Busting for the Future: 2014 NBA Playoffs Just Step 1 for John Wall and Bradley Beal
Over four games against the Pacers, John Wall is shooting 31.4 percent (16-51), is 1-for-11 from the 3-point land, and 13-for-18 on free throws (72.2%). He has 30 assists, 14 turnovers, four steals, 14 personal fouls, and 15 personal fouls drawn. Washington has lost 27 points to Indiana over Wall’s 149 minutes for the series. Not a game-changing debut.
Bradley Beal has been slightly better (or slightly less worse): 42.4 percent from the field (28-66), 8-for-20 on 3s (40%), 14-for-20 on free throws (70%), 21 assists, 11 turnovers, 11 steals, 10 fouls, 21 fouls drawn. Beal is minus-12 over 169 minutes versus the Pacers. Unbelievably mature and ready, but still just a cub, after all.
Paul George, in his first playoff series when he was an NBA rookie, shot 30.3 percent from the field over 26.6 minutes per game with averages of 6.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 turnovers. The Pacers were beat by the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in Round 1 of 2010. In his second playoff appearance, the very next season, George shot 38.9 percent and scored 9.7 points with 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.9 turnovers over 33.7 minutes per game. Indiana beat a Dwight Howard-less (out with a back) Magic team 4-1 in the first round and lost to LeBron and the Heat 4-2 in the second round. George scored 19.2 points per game on 43 percent shooting during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals run, and he’s scoring 23.5 points per game on 44.3 percent shooting so far in this year’s playoffs. “Gettin’ Grown,” as goes the Cee-Lo Green song.
George and Wall were taken in the same draft class. George had one more year at Fresno State than Wall did at Kentucky and is about four months older. With Wall being a No. 1 overall pick, he had the complication of entering the league on a worse team. And although Indiana had won 35, 36, 36, and 32 games in the four non-playoff years leading up to 2010 as they struggled to recover from the Malice at the Palace, the franchise was clearly in a more solidified, or better managed, position than Washington. George was taken 10th overall in 2010, forming a core with Roy Hibbert (taken a spot ahead of JaVale McGee in 2008), and Lance Stephenson (40th overall in the same draft as George).
As the first and third overall picks, Wall and Bradley Beal fell into Washington’s lap. Indiana’s core, we’ll recap, was built with the 10th, 17th, and 40th overall picks (plus David West). Will Otto Porter become the third cog in Washington’s project? Will retaining Marcin Gortat this summer be Washington’s David West? Will Nene last to the end of his contract (2016), which he has proclaimed as his retirement date? How can these Wizards improve? (And could trying to replace Trevor Ariza, more likely to depart via free agency than Marcin Gortat, with Martell Webster and Otto Porter set Washington back?)
The Wizards, mind you, have ascended into the next level
, no longer a perpetual lottery team. But as evidenced from the downfall of Gilbert Arenas and the Grunfeld-Pollin era Big 3 to the way the series with the Pacers has gone since Game 1, things can change quickly, and drastically. The best franchises endure. The Wizards are essentially guaranteed to have at least six players back next season—Wall, Beal, Porter, Nene, Webster, and Glen Rice. Several, however, could return. Gortat, even under the current circumstance of being rendered moot by Hibbert, will still be Washington’s prime target. Ariza will be sought by the Wizards, as well as a slew of other teams, and likely can’t be retained along with Gortat unless both Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker are renounced and sent packing (or resigned at a yearly rate much less than what their qualifying offers would be, $3.9 and $3.4 million respectively). While the Wizards, like any team, continually yearn for constancy, they must guard against overcommitment that could hinder future improvement.
Gortat recently reflected on the nature of Wall’s entry into the league. “I think he started in a bad environment, unfortunately,” Gortat said prior to Game 3 against the Pacers. “He didn’t have really true role models that will tell him what to do and how to grow as a leader and as a good basketball player.” On Tuesday, Paul George will be playing in his 47th playoff game, John Wall will be playing in his 10th. That much has been clear.
We’ll never know if Ted Leonsis truly thought his franchise could reclaim and convert its own trash to treasure in the likes of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young, or if they were convenient props—scapegoats—in the owner’s “bad by design” rebuild. What we do know is that this Washington franchise gets the hard lessons it has learned with personality and locker room management. The current playoff experience is a launching pad to success, and not so much a benchmark into newly uncertain
territory (although such is often unavoidable in sports).
There is no wizardry in this playoff run. It will only be as memorable as future success allows it to be. In his first full season as Spurs coach after taking over for Bob Hill 18 games into the 1996-97 season, Gregg Popovich won 56 games as his San Antonio team took down Phoenix 3-1 and then were dismantled by Utah 4-1. (The caveat being that this was Tim Duncan’s rookie season, lucky Spurs.) And not to say that Pops and Timmy didn’t find some excellent takeaways from that 1997-98 second-round loss, but now they have more playoff memories than they know what to do with.
This land-before-time playoff run has been memorable for the Wizards in the context of futility—since starting as the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals in 1967, the Spurs franchise has missed the postseason just five times while Washington is merely making its fifth postseason in the past 17 years. Plus, in this new media world, the full circus has taken part—from David Falk, the agent of Roy Hibbert who once vowed to never set foot into the Verizon Center until Abe Pollin was dead (and he fulfilled that promise); to Tony Kornheiser, inventor of the Curse O’ Les Boulez, making a very rare appearance in the Phone Booth prior to the worst offensive performance in team history; to Robin Ficker, an attention whore’s attention whore, surfacing to heckle Indiana into a 19-point comeback; to Chris Webber calling a playoff game in the District; to Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, who seemingly cursed the Wizards and the Verizon Center after a much-pixelized concert date switch. Only missing is a Susan O’Malley flier touting the merits of Paul George.
Part success, part anticlimactic trials and tribulations of youth, this Wizards postseason is merely an ultimately forgettable step, and perhaps an appropriate manner to deal with all the aforementioned demons at once. And guess what: it’s not over. Not yet. Amidst roster prognostications and an uncertain future, what is certain is that with John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards are more equipped to turn the corner than they’ve
been in a very long time (perhaps more so than then they had both Webber and Juwan Howard, but that’s debatable). And tonight, we get to watch the future try to grow up just a little bit more. Better enjoy it. Tomorrow it could all be a memory.