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How the Wizards will operate in the G-League bubble originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
In order to get better as a basketball player, it helps to actually play basketball games. But, due to the ongoing restraints amid the coronavirus pandemic, that has not been easy for prospects in the Wizards' organization.
So, with the G-League holding a shortened season in Orlando on the Disney World campus, the same place the NBA finished its 2019-20 campaign in the late summer and fall, the Wizards joined forces with the Erie Bayhawks, the New Orleans Pelicans affiliate, to flex-assign five players to their roster. They have Cassius Winston, Jordan Bell, Yoeli Childs, Caleb Homesley and Marlon Taylor down in Orlando, ready to begin a 15-game regular season schedule with Erie that starts on Wednesday against the Salt Lake City Stars.
In addition to the five players representing them in the bubble, the Wizards have also sent the newly-hired Capital City Go-Go general manager Amber Nichols, as well as assistant coach Mike Williams, who will serve on the Bayhawks staff and be their head coach for two games. They are in regular communication with Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard, outlining a player development plan for their players, which is then implemented in concert with Bayhawks head coach Ryan Pannone.
That means deferring to the Bayhawks when it comes to their playbook and system, but simply getting game experience for their players is the overarching goal.
"It’s a great opportunity to come out here and just play," Winston told NBC Sports Washington. "That’s what we do. That’s what we get paid for. I have the opportunity to play and showcase what I can do."
"There’s some situational stuff that we can’t recreate in practice that is going to happen in the game. It’s going to be a good experience for those guys," Nichols said.
Winston, a 2020 second-round pick, has had a leg up on some of his Go-Go/Bayhawks teammates in that he's been with the Wizards, practicing and occasionally appearing in games. He has played 44 minutes in the NBA so far across six games, usually late in blowouts. Most of his work has been done in individual drills with Williams and Wizards assistant Kamran Sufi, with an emphasis on ball-handling and conditioning.
Now, Winston gets to take all that work into what should be extended game action.
"Get us under control and be a leader," Nichols said of what she expects from Winston. "Those are things I think he’s going to be capable of doing, especially at our level. Just seeing his ability to score and create for others with some of the defensive coverages that teams are going to be able to throw at him is going to be really interesting to see."
Winston was not able to practice with the Bayhawks until Tuesday, the day before the first game. It was a challenge getting all the players together and in shape before the schedule began, due to the pandemic and the restrictions enacted by the league.
Nichols, however, believes Winston will be able to adapt faster than the average player.
"We were in a film session two days ago. He’s really smart. He picks up things very, very quickly," she said. "There’s no doubt he’s ready to play just because of how he processes information on the fly."
Getting some of the other players up to speed first involved remote ball-handling workouts on Zoom led by Williams. Then, there was a quick trip to Clearwater, FL, before they arrived in Orlando to enter the bubble. That was so they could hold beach workouts, which were permitted by the league. Those were led by former Washington Capitals trainer Greg Smith. The Go-Go players then had to quarantine for four days before beginning training camp with Erie, which featured scrimmages against the Timberwolves and Raptors affiliates.
After all of that, it's time to get to work. In a span of 24 days, they will play 15 different teams in their 15 games, including G-League Ignite, which features a host of likely 2021 first-round draft picks like Jonathan Kuminga, Jalen Green and Daishen Nix.
"It’s a good opportunity to just lock in and focus on one thing and one thing only. To try to get better and handle my business," Winston said.