- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Sidney Lowe’s voice still booms. He’s an assistant with the Washington Wizards now, a piece of the staff as opposed to its reigning member. But, his voice still kicks out in a warm gym the same way it did when he was a coach in Minnesota, Memphis or at North Carolina State.

Tuesday, he was on court half of the practice with members of the Wizards‘ discombobulated bench unit. The backups and rookies were running through two plays they hope to use Wednesday night in the home opener against the Toronto Raptors. When rookie Danuel House didn’t sprint up to the top of the key when he was supposed to, guard Marcus Thornton and point guard Trey Burke told him it was his time to move.

So much is new for everyone in that ensemble. Of the players and coaches on that side of the floor, only one was a full-time holdover from last season: second-year player, and 20-year-old, Kelly Oubre. Thornton was with the team, when it had a different coaching staff, for 14 games last season. The rest are new. Turning those parts into a unit is one of the great challenges for this version of the Wizards.

Washington’s bench change is atypical and dramatic. Oubre has played the most games in the District after appearing 63 times last season. Thornton is next following his brief drop-in. Everyone else began to learn a new system in a new place with new people in the offseason. The results the first two games have members of the bench group vowing there will be improvement in the near future and coach Scott Brooks recalculating his rotations.

“We got talent,” Burke said. “Everybody has something that they can bring in the second unit. We just have to put it together, allow the offense and defense to run smoothly. We haven’t.”

The bench group’s first notable malaise came late in the third quarter in the opener. It was a run of ineffectiveness that infected the starters when they returned in Thursday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Three days later in Memphis, Brooks began to tweak his rotation to try and help keep the second unit afloat. He added Bradley Beal and Markieff Morris to the group in brief, overlapping minutes.

The challenge for Brooks is layered. He wants the starters to play a solid six or seven minutes together opening the game in order to maintain the vibe they have carried over from last season. He also wants the bench players to develop an identity together. However, he realizes the backups need help at this point — on both ends. That leads to another issue: Brooks is trying to protect the amount of minutes on the court for his two best players, John Wall and Beal. Wall had two knee surgeries, one minor and one significant, in the offseason. Beal has been injured for extended periods in each of his four NBA seasons. Brooks is in search of continuity and a formula to avoid lulls, which is elusive early in the season.

“No, it hasn’t [happened],” Brooks said. “Not consistently. In stretches? Yes. Still fluid. We still have to figure out combinations. I have to keep exploring. With Ian [Mahinmi] out, that’s a big piece of our second unit. We still have good players to fill his role. We might have to experiment on mixing and matching some of our starters with our second unit. It’s always a combination — you want good scorers on both units. We have to figure out how we can accomplish that.”

Brooks noted the second unit has not responded well after a missed shot. Instead of following the fundamental necessity of recovering on defense after an errant attempt, certain members of that group did not get back because of the offensive failure.

“You can’t get down on a missed shot,” Brooks said.

Washington’s backup backcourt will be the driver of any potential success for the second group. Burke was acquired to be John Wall’s backup, something that was noted in the press release sent in July when the Wizards announced the trade of a 2021 second-round pick for Burke. “We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to add him as our primary backup,” general manager Ernie Grunfeld said in a statement. Before camp had opened, before the full roster was determined, Grunfeld was already publicly cementing Burke as the backup point guard.

Brooks, and Burke, explained Tuesday that there are multiple things Burke needs to improve.

Brooks was general.

“It’s a role that I’m comfortable him playing,” Brooks said. “He had some good moments; he had some moments that he has to improve on.”

Burke said he needs to get the Wizards into sets much faster. Instead of starting a play with 16 seconds or less remaining on the 24-second shot clock, his instructions need to be clear and swift to get the group moving.

Also looming is Brooks‘ decision not to put Tomas Satoransky in the rotation. He could play either point guard or shooting guard with the second unit. Brooks explained he believed Satoransky will be ready to play when asked, but did not know when that would be.

The caveats with all this are date and season stature. The calendar just turned to November. The Wizards are two games into the season. However, when they had to decide where and how to spend money in the offseason outside of the clear choice to re-sign Beal, they put it into their bench, one that is not functioning well very early in the season. That makes the inhabitants marked men.

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