Key Legislature: Wizards 92 at Pelicans 85 — Stars Clash but Working Stiffs Settle the Score | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 92 at Pelicans 85 — Stars Clash but Working Stiffs Settle the Score

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Updated: January 6, 2015

Truth About It.net’s Key Legislature: a quick run-down and the game’s defining moment(s) for Washington Wizards contest No. 34 versus the Pelicans in New Orleans, via Chris Thompson from parts olde Virginia.

DC Council Key Legislature

by Chris Thompson.

With all of Washington’s celebrated depth and glut of stable veteran contributors, it’s still easy to get caught up in the line of thought that the Wizards go more or less as John Wall goes. First of all, there’s some essential truth somewhere in there: that the Wizards need John Wall to be a good version of his whirlwind self in order to rise above professional respectability into something contender-like. But that, of course, raises the question of whether there are teams out there in the NBA which do not require that their best players generally play well in order to reach the more elusive upper reaches of their potential. Or, for that matter, whether there are teams out there that can do great things without meaningful and reliable contributions from many—if not most—of their regular pieces, on down to the role players.

What I’m saying is this: Most of how we think about NBA basketball is some combination of general, observable truths, and reductive narrative storytelling. For fans of a team that has been stuck well outside of any non-theoretical discussions about the nature of greatness and the reaching of potential, there’s not been much to go on other than narrative storytelling, because the nuts and bolts of being good (let alone approaching greatness) are over in the other guy’s garage.

As one of those fans, myself, this season has been something of a learning experience, and Monday night’s victory over the Pelicans was a particularly useful lesson. The Pelicans are, for now, a team whose potential is represented solely by their superstar, Anthony Davis, even while its attainment lies utterly outside of his control. And the Wizards are a team further evolved along that continuum. Washington’s potential is within reach expressly because of the things they can achieve even when John Wall scuttles, as he did in the second half in New Orleans.

Fun, narrative storytelling positioned this game as a matchup of emerging superstar top-picks from Kentucky, as if the tale of the game would be written as a series of direct clashes between Wall and Davis. The winner, of course, would be determined by which of those two players performed most heroically. And the first half was happy to suit up in costume and play its part in this fiction. Wall’s spectacular two-way brilliance rose to prominence above other factors as the determining one behind Washington’s early lead, while Davis was strangely passive and quiet, seemingly disengaged from the action around him, his team’s offense happening around him.

Ah, but here’s where the truth, and perhaps the essential truth, is discovered in the margins of the lazy summary above: while Wall was piling up assists (9 in the first half), scoring timely buckets (11 first-half points), and wreaking havoc on defense (2 first-half steals and a third deflection leading to a turnover), it was Nene who quietly and decisively erased the Unibrow from the contest. Here is Anthony Davis’s first half shot chart:

Anthony Davis First Half Shot Chart

In plain language, John Wall was brilliant in big, compelling ways in the first half, but it was Nene, the team’s best defender, who silenced Anthony Davis, and it was the absence of any meaningful contribution from Davis that left the Pelicans offense high and dry.

This is why New Orleans’ chances at sustainable greatness lie beyond Davis’s control: the Wizards were able to focus on frustrating and stymieing his offensive output precisely because there’s really no one else on the Pelicans roster who can pick up the slack without putting together a game for the ages. As much as the Wizards are still, frustratingly, a team that needs to knock down an uncommonly high percentage of their bad shots in order to put up the numbers of a good offense, the Pelicans are doubly a team that needs someone to play wonderfully in order to look like a good team. That Davis is so capable of playing wonderfully does not change this trait’s nature as a critical flaw, because on those nights when he does not transcend the limits of mere mortals, his team is stuck doing what it does, and what it does more than anything else is play disjointed, uninspired basketball.

Here’s the absence of that flaw in action. In the second half, John Wall played poorly. He shot two-of-seven from the floor and turned the ball over five times, and many of those turnovers were, frankly, awful, instances of Wall gathering his dribble and leaping wildly into the air with no plan and still 20 feet from the basket, throwing the ball more or less directly at a defender. Meanwhile, Davis picked up his play significantly, scoring 17 points on eight-of-nine shooting after halftime. And that’s sort of the difference right now between the Wizards and the Pelicans, and it’s a difference that’s overwhelmingly encouraging for Wizards fans: when Wall’s cape fell off and he descended to the mortal plane, guys like Kris Humphries, Paul Pierce, and (especially) Andre Miller were on the scene, doing what they do, which, while nowhere near the heights of Wall’s or Davis’s occasional transcendent play, sure beats the hell out of what was offered by counterparts Luke Babbit, Jimmer Fredette, and [gulp] Austin Rivers.

Highlights packages will depict this game as an accumulation of Kentucky-alumni highlights, with Wall coming out ahead on the strength of show-stopping plays accounting for eye-catching statistics, while Davis battled valiantly with this package of soft jumpers and deft finishes around the basket. But, really, that showcase portion of the game was mostly a draw, and was even more just noise—not the stuff that happened between the margins, but the margins themselves. In the first half Nene kept Davis from being wonderful, and in the second half Washington’s role-players kept the machine churning when Wall was decidedly un-wonderful.

It’s as good a way to win a basketball game as any, and certainly better than some.

Chris Thompson