Player Lock: John Wall’s Defense vs. DJ Augustin
[John Wall glides past each and every one of the Charlotte Bobcats, breezy.]
I chose to spotlight John Wall for Friday night’s home game versus the Charlotte Bobcats. It was a difficult decision — choosing between Wall and his seemingly favorable match-up versus DJ Augustin, or Andray Blatche in his intense battle of the ‘shapely’ four men versus Boris Diaw. I settled on Wall.
This was a typical Wizards-Bobcats game, the Wiz snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by falling apart over the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter. Gerald Wallace put in work on hapless Washington defenders (9-15 field-goals, 25 points and 14 rebounds) while shutting down Al Thornton so badly that Al left the game with a stomach problem. In general, the Wizards’ offense looked out of sync, as there was a lot of settling for jump shots and not enough attempts in the paint. The silver lining: the game was still relatively close despite an abysmal shooting night from Gilbert Arenas. Also, this is what an off-night looks like for John Wall: 6-16 field-goals, 13 points, four rebounds, 11 assists and four steals.
There is some bad news, though. John Wall’s inconsistent shot doesn’t concern me — clearly, that’s part of the growing pains of being a rookie in his seventh NBA game. What concerns me about Friday’s game is how, at times, Wall looked disinterested in defending Augustin.
Wall began the game by playing very far off of him, this would become one theme of the night. Another theme, when the Wizards were on offense, it became very clear that Charlotte would go under every ball screen to protect the paint, basically leaving Wall open, as usual. Keeping with this concept, Wall attempted two three-pointers in the first three minutes of the game, missing on both. But he had no trouble finding his teammates early, once finding a trailing Andray Blatche on the right side of the floor with a sweet dish off the back of his palm.
In the first half, Wall seemed like he was toying with Augustin. On one occasion, Ted Leonsis’ Expresso breezed by Augustin on a pick-and-roll with Blatche and fed the big man for an easy basket. But that hubris on the offensive end seemingly affected Wall’s efforts on defense. On the ensuing possession, Augustin caught Wall flat-footed and got past him for an easy layup. Augustin would get a couple more easy scoring opportunities in the first half, as Wall was more interested in trying to be a ‘play-maker’ on defense by going for steals and double-teaming guys for no reason. Wall did continue finding his teammates though, evidenced by a couple sick alley-oops to Epic Vale past the midway point of the second quarter. But, before going to the bench with under a minute left in the half, Wall left Augustin wide open for a three (which he converted).
The second half continued with trends from the first. Around the 8:30 mark of the third quarter, Augustin got past Wall into the lane and found Wallace behind the arc on the opposite side. Al Thornton closed late and fouled Wallace as the ball was going through the net. Crash converted the four point play. A minute later, Wall notched his first turnover of the night.
At about the 5:30 mark in the third quarter, NBA history was made. Blatche secured a defensive rebound, got it to Wall in stride, who raced down the court and found Kirk Hinrich in the corner for a three. This was Wall’s tenth assist of the night, giving him 71 dimes on the season, the most ever by an NBA rookie through seven games. Wall would have had more assists if not for Arenas’ awful shooting night (2-14 field-goals). Near the four minute mark of the third, Wall looked for Arenas twice on the same possession and Arenas missed both long distance shots badly. Around the three minute mark, Wall made his first (and only) three-pointer via sweet two-man action between him and Kirk Hinrich on the left side of the floor. On this attempt, Wall had a chance to set himself and square his shoulders.
To begin the fourth quarter, the Wizards came out playing a 2-3 zone (it is uncertain whether this was the hyperbolic, paraboloid, transitional floating zone). At the 10:24 mark, Wall missed a long two which was contested by former Wizard Shaun Livingston — Wall promptly went to the bench at the next dead ball. Three minutes later, Wall checked back in for Nick Young. At this point, Wall was bringing the ball past half court and handing it off to Hinrich or Arenas to initiate the offense.
With about four minutes left in the fourth, the Wizards were still playing the 2-3 zone when Boris Diaw burned them for a three, making the score is 81-78 Charlotte. With 3:30 left, Wall missed an open three from the top of the key, then a baseline jumper on the next possession, Charlotte once again leaving him open.
In transition, Wall came late closing out on Augustin, who drained a three to give his team the 86-78 lead, timeout Wizards. Outside of converting a fast-break opportunity off a steal to cut the lead to six with 1:30 left, Wall’s work for the night was done. Arenas missed three three-point attempts in the last minute, and Augustin and Wallace made their free throws. Game over.
There are a lot of positive things to take from Wall’s performance. His shooting struggles notwithstanding, he was able to get his teammates involved — 11 assists could easily have been 14 or 15 if the Wizards shot better than 42-percent from the field. Also, Wall only had one turnover. However, the negatives: Augustin went for 17 points and 10 assists on 5-8 shooting (3-5 from deep). Wall also didn’t attempt a single free-throw, though he may have gotten jobbed on a few non-calls by the officials.
John has a chance to be an elite defender — he is already averaging 3.17 steals per game, first in the NBA. But as Friday’s game shows, there is still a lot of room for improvement. As I am sure Sam Cassell is trying to impress upon Wall, he has the frame to cause problems for anyone. If he approaches each game’s defensive assignment from the standpoint of “I have to guard Rajon Rondo, or Derrick Rose tonight,” the sky’s the limit. But the real lesson is, Wall can’t take defensive plays off against the DJ Augustins of the league.
[John Wall finds Andray Blatche trailing in transition.]
[And ‘Dray converts the bucket as Gerald Wallace & Tyrus Thomas fly.]
[photos copyright Kyle Weidie, Truth About It.net]