Opening Statements: Wizards vs Lakers, Game 17 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Lakers, Game 17

Updated: December 3, 2014

Washington Wizards vs Los Angeles Lakers

Primetime, baby! Or not. It’s jarring to see the Lakers in such a state. L.A.’s historically premier team is still headlined by Kobe Bryant. But this is a new era of Kobe voyeurism, and Kobe is now, depending on which reporter you believe, either a player that puts on his hard hat and goes to work with an open mind every day or laces the locker room and front office with land mines and barbed wire.

Forgive me, Lakers talk is not my lane. But these Wizards and Lakers teams, one showing signs of being very good after decades of mediocrity (or worse) and the other showing signs of bottoming out after decades of brilliance, have a few things in common. The most glaring one, given Byron Scott’s offseason comments about how 3-pointers don’t win championships (aside from the fact that seven of the last eight NBA champions have led all playoff teams in 3-point attempts and makes), are the teams’ apparent aversions to such shots. As of today, the Lakers take the sixth-fewest 3s, and the Wizards take the fourth-fewest 3s. Meanwhile, the Lakers are 24th in 3-point percentage, while the Wizards are … wait for it … the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA (38.4 percent). How Washington comes by its long-range chastity, even in the face of excellence from that range, is up for debate.

In recent pieces, TAI’s Kyle Weidie and Chris Thompson have explored what makes Washington’s offense tick, or clank, or push through sessions like an elderly Jazzerciser. While Wittman expressed disappointment regarding the lack of corner 3s this year that began to define a developing offensive scheme last season, infrequent 3-point shooting is nothing new. Last season, the Wizards were the fourth-best 3-point shooting team in the NBA, but ranked 19th in attempts.

This year, there are more excuses (injuries to Beal and Webster, losing Trevor Ariza), but still no clear solutions in sight. As teams scout Bradley Beal’s tendency to drift to the corner on John Wall fast breaks, Washington’s offense will have to adjust to new realities. For the most part, Wall’s blistering speed distracts enough opponents from his unique ability to maintain a drive to the basket while simultaneously finding shooters in the corner. But in back-to-back losses to the Mavericks and the Cavaliers, the Wizards were held to two total fast break points. Even after those dismal outings, the Wizards rank ninth in the NBA in percentage of total points scored on fast breaks. Some teams, familiar enough with one of Washington’s lone offensive bright spots to deny it, will catch on.

At that point, it will be on the Wizards to formulate a viable halfcourt offense that further involves creating open looks behind the line and in the paint, while mixing in a healthy dose of that familiar midrange drip, something they’ve been unable to do in the last several years. But take heart! The Wizards defense is one of the NBA’s best, and don’t tell John Feinstein, but John Wall is one of the biggest reasons for its dominance. Here’s Michael Pina, in a recent breakdown of Washington’s defense:

Meanwhile, at the point of attack, Wall is a coiled spring soaked in venom. He is fast enough to go under screens, recover in time to contest the shot, and currently leads the league in steals. Testament to his defensive importance, the Wizards allow an inconsolable 112.4 points per 100 possessions when Wall is on the bench, per He is one of the very best at his position, with long arms, fantastic instincts and unparalleled speed.

As Mr. Pina’s excellent piece observes, “lineups featuring both Gortat and Wall have allowed only 95.0 points per 100 possessions, which would equate to the NBA’s very best defense.”

But enough about the Wizards, already. Who are these Lakers from Los Angeles? And … is that … no, it can’t be. By Jove, it’s Nick Young! Fellas, hide your girlfriends, lest they see what a smile really looks like.

Please welcome Phillip Barnett (@imsohideouss) of ESPN Truehoop’s Forum Blue and Gold, who is here to answer my very important Lakers questions. Let’s get it.

Teams: Wizards vs Lakers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WTEM-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards favored by 8.5 points.

Q #1: Wesley Johnson. Has the “bust” label been replaced with “freakish role player,” or is this another instance of “bad player with increased chances on a bad team,” à la a Jordan Crawford-on-the-Celtics type opportunist?

@imsohideoussWhere Wes Johnson is right now, I wouldn’t put him in either of these camps. He’s kind of stuck in a disgusting purgatory between the two ends of the spectrum. Wes is most definitely not the guy who many thought he’d be when he was drafted as a lottery pick. I often debate with myself if W.J. can be trusted to dribble coast-to-coast with no one else on the floor. So much can happen with a guy who only uses his thumbs to dribble, oh, and those darn knees that always seem to be in the way. Give him a teammate and he might airmail the pass to the 27th row. He’s, more than anyone else on this roster, incredibly frustrating to watch.

You look at Wes and you see this glowing aura of potential that’s always a step ahead or a step behind—and that only depends on whether it’s a day he makes a leap forward or tumbles backward. His progress over the last year has been a sine graph. While the downturns are glaring, this does mean that there have been some positives. He’s shot the 3-ball much better than I would have anticipated and when not defending someone who can push around his wiry frame, he’s a decent defender who can effectively guard three positions, giving my lord and savior, Nick Young, and that Kobe guy the option to guard lesser offensive threats.

