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Film study: Before praising Brandon Jennings too much for offense, defense is problematic

Film study: Before praising Brandon Jennings too much for offense, defense is problematic

Brandon Jennings led the bench with 10 points.

He made 4 of 5 shots, and had a key assist, helping the Wizards come back in Game 2 late in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's win over the Atlanta Hawks.

But pump the breaks with the praise.

He only helped undo a deficit that he had a major hand in creating in the first place because of his porous one-on-one defense that has been a recurring theme.

The obsession with points and offensive statistics in general -- see the NBA MVP race which has become hijacked by it -- ignores how the Wizards got behind.

Jennings made three consecutive shots, all jumpers, in a 2:07 span to start the fourthh quarter. The score went from an 80-76 deficit to 84-all following Jennings' assist to Jason Smith at the rim. John Wall and Bradley Beal closed the 109-101 victory for a 2-0 series lead.

Jennings' defense, however, has to change. He's not old and slow. He doesn't have any apparent physical limiations. There is no shame in getting beaten 1 vs. 1 in the NBA. It happens. But Jennings is getting beat on the first move before his help defense is in position to clean up the miess. The Hawks haven't shot the ball well but even the worst shooters can make layups:

Frontline foul trouble

Instead of moving his feet laterally to stay in front of Tim Hardaway, who has shot 7 of 28 in two games of the series, Jennings allows him by with red carpet treatment to the rim. This isn't on the rim protection. This is on the guard's lack of containment. To make matters worse, Jennings has to know who is on the court and the situation. Aside from Hardaway not being able to buy buckets from the outside, Markieff Morris gets put in a bind and ends up fouling Hardaway going downhill. It's his fifth foul. He'd started the fourth quarter after being on the bench most of the game and went right back to it.

Non-shooters get layups (and a rhythm)

Despite going under on the screen and Smith hedging to slow the ball, Jennings still gets beat to the rim by Schroder. He'd given him the cushion to take the shot and still gets blown by. Schroder had missed 2 of 3 shots to start the game -- all jumpers. Easy buckets can get a player like Schroder into a rhythm and then all of his other shots start falling. He started on a down note but Jennings' defense let him off the canvas. First and foremost, Schroder wasns to get to the rim. Not take jumpers.

Straight-line drives allowed

Before the defense even gets set, Kent Bazemore -- a lefty -- goes straight at Jennings and gets to the basket. Smith was correctly concerned with his man, Mike Dunleavy, running to spot at the arc (Smith was guarding Ersan Ilyaova but in transition defense you match up with the closest man). Smith's containment help could've been better as he made a reach, too, but he wasn't prepared for how quickly it developed. Bazemore's ballhandling can be suspect and he loves to go left. At least force him to change direction to his weaker side where he's more prone to mistakes and less likely to finish.

Turning corners allowed

Jennings has Schroder pinned on the sideline which should serve as an extra defender. There's only one thing he can do here to be successful. But Jennings is on his heels which allows the real estate to the rim rather than dictating to the ballhandler where he's permitted. Smith is out of position to help as he's tracking three-point shooting big Mike Muscala off a split . By the time he tries to slide down, it's too late. 

Solution

Beal defends Schroder late in the fourth quarter exactly the way you're supposed to each and every time. He shoots an airball. That simple. Beal has been consistent defensively all season because he doesn't go for the home-run plays. Give Schroder enough space to take away the drive, move your feet but keep your hands in your own pockets. 

Each time the Hawks were able to erase early deficits to get back into games with the Wizards in this series, they went at Jennings. Being targeted should motivate him to do better, but in later rounds of the playoffs vs. better teams these moments will ultimately cost the Wizards a close game or two and ultimately a series.

Talking about it or addressing it then will be too late. Of course, making shots like he did Wednesday can smooth some of that over but he can't be an open door on defense and the 27.4% shooter he was in 23 regular-season games in Washington.

MORE WIZARDS: Jennings helps Wizard's 4th quarter turnaround in Game 2

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Hawks rookie Taurean Prince proving a thorn in the Wizards' side in NBA Playoffs

Hawks rookie Taurean Prince proving a thorn in the Wizards' side in NBA Playoffs

Following the Wizards' Game 4 loss in Atlanta on Monday night, Brandon Jennings mentioned Hawks rookie Taurean Prince while answering a question that was unrelated to the 2016 first round pick out of Baylor.

"That kid Prince, he's been playing really well for them. We can't let guys like that get off, it hurts us," Jennings said.

Indeed, he has hurt the Wizards. After averaging just 5.7 points on 39.9 percent shooting during the regular season, Prince has reached double figures in each of his four playoff games. Against the Wizards, he's averaging 13.3 points on 63.9 percent shooting. Only three players have shot better in the 2017 playoffs.

Prince is hitting shots from all over. Most of his makes have come close to the basket, but from beyond eight feet he's 8-for-15 in the series. 

