John Wall Reintroduces Himself — Wizards at Cavaliers, DC Council 15 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

John Wall Reintroduces Himself — Wizards at Cavaliers, DC Council 15

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Updated: December 2, 2015

The D.C. Council… TAI’s highlights, seen and heard, from each Washington Wizards game. Now: Wizards at Cavaliers, Game 15, Dec. 1, 2015, via Kyle Weidie (@truth_about_it).

M.V.P.

Allow John Wall to reintroduce himself. Fresh out the fryin’ pan into the fire.

Wall’s 35-point, 10-assist, 5-steal (and 5-turnover) game was his best of the season since the Game 4 win against the Spurs. Coincidentally, it came in the Wizards’ biggest win of the year: a much-needed, negativity-cutting, confidence booster against LeBron and the lowercase-r-rival Cavaliers. Wall’s 17 points, 13 assists, and 1 turnover versus San Antonio was a different kind of line, but equally effective, a game-to-game need variance that Wall must better manage to continue his career trajectory from All-Star to feared playoff threat.

The first impression of Wall that I had in the opening stanza of this Cavaliers game was his return to looking like a physically intimidating presence in the open court. Later spinning baseline around one Matthew “Delly” Dellavedova, Wall put the defender on his back, held his balance in check, and scored. Dellavedova’s underrated defense is often recognized by below the surface dwellers, but his pestering stature will never compete with the size and speed of Wall in the long run. As long as Wall is persistent enough to make it feel like a long run within a 48-minute span. On Tuesday night, he did. His early attacking set the tone for teammates, and a concentration in his much-honed sweet spots at the elbows got Wall’s jumper back to appearing comfortable. He was 4-for-5 at those elbows, better yet 7-for-7 in the restricted area. Overall, he finished 14-for-24 on field goals, 3-for-5 on 3-pointers, and 4-for-5 on free throws.

Yes, Wall took several ill-advised shots, particularly late in each half. LeBron twice had a chance to cut Washington’s lead (as much as 19 in the fourth quarter) to eight points with 2:19 and 1:43 left due to grossly mismanaged possessions by Wall, but instead James missed a couple layups (hotly contested by Marcin Gortat; still ‘twas un-LeBron-like).

Going back to the distributor versus scorer balance of Wall (on display in that Spurs game), he also got key players going in Cleveland—4 assists to Gortat, 3 to Dudley, and 1 each to Temple, Porter, and Beal. Getting Gortat going, more than any other Wizard, was important. There were certainly times that he could have done more to get Beal going, but he’s not going to land the right side of the coin flip on every night. Beal was also having a bad shooting night (1-10 from 3, 6-19 shooting overall). Even still, Wall found him for a pitch-perfect corner 3 with four minutes left in the third that put the Wizards up 20.

Stay woke, my dudes. And maybe John Wall is now. Maybe he’s flipped a switch (or had it flipped for him by bad losses). He smartly took public-facing ownership of the cataclysmic losing of the prior week and delivered … on this one night in Cleveland.

(Wall’s body control was at season-high levels…)

X-Factor.

I picture Randy Wittman with an elaborate train set in his basement. There are sections speckled around his curving pathways of track that represent each of his playing and coaching stops in basketball. Simple: a statue of a Hawk next to his little train town’s post office represents his time playing in Atlanta, for example, and a screaming man sitting in the corner of the room wearing a red sweater is Bobby Knight. Perhaps because of the commands and criticisms that echo in the rusted metal filing cabinets of Wittman’s coaching mind, his prized Lionel train has derailed—it’s OK, only minimum tiny invisible casualties. Randy is checking his engine, holding it in the air with one hand and probing it with a tiny screwdriver with the other. Atop his head is a hands-less magnifying glass / lamp combination. One eye is closed and faces, ‘Wittman Faces,’ are abound. The coach is tinkering.

For nine whole minutes the Wizards played without a big man at all. Eight minutes of Wall, Beal, Temple, Porter, and Dudley went 6-for-16 on field goals (2-6 on 3s) but plus-3 in our hearts. About one minute of the same lineup save for Sessions instead of Beal was an even-zero.

It was the first time all season that not one big appeared on the floor for the Wizards—not Gortat, not Nene (out with a bad calf), not Gooden (also out with a bad calf), not Blair (damn near Blatche’d), not Humphries, and not Ryan Hollins (too new, no clue). So, there was good reason, but Wittman also explained it after the game (via the Comcast SportsNet post-game show):

“We did a lot of different things tonight. Just by the gut feel of how the game was, I felt that if we could space the floor with shooters, as a big, it’d give them trouble, that they’d maybe have to go to something else. I don’t know how much Kevin [Love] has played the 5 this year, but him having to go to the 5, that helps us with them taking away a couple of their big bruisers inside.”

In addition…

Maybe Wittman will keep dreaming, maybe he’ll keep tinkering (see L.V.P. section below), and maybe he’ll find that right combination of cars and coal to keep the team running on that 40-plus win schedule. As old school as Wittman tends to be, credit him for remaining flexible while we all get to witness an old dog trying new tricks. On a very important night against a top-3 NBA team on their home court, Wittman’s latest trick proved to be the x-factor.

L.V.P.