I can say that Wes is in a better place as a basketball player now than he was the first time he suited up for the Lakers, but I don’t think this version would have been good enough to see the floor four years ago.

Q #2: Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni and Byron Scott each have 10 minutes to seek Kobe’s advice on a new invention idea. All ideas address a similar need. Who comes out of the Mamba Tank with a winning idea?

@imsohideouss: Ah man. I hate this question because the answer is undoubtedly Byron Scott—and this has nothing to do with his coaching ability. I’d very much like for the answer of this question to be determined by what exactly the need is. We need to increase our output. Mike D’Antoni invents a bucket and gets you 1.5 more content in fewer than seven seconds. We need to slow down this flash flood. Mike Brown walks out of this meeting with a way to filter all of the water to these crazy, seven-foot sandbags that make it harder for the water to get to the rim. Introduce Byron Scott into any of these scenarios and he walks out to the presser and says, “I like turtles” to every question asked.

Byron was a mentor to Kobe when he entered the league. Byron is a huge Kobe fan, and Kobe knows this. Maybe the answer changes at the end of the season if the Lakers continue setting dubious team and NBA records, but of the last three coaches, Byron has the edge up on Kobe, he has the edge up in #ringzzzzzz, and he has the edge up on the fan base. He wins. And it makes me sick to my stomach.

Q #3: The Wizards sold a second-round pick to the Lakers this summer, and we here at truthaboutit dot net shed many a pixellated tear over Washington’s apparent disdain for a low-cost chance to develop another young player.

The Lakers used that pick to draft Jordan Clarkson. What have you seen out of him so far?

@imsohideoussJordan Clarkson has been fun. He looks and plays very much like a rookie, and this is what you expect from a late second-round pick, but there is some potential in the kid. What I like the most is his confidence. He isn’t afraid to attack the rim, look off the veterans if there are apparent better opportunities, or shoot the ball when open. On the flip side, it’s these very things that tend to get him the most trouble. There are times that it feels like the game moves a lot faster than he’s processing, or that he assumes it to be. Weak-side rotations to cut off driving and passing lanes tend to catch him off guard at times veteran guards anticipate, and make better plays out of it.

I’m OK with his rookie mistakes for the most part for a few reasons. The first is that this is a terrible Lakers team and he’s young, cheap talent that could potentially turn into a solid rotation player. I like that he’s learning on the job, and want to wait until after the All-Star break to see if he’s actually learning from these mistakes. If we’re in late February and he’s still forcing entry passes to Carlos Boozer with the weak-side big waiting to double from the baseline, we’re going to have a problem. I do think he’s smart enough to correct these issues, and the good moments this year have, for the most part, outweighed the bad. The only hope is that Byron starts giving the kid more minutes. He only played in seven games in November, and cracked more than 10 minutes in four of those. There is little to lose by playing him, but Scott seems to only think in the now, which makes him the only person in the Lakers organization more frustrating than Wes Johnson.

Q #4: While Nick Young is unfairly lumped in Wizards lore with Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, who were far more likely to be the root of such obvious locker room decomposition, he does still bear the scarlet letter G (denoting “gunner” because I am not clever) in the minds of many D.C. fans.

Last year, he almost tripled his assists (1.5 assists per game compared to a career average of 0.6 assists per game). Is this a new Nick Young? Does it matter? Does anything matter?

@imsohideoussEverything about Nick Young matters. Everything. When the Lakers originally brought him in, I felt he was the perfect kind of guy to root for when you know you’ve got a long year ahead of you. Turns out, he actually became a serious fan favorite.

Think about that for a minute. Nick Young: Unironic fan favorite. Yes, he’s still a gunner. He’s taken some of the most fascinating “what in the hell was he thinking?” shots I’ve ever seen, and I’ve followed Kobe’s whole career. In his first game back this season, he took a double-teamed turnaround fadeaway in the short corner. This is the bad that you get from Young. He literally does not have a conscience. He’s the most unapologetic bad shot taker in NBA history, not because he’s a terrible person, but because he honestly does not know that what he’s doing is frowned upon.

With that said, Young has been fantastic for the Lakers. His jump from just a gunner to a pretty good basketball player has happened for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Mike D’Antoni is kind of a genius. He took Young’s biggest flaw and turned it into a positive part of the offense. D’Antoni’s sets allowed Young to be a free spirit within the flow of the offense. He got as many shots as he wanted, but the way the ball moved when the offense was running smoothly forced Young to make some extra passes that he otherwise wouldn’t have in previous seasons.

It also helped that the Lakers got off to such a great start last season. The only thing that Young loves more than shooting is having fun—and when other guys became the beneficiaries of an extra Young pass, it made things fun for everyone. They were winning games, Young was being praised for moving the ball and helping out on the other end of the floor, and he was getting his shots all at the same time. It remains to be seen if Young goes completely back to his old ways in Byron’s antiquated system, but regardless, he’s loved here. So much. Long live Swaggy P.

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.