The Wizards continue to lose on the road (and at home), in spite of John Wall.
Wall had a productive 34 minutes against the New York Knicks last night. He had 18 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals. He also had four turnovers — two of which should be excused. Early on, Wall put two three-quarter-court passes right on the money. Both times, his teammates (Andray Blatche and Al Thornton) let the ball slip through their fingers. Instead of turning Wall’s great vision and pinpoint execution into four easy points, Wall receives credit — perhaps blame would be more appropriate, at least from the viewpoint of the pitiless box score — for a couple of turnovers.
But don’t roll your eyes. Effusive praise will not be heaped on the rookie point guard today, as much as he might deserve it. Nor will I take on the role of a John Wall apologist, aiming to vindicate him from his errors.
However, over the course of the season, one thing has been made painfully clear: those best able to neutralize John Wall’s contributions are his own teammates. A most disturbing trend, indeed.
“You can say as much as you can or get them the ball to score, but they’re grown men and they make their own decisions,” said Wall after last Friday’s second half collapse versus the Phoenix Suns. “You can lead them as much as you can. I think I’m doing a great job of getting their trust … not force ourselves to be a hero.”
In speech, Blatche mirrored this team-oriented mentality. He explained that the Wizards don’t have a player who is able to consistently provide offensive firepower to keep the team in games:
“Everybody trying to put the team on their shoulders and that’s not the type of team we are. We don’t have no person including myself that’s a Kobe Bryant or Dwayne Wade that can demand the ball in iso and carry this team.”
What’s most frustrating is that despite the team’s apparent understanding of what it might take to win on the road, they continue to make the same mistakes. Game after game.
The Wizards are like that pick-up basketball team who shouts, ‘Let’s create some easier shots. We can get that (contested) three-pointer anytime we want,’ but keeps launching bombs anyway.
It is “hero ball”. And it is stupid.
- Not even two minutes into Monday night’s game, Blatche came down with a defensive rebound and took off toward the Knicks’ basket. Wall, the one man fast break, zipped by him and asked for the ball. Blatche didn’t comply and continued his lumbering siege on the New York defense. Wall threw his hands up in the air, clearly frustrated — that is a $50 fine for any of you keeping track at home. Eventually, Blatche picked up his dribble, realized he was stuck, and finally handed the ball over to Wall.What did Andray’s adventure prove? Not much, outside of the fact that Wall’s supporting cast is starved for attention.
- With 2:11 left in the third quarter and the Wizards down just one point, John Wall pulled in a Ronny Turiaf air-ball and raced down court. He found Nick Young in the corner, who was quickly picked up by Raymond Felton. What did Young do? He took a hard dribble to his left, spun back to his right, and fired a contested fadeaway jump shot … with 19 seconds left on the shot clock. “Ok Wizards, not the time for hero ball,” tweeted TAI’s Kyle Weidie. “Looking at you Nick Young.” It’s a shame that tweets too often fall upon deaf ears. Toney Douglas grabbed the defensive board, casually made his way to the other end of the court, and sank a wide open three-pointer. Amar’e Stoudemire gave him the lightest of screens, but the Wizards seem either unwilling or incapable of hedging to prevent open looks.
- With just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Wizards found themselves down just three points. Blatche deflected Stoudemire’s pass to a cutting Gallinari, and went as far as to collect the loose ball. To give credit where credit is due, Blatche has been more active on defense over the past several weeks. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Blatche quickly flipped the ball to Wall who stalled at the top of the circle. Wall had to hit a trailing Blatche and immediately called for the ball back to set up the offense. Blatche, once again, ignored Wall and fired a long jumper which hit the front iron and was recovered by the Knicks. Not the shot the Wizards needed.”We took some ill advised shots with no offensive rebound opportunities,” growled a furious Flip Saunders during his postgame presser. “But the rebounding, that’s not what decided the game. You can’t give up 24 points when you’re out of your offense, not including some of the bad shots that were taken that were included as far as turnovers.”
- After a Knicks score later in the fourth quarter, JaVale McGee decided to inbound the ball to Al Thornton instead of John Wall. Cowboy Al then decided it was “go time” and sprinted down the court, sized up Gallinari, and then ran him over. Yippee-kay-aye! The officials called a foul. Another unforced turnover by the Wizards and another possession where Wall didn’t even touch the ball.
I’m not calling for Wall to drastically increase his Usage-Percentage, which is at 23.33-percent, but his teammates must let him guide the offense. Outside of winning, Wall wants nothing more than to facilitate scoring opportunities. Yet, Blatche and Young, two classic ball-stopping culprits, continue to shut him out.
“Hero ball” also explains why most of Wall’s assists come early in games, slowing to a trickle as time passes. It also explains the imaginary, but almost tangible aura of fatalism during road games. When the individualistic and selfish nature of this Wizards squad rears its ugly head, fundamentally sound basketball disappears entirely.
The Wizards on the road remind me of the man in Jack London’s To Build a Fire. London’s short story details the futility of an adventurer’s efforts to conquer nature. The man overestimates his ability to withstand sub-zero temperatures and ignores countless warnings about the dangers of traveling alone under such conditions. The man eventually falls victim to frostbite and hypothermia — both consequences of his own arrogance.
Like the man in To Build a Fire, the Wizards suffer the same fate. They continue to throw away game plans and responsibility with ill-advised shots, questionable decisions, and unnecessary turnovers. At this stage, with this squad, “hero ball” is inevitable. They lack both the patience and the confidence to work as a team when they find themselves down by even a few points, late in games. When the tough shots don’t fall, panic sets in and everything falls apart. The Wizards aren’t doomed by a destructive deterministic fate. They find themselves scraping the bottom of the Association due to the chronic, ritualistic deterioration of sound sporting and the chilling absence of “give-a-damn.” When the going gets tough, the Wizards shrug their shoulders, put their heads down and resign themselves to another loss.
Flip Saunders has commanded that the Wizards play with passion. Rashard Lewis has revealed that, too often, the team plays without heart. The team lacks a fire. A fire that would have kept Jack London’s protagonist alive; one that would carry the Wizards to victory outside of the District.
For the Wizards, most of the talk and action begins with Wall. The tragedy is that neither typically end with him.
There was also this web gem: Midway through the fourth quarter, Blatche attempted to drive to the basket with less than three seconds left on the shot clock. He wasn’t even close to getting a shot off in time, which prompted Wizards announcer Steve Buckhantz to say: “I’m not sure he was fully aware of the shot clock. He was still dribbling with his head down when that thing expired.” It also led to a very animated reaction from Flip Saunders (below).