John Wall, Optimus Dime and Wise Men in Error | Wizards Blog Truth About

John Wall, Optimus Dime and Wise Men in Error

Updated: December 11, 2014
[courtesy of the ever-brilliant @SwedenDC]

[courtesy of the ever-brilliant @SwedenDC]

Over the past year, TAI has beaten the dead midrange horse into a pulp and reshaped the goop into no fewer than five pairs of sturdy cordovan shoes. You know the story: The Wizards take too many midrange jump shots—too many because they’re not very good at making midrange jump shots. But this isn’t that story.

This story is about how the Wizards continue to underutilize one of their greatest offensive weapons, Marcin Gortat.

Especially since the main attraction in Washington is John Wall, a next-gen shogun. X-ray vision goggles? Jetpack? He never takes the court without them, and he has an appetite for dimes that even parking meters can’t match. He finished second to Chris Paul in assists per game last season (8.8), and is averaging 10.4 assists per game this year, second only to Rajon Rondo. Wall just knows how to will people open with the passing lanes he creates, and can score when his team needs a lift. His six 20-point, 10-assist games this season lead the NBA.

Elite point guard play is so important. Big men in basketball are very often dependent on their teammates, particularly those with a better feel for dimpled leather, to create scoring opportunities for them. Guards dominate possessions. That’s how the game is played. Only two of the 30 players who lead the league in touches per game are frontcourt players: LeBron James Superfreak and Joakim Noah. Both players are the center of their respective scoring universes.

John Wall has a gravitational pull, too. He’s fifth in touches per game (95.3) and first in time of possession—the ball is in his hands for more than eight and a half minutes of game time each night. What’s good: he’s doing a whole lot with them, playing the role of hero in the rescue of Randy Wittman’s offense. The Wizards had the worst Offensive Rating in the league in 2012-13 (97.8), the season Wittman took over as head coach. This season it’s a perfectly adequate (15th, 104.0).

But back to Gortat. He’s been supercharged from a natural scorer into an ideal offensive machine: Optimus Dime. Wall, much improved in the halfcourt, no longer waves away screens from the Polish Machine and and both players are better off for it.

The two-man game between them produced 1.06 points per possession* in 2013-14, better than the league average (1.03), and miles ahead of the 0.85 produced by Wall-Nene pick plays. And that flash-and-hammer duo is surely putting up better numbers this season. The eye test says so, at least.

“[He’s] doing a better job coming and setting random screens,” Wall said earlier this month. “And when he makes my guy go over the top, their big has to help that’s guarding him and he’s getting the opportunities to score the ball on the roll and make plays for himself and make plays for our teammates.”

[*Stats updated as of February 2014. R.I.P.]

“We just had this little conversation on the court,” Gortat began in the locker room after a win over the Miami Heat. “Obviously, I might be wrong, but I’m always saying I’m going to bring my point guard to the promised land.”

The argument near the bench allegedly ended with John Wall saying, “If you start finishing layups.”

Clear the runway, the Polish Machine’s coming in #HotSportsTake.

“John, for us to be successful, he doesn’t have to score 30,” Gortat told reporters, with sway. “He got the ball in his hands so many times, that he can go for 30 any night. But that’s not the point. He gotta create for everybody else and he did a tremendous, tremendous job today. Another game, he was finding people open. He was great. And that’s the John Wall I want to play (with) every day.”

About those layups. Last season, TAI’s Kyle Weidie busted the myth that Gortat misses truckloads of “bunnies,” i.e. close shots. Gortat shot 71.1 percent in the restricted area last year, not only a career-high rate in 2013-14 but also a top 5 mark in the NBA (min. 300 attempts). The vast majority of those attempts (upwards of 80%) are assisted. And John Wall has been pulling all the strings. For every six passes Gortat received from the Game Changer in 2013-14, one led directly to a bucket (and an assist). This season, Gortat is making even more of his shots in the restricted area (71.3%), and is shooting a team-best 54.4 percent when Wall is setting him up. Their pass-to-assist ratio this now about 5:1.

Even though Gortat is in the top 15 in “close touches” per game (touches that originate within 12 feet of the basket), in Wittman’s scheme he’s inexplicably the fourth option on offense, after Wall, Paul Pierce and Bradley Beal. Perhaps that’s the reason the Wizards often go to Gortat on the first possession, or two, or ball games: it helps prevent engine stall.

*Somewhere, the Polish Machine is setting an off-ball screen to free one of those scorers for a midrange jumper.*

This needs to change. The Truth, for all his #savvy and aged Truthiness, is shooting just 35.8 percent from midrange this season. Beal’s hitting just 27.8 percent. If you’re gonna settle, let the captain anchor the boat. While a lot has been said about John Wall’s jump shot, his pull-up jumper is deadly. He’s hitting them at an 86.5 percent clip. And that’s the result of the defense going under the screen from Gortat.

If the defense traps Wall, Gortat slips the screen and beats his defender, mobile or not, to the hoop for 2. If the defense chases over, Wall cooks up some pierogi by hitting the mechanized roll man. The Wizards could use more of that action. Gortat is 33rd in attempts from inside 5 feet per game, where you get looks as the roller, yet only frontcourt studs Anthony Davis, Derrick Favors, and Tyson Chandler are more efficient (min. 5 attempts per game). He’s shooting better around the rim than Blake Griffin and LeBron James.

The pick-and-roll’s effectiveness in Washington isn’t just roundball theory. It’s been proven in practice.

The Heat, in that Wizards win, tried to trap John Wall. It backfired. Wall tied a then-season-high with 13 assists and 18 points. Gortat had 15 points on nine attempts.

The Denver Nuggets, in their visit to D.C., made a point to redirect Gortat away from the basket. He scored 15 points on nine attempts anyway, and the Wizards put up a season-high 119 points. Wall had nine of those points, plus 12 assists—mostly to open shooters on the perimeter. Beal and Rasual Butler combined to make six 3s. (Pierce went 0-for-3.)

“John is good in the open court and coming off screens. He comes off hard,” said Nuggets swingman Wilson Chandler. “They had us on the single side. We had to either tag, leave Bradley open, or let Gortat roll. So, that’s how it’s gonna happen.”

The pick-and-roll is poisonous either way. And even when the Polish Machine is denied entry to the paint on the first action, he has an uncanny ability to find space around the rim after Wall swings the ball to his second option. Paul Pierce, for example, picks up about one dime for every five passes he makes to Gortat, while Wall often registers a secondary (aka “hockey”) assist in the process. Like so:

Another bonus: Pick-and-rolls prevent Gortat from shooting jump shots—something he loves to do. Even his coach recognizes it. So far this season, he’s taken 83 jumpers, more than any other shot type, and made just 23 of those attempts (27.7%). That’s not a good look. Not with the Tempur-Pedic touch the Polish Machine has around the rim, even when forced to fire a turnaround hook shot (68.8%).

As it stands, 17 percent of Washington’s points are scored in the paint (17th). They don’t take nearly enough shots near the basket: they’re 20th in FGA inside 5 feet but sixth in FG% (60.8). Just 18.4 percent of the offense comes from 3s, despite being ranked sixth in 3p% above the break (36.2%) and No.1 from the right corner (57.5%). And 23.3 percent of the team’s points come from midrange Js … because the Wiz take more midrange Js than all but three teams, despite shooting below 40 percent. Error. Error. Error. 

If Wittman would allow it, Wall-Gortat pick-and-rolls might reboot the Wizards. In seven seconds or less.


 [stats via]



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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.