Wizards Better Without Wall?

Dec 3, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) celebrates in front of Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) and Wizards center Marcin Gortat (4) against the Los Angeles Lakers in the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 111-95. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

All-Star point guard John Wall has been absent from the Wizards for 6 games now. How has Washington fared? They’ve gone 5-1 and just had their 5 game win streak busted last night. This is the NBA, so naturally, rumblings are starting to surface. With the maturity of a 12-year-old, Marcin Gortat subtweeted his pick and roll partner:

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Not to be one-upped by Gortat, Wall had to clap back by bragging about all of the easy dunks Gortat receives because of his passing. Of course, it was only a matter of time until Beal and Wall revived their frenemy relationship and remind us all why they are the Association’s Regina George and Cady Heron. And this time, is was John Wall who got hit by theĀ school bus.

It is only fair for the Wizards to be proud of their newfound energy. Everyone touches the ball more in this Wall-less offense. Player movement has increased and half court sets are starting to look more Warrior than Magic. With Beal as the propellant, this squad has certainly passed the eye test. Basketball simply looks more like basketball without Wall. But, are the Wizards better off without their max-contract star? Let’s look at the numbers.

The Wiz are averaging about 3 more assists per game since Wall had surgery. Headscratching, isn’t it? Otto Porter has seen his assist numbers double from 2 to 4 and the same can be said for Satoransky. In fact, just about everyone has had their number of dimes increase. Watch the Wizards Thursday on TNT and see for yourself just how fluid their O looks. Despite missing one of the best set-up guys in the League, the Wizards have actually become a better passing team.

There has long been an adage in basketball: “Everyone plays defense when they touch the ball on offense.” The absence of the ball-dominant Wall has undoubtedly led to more touches for Washington’s role players. Has this led to a more energetic, engaged defense? The numbers suggest so.

With the help of basketball-reference.com, I was able to dig into the defensive stats. I looked at the three Washington lineups that played the most minutes with John Wall. They held opponents to a 50% field goal rating, including a 56% eFG rating and a 41% 3pFG rating. Compare that to the three Washington lineups that have logged the most minutes since Wall’s departure. These lineups have held opponents to a noticeably lower 45% field goal rating while seeing shooters hit only 36% of their threes. What’s more, the Wall-less lineups have lowered their eFG rating to 52%. It seems like these Wizards have proved this adage true.

Let’s look at the offense. This is where things get messy, like the Regina, Cady, Aaron love triangle (2 Mean Girl references, its been a good day). Over the past 5 games (all without Wall) the Wizards have put up 110.4 point per game. For the season, they average 105.8 point per game. This small sample size will be put to the test tomorrow tonight, as Washington faces a stout Celtic defense. I love this game as a benchmark test for the surging Wiz. After all, their offensive numbers have generally been better with Wall on the court. Using the same lineups as earlier, the Wiz have benefited from the play of Wall. In spite or because of the Wall dominated lineups, Washington has made significantly more field goals per game and average a drastically higher 3pFG percentage.

Tim Bontemps, who covers the Wizards for the Washington Post, wrote that John Wall “stands for 76.5 percent of the time when he’s on the court.” That is the leading figure in the entire NBA. The offense either revolves around him or, he stands while someone tries to figure it out. Without Wall, the Wizards have played better team ball. Check this clip from their recent win over Toronto. This is a play I don’t think happens if Wall is on the court.gif.gif

Beal’s shooting threat, a threat Wall does not truly possess, draws a hedge from Jonas. Beal’s eyes force both Lowry and Ibaka to drop into the paint in case Gortat receives the PnR pass. Porter easily takes the Beal pass and hits Morris for the three; a three set up from a perfectly executed Satoransky screen. It is reasonable to wonder how Wall would have handled this crunch time play. The locker-room murmurs have suggested that trust may not exist between Wall and his supporting cast. Does he make the right read here? Or would Wall have tried to iso his defender? Regardless of you answer, this play was executed masterfully and without John Wall. Perhaps Bradley Beal can handle more point guard duties than we previously thought…

So, are the Wizards really better off without John Wall? It is way too early to tell. Still, we have to monitor this closely. The Wizards have a tough schedule going forward. Teams will scheme for Bradley Beal and this revamped offense. Also, let’s not forget just how good John Wall can be. His team was a Kelly Olynyk career game from reaching the ECF last year. Acquiring talent is the biggest challenge in today’s game, so let’s not start revving up ESPN’s Trade Machine just yet. But, keep an eye on this team. Every win they get without Wall will stir up punditry around the league.

Addition by subtraction? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell. After all, Regina and Cady had to split eventually, right?


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