Moving John Wall to the Weak Side Makes the Offense Stronger - Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Moving John Wall to the Weak Side Makes the Offense Stronger

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Updated: December 17, 2016

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For John Wall’s entire career, he has been one of the most ball-dominant point guards in the NBA. He is currently third in the league in time of possession (behind only Russell Westbrook and James Harden) and he initiates the offense almost every single time down the court.

Scott Brooks wants to change that — at least for a few stretches each game.

Brooks, after the team’s 122-108 victory over Detroit, explained that his goal is to unleash Wall on the weak side where it will be very difficult for defenses to recover:

“I am trying to figure out how we can get him off the ball a little bit. . . . He doesn’t realize this yet that he can score off of his quickness without the ball and we are trying to implement sets and positions where he can do that off the baseline, off of handoffs.”

Against Detroit, Brooks showed two ways to accomplish that goal.

First, by running strong side pick-and-rolls with Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat. It should be noted that Brooks’ idea to run more Beal-Gortat pick-and-rolls isn’t some genius strategy that prior coaches missed. There are two glaring reasons why the Wizards could not use this play effectively in years past:

1) Bradley Beal’s ball-handling.

2) John Wall’s shooting.

In prior years, the 2-5 pick and roll wasn’t successful because Beal was hesitant to drive against switching bigs and too often settled for contested midrange jumpers. He also was not great at threading the needle to Gortat.

Even more problematic, planting Wall on the weak side was disastrous because his defender would leave him wide-open and rotate to the strong side. Opponents would gladly choose a 20-foot jumper from Wall over almost any other shot the Wizards offense could generate.

Not anymore.

This season Beal is attacking switching bigs with sweet hesitation moves and hitting Gortat with precise passes when he dives to the rim. This puts tremendous pressure on the defense to overload the strong side when Beal drives to the basket or to collapse in the paint to prevent a Beal pass to a cutting Gortat.

As shown below, the Pistons were so concerned with containing Beal and Gortat that all five defenders were ball-watching and sunk into the paint, leaving Otto Porter with an open 3-pointer.

Brooks acknowledged after the Pistons game that Beal’s improved ball-handling has allowed him to run more pick-and-rolls.

Wall explained how the defensive attention on Beal and Gortat opens up the offense:

“It’s great for us with ball movement. Guys are stepping up on Brad and he’s able to make pocket passes to Marc and either Marc has the finish or he makes skip passes.”

However, the two-man game between Beal and Gortat would not work without Wall’s dramatically improved outside shot. For the first time in his career, Wall’s defenders can’t leave him unattended on the weak side, lest they get burned. Wall’s shooting percentages are at career highs—45.6% from the field, 37.3% from 3—and he recognizes that his improved outside shot and finishing at the rim is opening new doors for the team’s offense.

Wall also understands that it is much easier to score when the entire defense isn’t lined up to stop you 90 feet from the rim:

“If I am able to knock down shots like I have been lately and being able to attack off the dribble and not just coming down with the ball in my hands and the whole team and the whole court loading up on me, it makes the job a lot easier for me.”

Even better, as Brooks explained, Beal-Gortat pick-and-rolls have the added bonus of leaving a weaker defender on Wall. “You can do that so John will get the lesser of the defender in the pick and roll with the big, they are going to have to [defend] strong side action,” Brooks said.

The beauty of this newly-effective offensive weapon is that Wall and Beal each benefit from the other’s success. The more defenses are forced to shade the Beal-Gortat screen-and-roll, the more space is created for Wall to use his speed on the weak side. Conversely, as Wall eloquently explains, the more jumpers he hits from the weak side, the harder it is for his defender to cheat into the lane to stop Beal’s penetration:

“When I am swinging it to Brad my guy is jumping to the nail [the middle of the foul line], and if I am able to keep knocking down shots consistently, it takes my man away from wanting to help more and gives Brad opportunity to attack the lane.”

Brooks said after the game they will continue to use the Beal-Gortat pick-and-roll, and he has other plans to get Wall off the ball like playing a three-guard lineup of Wall, Beal and Trey Burke, which Brooks did against Detroit. Having another ball-handler on the court lessens the load for Wall while still allowing the offense to run on time. “Trey can penetrate and make shots and he also can spot up if I got the ball so it helps me out a lot,” Wall said.

The three-guard lineup also forces a third defender to patrol the perimeter, which opens up more real estate for Beal to fire off jumpers. “You have multiple guys who can put the ball on the floor and make plays so it definitely creates more space and spaces the floor out more for us,” Beal said.

Brooks is also experimenting with getting Wall the ball at different spots on the court so he does not have to operate against set defenses. One play he tried versus Detroit was running Wall off the ball from the baseline around picks by Beal and Gortat. The shot didn’t fall, but it’s a new look to keep defenses honest.

The exciting part is that the two franchise cornerstones are just now starting to learn how to play off each other. In the past, Beal has been caught ball-watching as Wall pounds the rock and the two guards have fallen into a my-turn, your-turn offense, especially late in games.

Wall will always be the primary ball handler but Brooks understands that he cannot be the focal point for the entire offense: “I don’t want it to all be John-centric. I want it to be team movement.” Moving Wall to the weak side is a new wrinkle that has allowed both guards to flourish.

As Beal said after the Detroit game, if the offense keeps moving in the right direction, “the sky is the limit.”

 





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