Key Legislature: Wizards 118 at Bucks 113 — Separate the Good from the Noise | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Key Legislature: Wizards 118 at Bucks 113 — Separate the Good from the Noise

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Updated: October 31, 2015

TAI’s Key Legislature… The game’s defining moment, its critical event, the wildest basketball thing you ever saw, or just stuff that happened. Wizards at Bucks, Regular Season, Game 2, Oct. 30, 2015, by Lucas Hubbard (@LucasHubbard1).

Two is not a large number in most contexts, and when considering an event that happens roughly tri-weekly, two is the feature film of Small Sample Size Theater. Something happening twice is, as the great Maria Bamford says, “not even a pattern.” But when those two observations are the only two readily available, the fallacy is to try to tease out trends. It’s human and—in cases like the NBA season—practically harmless.

With all these caveats properly applied, let’s make bold claims: Two games in and the Wizards look ready to frustrate the hell out of their fans this year with an endless slew of nail-biters. If they manage to get out of their own way, though, they also look…

*looks around*
*clears throat*
*cups hand over mouth to prevent lip-reading*

…really, really good.

Because so far, Washington has done what good teams do: win games they don’t deserve to win. The less said about the Orlando game the better, but Friday night in Milwaukee? You shouldn’t win when you have 21 turnovers. You especially shouldn’t win when your opponents have 33—count ‘em, 33—assists, including 30 assists on 35 field goals (an 86% assist rate!) by the start of the fourth quarter. Really, Milwaukee played about 40 minutes of incredible basketball, a resplendent display of distribution from the perimeter (Michael Carter-Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Jerryd Bayless) and the interior (Greg Monroe, Khris Middleton). Even when things broke down, they’d be bailed out by the improbable—an MCW 3-pointer—or the incredible—Giannis being GIANNIS in his season debut. Twenty-seven points on 15 shots, plus nine boards, three steals, and two assists.

With 9:11 left in the game, the Wizards absolutely deserved to be down 94-84. And given the second-half lethargy and Washington’s general negligence with the basketball—10 of those 33 total turnovers came in the third quarter—a feckless limp to the finish line seemed the most likely outcome.

Enter John Wall and the latest, greatest smallball lineup of the Randy Wittman era: Wall, Bradley Beal (makes sense), Ramon Sessions (um), Jared Dudley (wait…), and Nene (Jesus Christ). Hopes were dashed, and snark was making its way to the outbox. But, at the 6:43 mark, the Wizards had the lead. And then, when there were just two minutes left, they were up 111-104 with the game was practically on ice, even before John Wall’s end-of-shot-clock onions expo on the next trip down the court.

To recap: the Wizards scored 27 points in seven minutes and change—a pace that, if it were maintained, would translate to roughly 45 points per quarter. It was a roaring, searing, turn-it-up-to-11 stretch that invites befuddlement and intrigue. Specifically, what the hell happened? And why did it happen then, with that personnel?

The answer is a mix of process and extreme performance. After only taking eight 3-pointers in the first half, the Wizards shot six 3s over this extended fourth quarter run (compared to only two deep 2s): they made all six 3s, which out of context might be considered fluky. Then again, all of these attempts were assisted, as the Wizards’ small lineup beat the lengthy but lead-footed Bucks off the dribble time and again to open up passing lanes. Perhaps most importantly, due to some selfless Washington passing, the shots were taken by the right folks—all six were made by Beal and Sessions (all but one from the corners), who combined for 49 on the night and 25 in the fourth.

With regards to Sessions, though, and the lineup groupings Friday: I don’t think anyone anticipates this 5-man unit being Wittman’s main small-ball armada of 2015-16 (although no Wizards unit is more capable of getting to the line). More notably, I don’t think anyone anticipates small ball without Otto Porter, the lynchpin to the Wizards’ dynamism (but one that was bent backwards by the raw athleticism of the Greek Freak). No, Sessions and Nene probably won’t consistently play as much or as effectively as they did Friday, simply because, well, regression to the mean is a thing that exists. But for one night they played exceptionally, in part because the open-floor, up-tempo system simplifies their roles. Said another way, the process and the personnel worked in concert beautifully tonight, at least for those final nine minutes. The Wizards won a game not because John Wall did everything under the sun, but because everyone chipped in, as the conditions were ripe for them to do so.

That’s the fun of keeping an eye to the future here, so early into the new season. The much-ballyhooed schemes in Washington are all slowly creeping to the surface: the small ball, the up-tempo looks (the final Beal 3-pointer came just 3 seconds after a missed Milwaukee shot), and the traditional defensive intensity (37% shooting from the Bucks in the 4th) were all on display in that final sliver of the game. It’s a valid question of whether these elements are fully operational, or if they can withstand more than Milwaukee’s (depleted but still relatively) pitiful little band. But in an otherwise forgettable effort, the Wizards turned it on when necessary, once again. That degree of thievery is borderline-Popovichian, and for a franchise that struggled so much in the fourth quarter last year, it’s a promising start to the season.

Then again, maybe I’m being presumptuous: after all, two wins can’t even be considered a pattern.

Bullets.

  • Both Jared Dudley and Kelly Oubre, Jr. made their season debuts in Milwaukee. Dudley finished with six points and six rebounds in 25 minutes (+15), while Oubre finished with a single trillion (credit to Mark Titus).
  • Also of statistical note: Garrett Temple played seven seconds and committed one foul.
  • I was trying to think up a nickname for the Nene-Ramon duo, as they were arguably the best players for Washington before Beal went off in the fourth. They sound like a Latino ‘80s pop combo (think Hall & Oates, but, like, Latino), but it doesn’t work because Ramon is from South Carolina. Anyway, I’ll keep you guys posted as I keep thinking of options here.
  • This is a Wizards blog, but Milwaukee’s passing was almost sensuous at times last night. This first-quarter sequence is like the Showtime Lakers crossed with Hickory High.
  • Finally, Zach Lowe—the best basketball writer in the business, full stop—may not be writing on a consistent basis anymore due to the indefinite suspension of Grantland. This is an absolute farce: his Tuesday morning NBA novellas were must-reads. I have never signed up to read writing behind a paywall out of principle (I’m cheap), but if Zach started his own site, I’d break my own rule. Here’s to hoping he lands somewhere soon—going through a full season without his insights would be a massive loss for basketball fans everywhere.

 

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Lucas Hubbard
Lucas joined TAI in 2015 as a late convert to the Cult of Randy Wittman. He holds many strong, ill-informed opinions about the NBA, most of which center on the belief that Mo Speights is an All-Star. Lucas lives in DC, where he has chanted "Ot-to Por-ter" at 9 consecutive Wizards games.