Later, Morris used the court for its original purpose and showed his most encouraging progress to date since undergoing abdominal surgery.
Inside the UCLA Student Activities Center gym, Morris participated in a full-court game along with teammates Jason Smith, Carrick Felix and Devin Robinson. Although Coach Scott Brooks joked that the game should have been described as “3 1/2 on 3 1/2,” noting that undersized team staffers had to jump in to fill out the rosters, he was impressed while watching Morris through the workout.
“He hit a couple of game winners. He’s going pretty hard and he’s feeling great,” Brooks said. “It’s the next step of his progress and return to play.”
Morris, who has not played this season, scored, defended and ran without complications Tuesday. Brooks, however, does not expect he’ll return before the end of the team’s four-game West Coast trip. The Wizards played the Lakers on Wednesday night and face defending champion Golden State on Friday, which will mark the fifth week into Morris’s recovery timeline. The Wizards announced Morris would miss six to eight weeks following his Sept. 22 surgery. If Morris continues to improve, he could return as early as Nov. 1 when the Wizards host the Phoenix Suns or Nov. 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“He’s definitely moving in the right direction,” Brooks said.
Through three games, these Wizards still carry a similar identity to the team that advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals last season — plenty of offensive skill combined with an inability to sustain effective defense — yet with one notable difference. The Wizards entered play Wednesday ranked third in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (33.7), a substantial bump from the 22.1 they averaged in 2016-17.
Much of the credit belongs to John Wall’s willingness to draw whistles. Through three games, Wall led all players in free throw attempts (11.7) and makes (10.0). Wall’s persistence to get to the basket was on display during the team’s first game of the West Coast road trip as he hit 13 of 15 free throws in Monday night’s win over the Denver Nuggets.
Brooks still riding with the starters
Another trend from last season: Washington’s reliance on its starters.
Even with a revamped bench and one starter on the injured list, Brooks continues to entrust the game to his top five players. Entering Wednesday, Washington’s starters averaged a league-high 32.9 minutes per game. The starters’ total directly affects the rotation for the second unit and it should be no surprise that the Wizards’ bench has logged just over 15 minutes per game, the lowest in the NBA.
“I think our bench is really good,” Brooks said. “We got a lot of good, experienced players that have that professional approach. The thing — with no matter who we have — we have a good starting five. So sometimes it’s hard. I’ve been in that position when I was the backup to a really good point guard and it’s not the same.”