The Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards were coming out of an official timeout with 7:31 left in their game on Tuesday night with Milwaukee leading 84-61. The Wizards only mustered 31 combined points in the second and third quarters while the Bucks put up 53, and the game was all but out of reach as a result. Still, Wizards coach Flip Saunders wanted to make a last ditch effort at a comeback so he subbed in John Wall, Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee for Yi Jianlian, Kevin Seraphin and Jordan Crawford.
After a made free throw by Milwaukee rookie Larry Sanders, Wall dribbled down the court while being pressured by Bucks guard Earl Boykins and eventually had to give the ball up to McGee. McGee took the pass, but could not immediately give the ball back to his point guard for him to set up the offense because Boykins was pestering Wall as only the 5’5″ Boykins can do. McGee even motioned for Wall to come to him, but no such luck from Wall in getting separation. Instead, McGee, who was just inside the foul line at that point, made the executive decision to not look for anyone else, put his head down and dribble toward basket. Although he was bailed out by a hard foul from Andrew Bogut, he missed both free throws and the possession was wasted.
Conversely, with 6:56 left in the third quarter, Brandon Jennings and Bogut found themselves in a similar situation. Jennings passed Bogut the ball in the high post and expected to get it back, but Wall prevented a return pass from happening. Instead of hesitating, waiting and panicking as McGee had done with Wall, Bogut intelligently waited for Jennings to create an open lane, then he drove decisively and dunked on a flailing McGee.
You’re probably thinking this is yet another Truth About It post dedicated to slamming McGee or one of the other Wizards big men. Not the case. Without Andray Blatche (who sprained his shoulder three minutes into the game and was unable to return), McGee (nine points, 13 rebounds), Seraphin (one point, six rebounds), and Booker (eight points, eight rebounds) did a good job on the boards and occasionally made their respective presences felt. They certainly made mistakes, but Booker and Seraphin are rookies and McGee is still learning. I can’t be too critical of their play … at least not last night.
What Tuesday night’s 95-76 loss to the Bucks did demonstrate is that when Wall is struggling, it helps to have a big man who can create a diversion and open up some lanes so that he can score or create in alternative ways. The Wizards currently don’t have that type player on the roster, but it should be part of the rebuilding process that Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld speak fondly of so often. How do I know this? Because Brandon Jennings and John Salmons told me so:
“An inside presence is key man, and that’s what Bogut is. Let’s say my shot is off and I can’t get in the lane. If I keep dumping the ball to Bogut, my man starts cheating down and I have a wide open shot. Then my man jumps out on me, and I can go by him and dish, drive to the hoop or find someone else. And on the high post he passes and drives like a guard, and he can hit that outside shot enough to make teams respect him. All of that makes a point guard’s job easier, and you saw that tonight. Without him out there, we have to work twice as hard, with him we play much better. Also he sets great picks, and he had like seven assists tonight. He’s just a huge asset and I’m glad he’s on my team and close to being healthy.”
“He’s a presence in the middle that other teams have to pay attention to, they have to double-team him down there, but then he’s a real good passer. So he finds the open guy, he makes the other teams rotate more, which gets other people open looks. Me and Brandon can go crazy in there when he’s playing well, it just takes the pressure off any person.”
To further slam home the point, the main three contributors at guard last night for the Bucks were Keyon Dooling, Salmons and Jennings. They combined for 57 points on 48-percent shooting, and many of their shots were of the wide-open variety. Wall, Nick Young and Jordan Crawford combined for 44 points on just 38-percent shooting, and the degree of difficulty of their attempts was much higher. Young and Crawford seem to specialize in taking difficult shots, so that automatically lowers the percentage, but perhaps with a Bogut-like presence down low, those types of gambles would subside. Perhaps.
More importantly, this type of presence would allow Wall to play an easier, smarter brand of basketball. As it stands, Wall takes on the burden himself and has post-game quotes like this:
“I feel like I had an off night and didn’t really help the team out as much as I could. They basically got every shot they wanted whenever they wanted. We need to compete harder in games, it is going to come down to one on one games but we still have to help each other out.”
[Photos in this post: Adam McGinnis, Truth About It.net]
[Rashad Mobley is from the Washington, D.C. area and has been covering the Washington Wizards with credentials for three years. To learn more about him click here. To follow him on Twitter: @Rashad20.]