Why it may be time for the Wizards to move Raul Neto back to the bench

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Why it may be time to move Raul Neto back to the bench originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Russell Westbrook's resurgence, the vast improvement on defense and the addition of Daniel Gafford at the trade deadline will be remembered as the key ingredients to the Wizards' season-saving turnaround to make the postseason. 

However, another constant during a stretch in which the Wizards went 17-6 to finish eighth in the East, has been their three-guard lineup featuring Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Raul Neto, Rui Hachimura and Alex Len. Once Deni Avdija was lost for the year with an ankle injury, Scott Brooks leaned hard into three-guard looks and it did wonders for his team. 

That aforementioned lineup outscored its opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass, which ranks in the 87th percentile league-wide. Safe to say, this has been an elite group all year. It wasn't exclusive to Westbrook-Beal-Neto lineups either. With Ish Smith in Neto's place alongside the two star guards, Washington was still outscoring teams by 8.3 points/100 possessions. 

The three-guard lineup works for the Wizards. It's a major reason why they're in the playoffs, but after one game against the Sixers, it appears they may have to abandon it. 

Philadelphia is one of the biggest teams in the league with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Danny Green manning the wings. The only player in their main rotation below 6'5" is Seth Curry, making it incredibly difficult for the Wizards to get away with having Neto on the floor. 

 

Because the Wizards have two bigger guards who can stick with wings in Beal and Westbrook, they tend to switch everything on defense regularly. While that can work well in the regular season against teams like the Pacers and Hornets, the playoffs are a different animal.

As you can see above, when Neto gets stuck on Harris in semi-transition, Philly goes to that mismatch right away for an easy two points. The Wizards ran into a similar issue against Jayson Tatum in the play-in game when Smith switched on to him in the half court. 

 

Tatum hits a tough shot here, but even with Smith defending to his best ability, players like Tatum and Harris can simply rise up and shoot over smaller guards. Harris went for 37 points in Game 1 and buoyed the Sixers' offense with Joel Embiid in foul trouble. 

Even when Neto wasn't on Harris, the Sixers forward was getting open looks off of the mismatches the Sixers created. Here, Beal has to help off of Harris with Simmons posting up on the right block, which then gave Harris enough cushion to get off a clean look. 

 

The problem for the Wizards is making this adjustment won't be easy. If Neto moves back to the bench, Davis Bertans Anthony Gill or Chandler Hutchison would have to step up into starter minutes. Bertans comes with his own defensive limitations while Gill and Hutchison are out of the rotation as of now, so there's no perfect solution. 

Washington could also try to switch less to force the Sixers to play more pick and roll, which is something they're not entirely used to with Simmons at point guard. The Sixers ranked 17th in pick-and-roll frequency this season and even that was a major increase from last year when they ranked 29th. 

Turning away from a lineup that's been so good all year is a tough decision to make, especially after one game. But given the matchup, it's clear the Wizards need to add some size on the wings if they want to get consistent stops against Philly.

The Wizards played well in Game 1 and were in a position to steal a playoff game on the road, but it's unlikely they get another slow start from Embiid. If the big man is cooking and there's little resistance against the supporting cast as well, this series may not get past the fourth game.