear and heavy loads on the bodies,” Brooks said on a non-game day in early March. “That factors in, the shootarounds factor in, the days off factor in, but it’s easy for people to look at just the minutes. But everything is all part of the pie. Practice, shootaround, days off. It’s just not the game minutes. But there are going to be nights where you have to [play a lot].”

This doctrine was something preached by Brooks even before he coached his first game for the Washington Wizards.

“If you could play a guy 36 minutes and cutting it down a minute but still practicing him for two-and-a-half hours and still having an hour-and-20-minute shootarounds, that minute is really nothing,” Brooks said on The Vertical Podcast in the summer of 2016. “I focused not on really cutting the minutes down; I focused on cutting the practice and shootarounds down.”

The logic works. However, there is the practical matter that chasing other world class athletes up and down the court for 36, 38, 40 or more minutes a night that makes one tired. Maybe not walking through the desert for days on end with no water tired. Enough to drop a player’s level down a notch or three, perhaps. Each physical specimen is unique. Whatever material LeBron James is made from clearly comes with an extra battery pack and an indestructible exoskeleton. Other humans endure wear and tear.

This topic was discussed in the 2017 Eastern Conference playoffs particularly after John Wall admitted he felt fatigued in the Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics. This matter returned at points this season. Bradley Beal played at least 39 minutes in 29 games this season. He finished fourth in the league with 2,977 minutes played. The 24-year-old All-Star admitted to feeling “tired” after playing 43 minutes in a 98-95 home loss to Indiana on March 4.

“I have to do a better job of managing it,” Brooks said the following day upon hearing Beal’s confession. “Forty-three is a big number. … But I think he’s comfortable with 37 to 38. [I] try to keep him at 36, but we’re only talking about a few minutes. Everybody’s tired. If you play hard, you should be tired.”

This comes up now because Washington’s Game 1 was the latest instance of Brooks riding his star backcourt. Both played past that 38-minute comfort level. Sometimes that’s just how it works, especially when the team is in comeback mode or other units simply cannot hold a lead. The Wizards held a one-point lead with just under nine minutes remaining before the top-seeded Raptors pulled away.

Putting aside the full scope of Brooks’ usage logic, one obvious question is how do the Wizards perform when their top stars play 39 or more minutes as they did in Game 1. Gauging Wall’s play this season based on minutes is a tad tricky because he battled knee and other injuries throughout, causing the point guard to miss 41 games.

But, here is a look at Wall’s stats in the fourth quarter of the last 10 games with him playing at least 39 minutes.

Game 1 (@Raptors): 39 minutes, 1-for-5 FG (0 3s), 5 points, 1 assist, 0 turnovers, plus/minus -4, Loss

  • Wall played 39 minutes overall
  • Toronto closed 19-10 over final 7:56
  • Beal played 41 minutes including the entire second half; In 4Q: 1-3 FG, Plus/minus -7

Jan. 15 (Bucks): 1-for-3 (0 3s), 3 points, 1 assists, 2 turnovers, -2, L

  • Wall played 41 minutes overall
  • Milwaukee closed 15-3 over final 6:03
  • Beal played 41 minutes; In 4Q: 0-4 FG, -11

Jan. 13 (Nets): 4-for-11 (0 3s), 3 points, 7 assists, 0 turnovers, -2, W (OT)

  • Wall played 40 minutes overall
  • Brooklyn forced OT by outscoring Wizards 33-24 in 4Q; 2nd of a back-to-back
  • Beal played 43 minutes; In 4Q/OT: 2-5 FG, -1

Jan 10 (Jazz): 4-for-7 (2-3 3s), 14 points, 1 assist, 2 turnover, +3, L

  • Wall played 42 minutes overall
  • Utah closed 9-5 over final 1:59
  • Beal played 40 minutes; In 4Q: 1-for-7 FG, +6

Jan 6 (Bucks): 0-for-5 (0 3s), 2 points, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, -4, L

  • Wall played 42 minutes overall
  • Milwaukee outscore Wizards 28-18 in the fourth quarter
  • Beal played 42 minutes; In 4Q: 1-for-7, -11

Dec. 31 (Bulls): 1-for-6 (0-2 3s), 2 points, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, +10, W

  • Wall played 41 minutes overall
  • Wizards outscore Chicago 31-21 in the fourth quarter
  • Beal played 45 minutes; In 4Q: 7-for-11, +10

Dec. 25 (@ Celtics): 1-for-6 (0-2 3s), 2 points, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, +10, W

  • Wall played 39 minutes overall
  • Wizards outscore Boston 31-21 in the fourth quarter
  • Beal played 45 minutes; In 4Q: 7-for-11, +10

Nov. 22 (@ Hornets): 6-8 FG (0-2 3s), 12 points, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, -11, L (OT)

  • Wall played 41 minutes overall
  • Charlotte outscored Wizards 45-36 in 4Q and OT
  • Beal played 41 minutes; In 4Q/OT: 7-for-11, -11

Oct. 25 (@ Lakers): 1-10 FG (0-3 3s), 12 points, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, -13, L (OT)

  • Wall played 41 minutes overall
  • Los Angeles outscored Wizards 23-13 in 4Q
  • Beal played 43 minutes; In 4Q/OT, 3-for-8, -10
  • Game 7: 0-for-4 (0-for-3 3s), 0 points, 6 assists, 1 turnovers, -4

Game 7 (@Celtics): 0-4 FG (0-3 3s), 0 points, 6 assists, 1 turnover, -4, L

  • Wall played 44 minutes overall
  • Wall missed his final 11 field goal attempts
  • Beal played 46 minutes; In 4Q 4-for-7, -4; Scored 12 of his 38 in 4Q

Ten games is not a large sample. Other factors help create the game result. However, we can note the Wizards went 3-7 in the games where Wall played at least 39 minutes. We can mention Washington finished 13-16 this season when Beal received 39 or more.

