On January 30th, the Wizards received some devastating news. All-Star point guard John Wall would miss 6-8 weeks due to knee surgery, his third procedure of the type in only two years. For a team marred by inconsistencies all season, losing their best player was a blow to any hopes of getting home court advantage in the first round. Without Wall the Wizards were 6-6, and all fans could do is hope they stay afloat until Walls return. Then something unexpected happening; the Wizards started playing better.
In the seven games since Wall’s injury the Wizards are 5-2, the two losses coming to Philly on the second half of a back to back and an overtime loss to the Celtics last night-no way Morris fouled Irving on that three either. Those following the story are aware of the drama among Wall and teammates regarding the upswing, but set the record straight. The Wizards are not “better” without John Wall; Bradley Beal came out shut that down a while ago. “For us to say that we’re a better team without John it’s, like, that’s comical in a sense. Come on, let’s be real,” Beal said. “The guy’s the head of our franchise, a five-time all-star. Let’s be realistic.”
During Walls absence however, the Wizards have been moving the ball more frequently and with intention. In the past 7 games, the Wizards have jumped from 24th to 11th in passes per game and moved in 1st in assist percentage and assists per game. They’ve moved away from inefficient pull up jumpers-Wall’s calling card-and are forcing more catch and shoot situations. During all games this season the percent splits of pull ups to catch and shoot is 28.7% to 31.8%; over the past seven games it’s 25.4% to 36.7%. Wall in the pick in roll is a dangerous weapon, but the offense can get stagnant after bricks of mid range jumpers; he’s shooting a ghastly 31.7% on pull up jumpers this season.
Wall’s injury has forced head coach Scott Brooks hand in playing role players more, yet they have delivered in spectacular fashion. Otto Porter’s points and shots per game have increased as expected, but his field goal percentage has jumped from 49% to 54% as well. Last night against the Celtics on national television he poured in 27 points and 11 rebounds, the guy is playing with a newfound confidence. Tomas Satoransky has brought his trademark energy from the bench into a starting role, out working better players through sheer will. Kyrie Irving, perhaps the most unblockable player in the league was stuffed last night by Satoransky on a drive attempt. It may only be a single play, but it epitomizes his play over the past seven games.
Wall runs isolation plays 23.5% of the time, the fourth highest percent in the league, so it’s not surprising his teammates feel marginalized at times. They’re playing harder and with a purpose, showing Wall that they can do more for the offense then what he allows them. Although Gortat and Beal have been taking subtle jabs at Wall, this stretch is an invitation, not a abandonment. If the Wizards want postseason success, Wall will have to ingratiate himself into this new-look, dynamic offense and not revert back to ball stopping tendencies. Keep forcing the issue in the fast break, bring the trademark lockdown defense, limit the number of monotonous pick and rolls with Gortat, and don’t be afraid to assume the role of a shooting guard, lurking on the wing waiting for a kick out. Wall’s only weakness is he’s not a great outside shooter, but if he gets a sliver of space when a defender is closing out on him he’ll be at the basket in two seconds. Most importantly, don’t hold the ball like it’s a a diamond necklace and the house is getting robbed. 41.7% of Wall’s shots come after holding the ball for 6+ seconds, a disturbing statistic when compared to the 64% of of Wizards shots that have come after 2 seconds during Wall’s absence.
All in all, it’s still a small sample size. It’s only been 10 days since Wall left, and keeping up this intensity for at least four more weeks is a tall task. What more than likely is we’ll see a losing streak from the Wiz, and all will make sense with the world. If the upward trend continues however, questions will be raised toward Wall’s value, and the massive contract he signed in the offseason.