"Just his energy and hustle has been great," Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. "His offensive ability has expanded even more so in the playoffs. I think that's very impressive as a rookie to do that. Hopefully his game continues to get better and he can continue to produce at the level he's producing."

[RELATED: Millsap on why he made the 'MMA' comment about Wizards]

Prince, 23, is doing a little bit of everything. He's grabbed at least four rebounds in all four games and in two of them has knocked down a pair of threes. Despite being a rookie and raw offensively. he has just three turnovers.

Prince is playing smart and not making mistakes.

"It feels like Taurean's doing a nice job of letting the game come to him. He's not forcing anything," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think he's focused on his defensive role, his defensive assignment. He's really just staying within himself offensively."

That defensive role has seen him guard multiple positions against the Wizards. He has even spent some time matched up with guards Bradley Beal and John Wall, to varying degrees of success. Mostly, he has been tough to deal with because of his strength and speed.

Prince is tough to deal with in transition and when he moves without the ball. As a result, he's getting his 13.3 points despite being eighth on the Hawks in usage rate.

The Wizards may have not had him near the top of their scouting report entering the series, as Prince was not a major factor on offense during the regular season. But he's found an extra gear in the playoffs and the impact is noticeable.

[RELATED: Howard and Millsap outline simple way they have stopped Wizards' Morris and Gortat]

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Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap outline simple way they have stopped Wizards' Morris and Gortat

Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap outline simple way they have stopped Wizards' Morris and Gortat

Markieff Morris may have taken exception with Paul Millsap's comment after Game 1 that the Hawks were more focused on John Wall and Bradley Beal, instead of Morris and his fellow Wizards' big man Marcin Gortat. In the three games since, however, the Hawks have done a solid job against the Wizards' bigs, and Morris in particular.

At Tuesday's practice, both Millsap and Howard explained how they think that method is working. If they worry about the Wizards' backcourt, they feel they can affect the rest of the team from there.

"We've actually just been trying to focus on Wall and Beal," Millsap said. "I guess taking them out of the game not letting them get everyone else involved, I think that's what has helped us out. Those guys really feed off of John's penetration and his ability to pass the basketball. I think that the guards have done a great job of trying to limit that."

The Hawks are second among all playoff teams with 194 paint points compared to the Wizards' 158. Much of that falls on Gortat and Morris, the Wizards' starting big men who are tasked with battling Millsap and Howard on both ends of the floor.

Morris had a terrific first game of the series with 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Since, he's averaged just 7.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 29.6 percent from the field. Morris has been in foul trouble in each of those games, but that is a considerable drop-off. Gortat has continued to rebound well, he had 18 in Game 4, but after scoring 14 points in each of the first two games he's been limited to two points in each of the last two.

[RELATED: Mahinmi optimistic he can return by end of Wizards-Hawks series]

Howard was much more detailed than Millsap in going through exactly what the Hawks have been able to eliminate from Wall that is throwing off both Gortat and Morris.

"It's just reading John Wall and what he likes to do when he gets in the paint. After playing a team a couple of times you get the rhythm of what they want to accomplish on the offensive end. With John when he gets into the paint, as soon as that big helps he's looking to make that quick pass to Gortat or to whoever the big is in the game," Howard said.

"John was doing an excellent job in the first two games of finding March late, to where he could just catch it and finish. We've been trying to take that away and do a good job on the pick-and-roll with John. Force [Wall] to take tough shots. He's been making a lot of tough shots, but we'd rather have that than Marcin getting those easy buckets and getting into a rhythm... It's the same thing [with Morris]. He got a lot of his points off John Wall getting to the basket and making plays. Coming off the pick-and-roll, he's finding Morris. He got a spin-out lob in the first game. It's just taking away those easy buckets and making guys work for shots."

Howard believes cutting off the pick-and-roll and easy assists for Wall makes him uncomfortable. Continue to take away easy looks for Wall and eventually he will start to struggle, too. For Beal, it's about forcing him out of his catch-and-shoot rhythm.

"That's the key in the playoffs," Howard said. "Bradley, he's tough to guard out on the perimeter. He shoots the ball well. He gets his shots with ease. But it's about taking away his [spots] and making him take tough shots. After a while, when you play in a series, your legs start to get up under you. Your arms start to get tired. Those same shots and those same looks that you got in the first game are a little bit different now. We've just gotta make sure those guys work for shots. When they've gotta work extra hard for shots and you're playing a seven-game series, after the first couple of games then your legs are shot and you have to find other ways to score."

Wall is averaging 28.8 points on 50.7 percent shooting in this series, while Beal is at 24.3 points on 41.8 percent. They are the straws that stir the Wizards' drink and will remain the Hawks' focus until the former makes them pay for it.

[RELATED: Millsap on not talking trash, why he made the 'MMA' comment]