In these 10 games where he played 39 or more minutes Wall did have a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the fourth quarter. He also shot 19-for-65 (29.2%) from the field. in the final period and overtime. On the season Wall shot 37.6 percent in fourth quarters and 42 percent overall this season.

Beal played in all 82 games this season for the first time in his career. He shot 46 percent from the field and 37.5 percent on 3-point attempts. Of those 82 games, Beal entered the fourth quarter 70 times. In those 70 fourth quarters, he shot 37 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from beyond the arc. During the final minute of games in the regular season, Beal shot 26.9 percent overall and 12 percent (3-for-25) on 3s. 

Dips will happen over the course of games. The depth is the drop is the key. Portland’s C.J. McCollum, a two-guard often compared to Beal, finished sixth in total minutes while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 39.7 on 3-pointers. In the fourth quarter, 43.8 and 34.8.

The drop from the two All-Stars to any other guard on the roster is not just going from the sidewalk to the street. It’s also not so dramatic that Beal and Wall played 44 of a possible 48 minutes in the second half of Game 1 or that the backups played only 16 minutes. If Brooks thinks otherwise, the Wizards should have added wing help during the season.

The coach showed little trust in his full roster in Game 6 and 7 against Boston last year. Considering both games were win-or-else scenarios, one can understand the urge to use his main men. This was Game 1. Neither team led by more than five points for the opening 17 minutes of the second half.

Brooks would surely note that the Wizards have two days in between Game 1 and 2. He can control practice work, thus leaving his stars with enough energy for main event. That logic works. That doesn’t mean overworking Wall and Beal in games — at least not if the goal is maximizing their efforts in the final minutes.

Based on his previous comments, Brooks does not buy into the fatigue argument.

“There’s certain cases and certain examples and certain players that probably need it. But that’s very rare in my opinion,” Brooks said late in the 2017 regular season. “You’re talking basketball. It’s 32 minutes a night. This is not hard work. This is fun. Rest, to me rest is a good night sleep. I’ve seen coaches and players do it in the beginning of the season or after the All-Star break. To me, rest is a good night’s rest and taking care of your body and being prepared to play. Hard work is a lot of things that a lot of other people do that are not athletes and coaches. It’s hard to do and we’re all blessed and privileged. But the rest thing is blown out of proportion, in my opinion. You’re talking about a game that we love.”

Same but not similar

As part of our series preview, a current NBA player told The Sports Capitol that the Markieff Morris-Serge Ibaka matchup is one to watch. There was plenty cooking with both power forwards in Game 1.

Morris had 22 points, 11 rebounds, six assists in 38 minutes while shooting 9-for-15 from the field and 1-of-4 on 3-pointers. Ibaka essentially mirrored those numbers, finishing with 23 points, 12 rebounds in 33 minutes. He hit 8-of-11 shots from the field and 3-of-4 on 3s. On the stat sheet this looks like a wash. Turns out the head-to-head battle was one-sided.

Morris against Ibaka (38 possessions): 4 points, three assists, 1-4 FG, 0-2 3FG,

Against other defenders (39 possessions): 18 points, three assists, 8-11 FG, 1-2 3FG

Ibaka against Morris (33 possessions): 16 points, zero assists, 6-8 FG, 2-3 3FG,

Against other defenders (33 possessions): Seven points, one assist, 2-3 FG, 1-1 3FG

Morris, who briefly left the fourth quarter with an ankle sprain, is Washington’s best hope against the athletic Ibaka. Nobody will complain if he’s putting up 20-and-10 nightly. Keeping the direct head-to-head battle a bit closer would help the cause.

3-point defense

The Wizards finished the regular season sixth in 3-point defense by holding opponents to 34.9 percent. The Raptors sank 16-for-30 in Game 1. Chalk it up to an aberration, right? Wrong.

The perimeter defense trend began moving down for the Wizards as the season progressed. From March 1 through the end of the season, Washington tied for 21st — with Toronto — at 37.3 percent.

The Raptors kept the downward trend going. Five players hit at least two 3-pointers. Delon Wright made three off the bench. He had three or more 3-pointers just three times all season.

“There were a lot of sloppy plays, transition threes, offensive rebounds, kick-out threes,” Beal told reporters after Game 1. “I think CJ (Miles) and (Delon) Wright — they hit some big shots down the stretch, a lot of threes. DeMar even made some threes in the fourth, those threes, they were 16 for 30 from three, so that hurts you when you’re competing, and on the road too. And there were lot of guys who we didn’t expect to make those threes. They made them. You know, we live with those.”

Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.

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1 thought on “Wizards Playoff Notebook: Morris, minutes and the fourth quarter fade”

  1. It boggles my mind that someone with the mental shortcomings of Scott Brooks is the primary day-to-day decision maker for a multi-billion-dollar organization. He was a good player, and is probably a very nice and decent man, but he is being paid millions for his intellectual decision-making. And yet he says things as asinine as, “we’re only talking about a few minutes.”

    Perhaps you could ask him how many pull-ups he could do when he was in his prime, and then when he answers perhaps 15, ask him why he didn’t just do 18? I mean, it’s “only a few more.” You could also ask him about his knowledge of how much longer it takes athletes to recover after performing past the point of exhaustion

    Brooks is proving to be the Dusty Baker of the NBA. He ran Beal into the ground during the season, and now the Wiz have an obviously compromised Beal to go along with a hobbled Otto and a hobbled Wall.

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