Friday, April 19, 2019

2018 has been a year of many ups and down for the Wizards. A season that started full of optimism has turned into one that now has fans scratching their heads. The Wizards lost in 7 games to the #1 seed Boston Celtics in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. As a result, there were high expectations for Washington going into this season.

Not Looking Too Good

The team is now 4th in the underwhelming Eastern conference, yielding a 31-24 record. Led by the dynamic backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, fans had reason to believe this team could contend for an Eastern Conference title this season.

The team will need to play much more consistently on the offensive end of the floor to live up to their potential. Offensively, the Wizards have struggled to consistently get easy shots. The team ranks 23rd in the NBA in points in the paint with 42.2 points per game. This is a sign of a team that lacks rhythm and is taking contested jump shots, and not easy lay-ups. Better ball movement and getting into transition will enable the Wizards to get more buckets in the paint. This will in turn help to give the team more energy on defense.

About 2 weeks ago, the news broke that John Wall will be out for the 6-8 weeks after having knee surgery. This seemed like it might have been devastating to the Wizards season, as the team was coming off of a stretch in which they lost 6 of their last 9 games.

Washington has responded in a huge way by winning 5 straight games since Wall has been out. This has created a lot of speculation around the team, as it seems that players like Marcin Gortat have taken shots at the starting point guard in his absence. After their third straight win vs the Toronto Raptors, Gortat tweeted, “Unbelievable win tonight! Great ‘team’ victory!”. Although this could be seen as an unnecessary shot at Wall, it could be something that he needed to hear. Since his injury, the team has played exceptionally better on both ends of the court.

There is no question that the Wizards will need John Wall to make a run at the Eastern Conference crown. However, they will need him to get his teammates more involved in order to do so.

Everyone Eats

Before their 5 game win streak was ended on Tuesday night by the 76ers, the Wizards were hitting on all cylinders. Their offense led the NBA with 32.2 assists per game in that span. Bradley Beal has truly emerged as a star during this winning streak. On the court, he has led the team with 24 ppg. Off the court, Beal made a comment that stuck with Wizards fans. When asked what the key to the Wizards success was, Beal simply stated, “Everyone eats”. This accurately describes the play of the Wizards without John Wall in the lineup.

Reserve point guards Thomas Satoransky and Tim Frazier have orchestrated this offense and brought a pass-first mentality that has been infectious. The two guards have done well to replace the production of Wall in his absence. Although neither player has the physical gifts that John Wall has, it has been their play that has ignited the Wizards offense. Along with Beal, players like Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Kelly Oubre have all improved their scoring averages. This has helped the Wizards to remain in 4th in the East. The Wizards’ improvement on offense has transferred to the defensive end, as they’ve been first in forcing opponent turnovers (17.4) in the last five games. Washington’s exceptional play as of late raises the question:”Why is this team playing so well without their best player?”

Wall’s Return?

In Wall’s absence, the team has consistently gotten into transition after missed shots and moved the ball well in their half-court offense. This has resulted in easy baskets, which enables bench players like Mike Scott and Jodie Meeks to get into a shooting rhythm and contribute. In their win vs the Pacers on Monday, five players had at least three assists and eight players scored in double figures. Hence the phrase, “Everyone eats”.

John Wall’s explosiveness and athleticism have enabled him to become a perennial all-star. That along with his court vision has propelled him into the conversation of one of the best point guards in the NBA. The only glaring weakness in Wall’s game has been his shooting. Over the course of his career, he’s shot a pedestrian 43% from the field. In this season in particular, he has settled for jump shots, rather than getting to the basket or getting his teammates involved.

There is no doubt that John Wall has been a huge reason for the Wizards’ success throughout his 8 years in Washington. As the team’s primary facilitator, he has averaged a stellar 9.2 assists per game. However, his team’s success in his absence proves that he needs to do more to get his teammates involved. It’s imperative that once Wall returns, he commits to sparking the offense by attacking the rim and hitting open teammates in transition. If he can create better shots for himself and players like Beal and Porter, fans can expect to see a true contender going into this year’s playoffs.

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