Kris Humphries has faded unto the bench, bricking a 3, not scoring, and picking up two rebounds and two fouls in nine minutes of play. A demotion of Humphries from the cover story to occasional Page 6 snapshot was not unexpected—but damn, that boy just learned how to shoot 3s. But we should also consider a further adjustment Humphries is being asked to make: a move to center. Against the Cavaliers it happened twice: four minutes with Wall, Temple, Sessions, and Porter (even-zero in +/-); and two minutes with Wall, Temple, Beal, and Porter (+1). It’s something the Wizards should have been tinkering with already (Wittman’s dreams are late adopters), given the team’s need to risk manage Nene’s appearance, DeJuan Blair’s general hopelessness, and a historically poor defensive pairing of Humphries and Gortat. Humphries alone is also a defensive concern, but should be able to batten down some of the hatches against guys like Kevin Love (when lined up at 5).

It’s incumbent upon Humphries to be more of a physical presence. He’s grabbing a career-low 6.5 percent of all offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor (career average: 11.4%), which is understandable since he’s playing out on the perimeter more, but Humphries DRB% of 21.7 this season is below his career rate of 24.5 percent. He needs to be more of an animal on boards. Or man-boy-nimal. Or a made-for-reality vixen with claws sharp enough to puncture a basketball. Not sure where this is going other than, with better coaching and more time, maybe getting more doses at 5 will enhance Humphries’ continued adjustment to a court-spreading big (CSB). Here’s what we’ve seen so far (a sporadic mix of inconclusive experiments)…

Wizards Lineups feat. Humphries at 5 (thru 15 games):

28 total minutes, minus-7.
6 of those minutes came versus Cleveland (+1)
Bold lineups saw time on Tuesday.

  • Sessions, Temple, Oubre, Dudley, Humphries – 8 mins (2 gms): minus-10
  • Wall, Sessions, Temple, Porter, Humphries – 7 mins (2 gms): minus-6
  • Wall, Sessions, Temple, Dudley, Humphries – 4 mins (1 gm): even-zero
  • Wall, Sessions, Beal, Temple, Humphries – 3 mins (1 gm): plus-6
  • Wall, Beal, Temple, Porter, Humphries – 2 mins (1 gm): plus-1
  • Wall, Beal, Porter, Dudley, Humphries – 2 mins (1 gm): even-zero
  • Wall, Beal, Oubre, Porter, Humphries – 1 min (1 gm): minus-2
  • Sessions, Beal, Temple, Porter, Humphries – 1 min (1 gm): plus-4

That Game Was…

A damn mean regression to the mean, or whatever we mean by that when trying to apply a numerical value and historical record to a roulette table. Know what I mean?

I continue to affirm my knowledge about myself: I hate losing (as a participant or observer of a closely followed team) more than I love winning. That thinking applied to the Wizards means that an unquestionably big win over ‘those’ Cleveland Cavaliers doesn’t fully account for embarrassing losses to a string of teams in a variety of instances. But a turning point that’s later validated can.

We don’t know if the Wizards unclogged defensive brain blockages or if it was just a one-time collection of misspent emotions—Gortat calling out negativity, Wittman calling out pouting souls, Wall assuming sometimes misplaced (wanting more shots, wanting teammates to catch his passes, etc.) accountability. That game was all that and a basketball covered in Noxzema cold cream splashing through a net made of aloe while gargling potent mouthwash and smoking a menthol cigarette. Not that we advise the basketball to do all that but imagine that it feels refreshed nonetheless.

Three Things We Saw.

#1) LeBron was off, and never have the Cavaliers looked like they needed Kyrie Irving more. The Wizards put Kevin Love in uncomfortable positions on both ends of the court. The defensive game plan seemed to be content with letting a small player switch onto Love. He had trouble holding position when that happened and his teammates did a poor job of getting him the ball, especially in places where he’d be effective. So, Love was no use for a sidekick and nor was J.R. Smith (who may have chucked, 3-11 on 3s, as much as he jawed back-and-forth with Beal. “Do something,” Beal punched back). Mo Williams was 4-for-7 in the first quarter with 9 points but 1-for-3 for the game after that for 12 total points. There were times LeBron revved his motor to carry his team, and there were times he appeared to check out because he couldn’t. Those missed, last-gasp layups seemed like something that a younger LeBron would’ve had the energy to pursue. With great LeBron-ing comes great responsibility. He was the real L.V.P. … who coughed up 9 turnovers to 4 assists.

#2) Co-MVP? Or MVP-B? Marcin Gortat. Wall getting him going in the scoring department must be seen as more of a staple. We simply don’t, and can’t, know yet if Wall realizes that enough but this game should serve as a nice reminder. We’ve seen time and time again than when given the right doses of attention and coddling, Gortat will take a more holistic approach to the game. Sure, Randy Wittman’s lineup counter to neutralize Cleveland’s “bruisers” into a rhythmless affair—hula hoops falling to the feet of Timofey Mozgov and Anderson Varejao in fractions of a second—aided Gortat’s magnified presence. But Gortat, per NBA player tracking data, faced a hearty 13 shots at the rim, and only three of those were made.

Note that Gortat did not secure an offensive rebound in two chances and grabbed 11 of his 16 chances at defensive rebounds. Not just better: Noble in these negative times. But not a pace he can afford to be too far below on most nights, however.

Co-(Co-)Ex-Factors? Jared Dudley, starting at 4 for the second straight game (12 points, 5-7 FGs, a number in your mind amount of intangibles), and Otto Porter, who found a way to be physical without being the muscle (something Jan Vesely never ever had in him). He may not always come out on top, but Otto will never back away from a matchup (see him work versus Kevin Love). Porter finished with just 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists to go with 4 fouls in 42 minutes but boarded a plane with a trooper merit badge on his sash and several additional minutes toward his stretch 4 bachelor’s degree.

#3) New Wizard Ryan Hollins appeared to help a frustrated Cavs fan see the scoreboard.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.