Opening Statements 18: Wizards at Spurs — When Star Power Is Wasted | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements 18: Wizards at Spurs — When Star Power Is Wasted

Updated: December 2, 2016

Washington Wizards vs San Antonio Spurs - Nov. 26, 2012

So, these Washington Wizards have a star power problem. Perhaps that’s somewhat obvious, given every Wiz fan—and their mother—knows that the team has failed to win 50 games since the ’70s. But hear me out. Star power is supposed to make up for glaring weaknesses in roster construction, coaching schemes, and team management otherwise. In the John Wall era, it just hasn’t happened. We’ll get to that.

First things first: Gilbert Arenas. Say what you will about the mercurial star, but when he dropped 30 or more points—which he did 120 times in his career in D.C.—the Wizards won. Well, they won about 60 percent of the time (71-49 record).

Back to John Wall, then. Since he was drafted in 2010, the Wizards have won just 13 of the 28 games (including playoffs) in which Optimus Dime has dropped 30-plus points. Breaking it down even further, the Wiz are 4-5 when he scores 35 or more and 1-1 when he hits 40. That is not good enough.

A similar trend appears when you look at big-time scoring performances by his backcourt mate, Bradley Beal. Big Panda has dropped 30 nine times in his career, including playoffs. In those games, the Wizards are 4-5.

This discussion requires some context, so here’s a dose (of stars and otherwise):

  • Carmelo Anthony‘s New York Knicks are 174-107 when he scores 30. That’s a .619 winning percentage.
  • When C.J. McCollum scores 30 or more, which he’s done four times already this season, the Blazers are 11-2.
  • Jeff Green‘s teams are 9-4 when he’s locked in.
  • Jamal Crawford has a record of 37-21 when he hits the 30-point mark.
  • Tonight’s opposing star, Kawhi Leonard, has a 9-3 record when scoring 30 or more points.
  • His former teammate, Tim Duncan, helped the Spurs to a 102-56 record on highlight reel nights.
  • San Antonio is 2-0 when Patty Mills drops bombs.
  • Even Harrison Barnes has a winning record (3-1) when he drops 30 or more, and three of those four occurrences have taken place this season, as a member of the terrible Dallas Mavericks.

So, you see, the Wizards’ record isn’t the only thing that’s long been sub-.500. Their star power very clearly is, too.

This data, and tough-to-swallow reality, tells us two things: John Wall needs more damn help. Especially when you dive into late-game situations where the go-to “set” has been to put the rock in Wall’s hands and pray for the best. With a chance to tie or take the lead with five seconds or less in fourth quarters, Wall is 2-for-25. In all quarters, John Wall, who is by far the Wizards’ best player, is 9-for-63 . . . he’s shooting 14.3 percent from the field with a chance to save the day.

These numbers, explained by Prof. Drew Gorman: “He’s 0% since Trump won the election. In fact, 0% since he announced his candidacy.”

Now, of course, Wall deserves a fair share of the blame since the responsibility of saving his team’s ass (and bailing out the brass) has been thrust upon him. But also, where is his help? Where is the second star? Where is the productive bench?

You might (and could easily) argue that Bradley Beal should be in charge during those last-second situations, but the fact of the matter is that he’s not good enough, whether as a scorer or creator. Gilbert Arenas had Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. John Wall has . . . a hot-and-cold, so-far underachieving, often injured shooting guard; role player extraordinaire Otto Porter; and some other guys. That’s how it’s been every season since 2010, when he was drafted first overall. And don’t look to the bench, because you’ll find little else but despair and disappointment.

Every year, fans are promised depth and leadership and depth and versatility and wins. But here we are again, for the xth season in a row, chasing a .500 record. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe said earlier this year, when the Wizards were 2-7, something is rotten in D.C. And that rot, I’m convinced, starts at the very top.

I feel sick.

Kyle, what are you thinking about today? Please lift my spoiled spirit.

Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)

1999 is quite a long time ago, right? Remember the unfounded fears over Y2K? Yea, well a 16-year-old doesn’t.

The year 1999 brought us the debuts of many a “things”—Family Guy, the Euro, MSN Messenger, Napster, and something called Sega Dreamcast.

Wayne Gretzky retired that year, Brandi Chastain scored a penalty to give the U.S. women’s soccer team a victory over China in the FIFA World Cup, President Bill Clinton was acquitted in impeachment proceedings, and Big Punisher and DJ Screw were still alive. Also: Dale Earnhardt, Aaliyah, Ted Williams, Barry White, Bob Hope, and Johnny Cash were alive and well in 1999.

Does any of this even mean anything to you? I could go on with this superfluous, out-of-the-can exercise.

Biggest Hit Singles! In 1999! Now this is what I call “music”!

  • Baby One More Time – Britney Spears
  • Mambo No. 5 – Lou Bega
  • Blue – Eiffel 65
  • No Scrubs – TLC
  • I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys

And you just know that these 1999 tracks are also on your life’s playlist (thanks, Wikipedia):

  • Believe – Cher
  • All Star – Smash Mouth
  • Bawitdaba – Kid Rock
  • Bills, Bills, Bills – Destiny’s Child
  • Genie in a Bottle – Christina Aguilera
  • Heartbreaker – Mariah Carey
  • If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time – R. Kelly
  • My Name Is – Eminem
  • Still D.R.E. – Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg

And many more! Man. What. A. Year.

[Editor’s note: I’m feeling a bit better now.]

Furthermore, Kelly Oubre turned 4 at the very end of 1999; Bradley Beal and Otto Porter were 6; and John Wall was 9 years old. Wizards coach Scott Brooks was just one season removed from playing in the NBA. And San Antonio’s Charles Bassey, by way of Nigeria, currently ranked No. 2 in ESPN’s 2019 basketball recruiting class, wasn’t even born in 1999.

Let’s see, what else happened that year? Oh yeah, that was the last time—Dec. 11, ‘99, to be exact—that the Wizards beat the Spurs in San Antonio. Mitch Richmond—yeah, him—led Washington with 31 points. Otherwise, it has been 16 straight losses for the Wizards at the Alamo.

  • Average loss margin: 16 points
  • Number of single-digit losses: 2
  • Number of 20+ point losses: 5

Best Loss: 99-106, Spurs, Apr. 1, 2006 – the Wizards outscored the Spurs 39-27 in the third quarter to take a five-point lead heading into the fourth … where San Antonio returned the favor and outscored Washington 39-27 to win the game.

Worst Loss: 28 points, Jan. 17, 2005 – only one Wizards starter broke double-digits (Juan Dixon, 10 points); Jarvis Hayes led the team with 27 points off the bench.

So, in conclusion, good luck.

[Editor’s note 2: It’s me again, JCT.]

Better to be lucky than good, right, Kyle?

Shame the Wizards are rarely lucky. Oh, god, I feel sick again.

So, from here, I’ll kick it to long-time Spurs fan and X’s and O’s master Jesse Blanchard of Basketball Breakdown. Read his San Antonio hot takes below, then follow him on Twitter: @blanchardJRB.

#1) The Spurs got off to the third best starting road record (10-0) in NBA history. Besides the evolution of Kawhi Leonard from Finals MVP to MVP candidate, what makes this Spurs team (15-4) so good?

@blanchardJRBIt’s a combination of better offensive pieces and an infusion of youth. By the second half of last season, Tim Duncan was a complete non-threat. And while it didn’t affect Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldrdige’s individual numbers much, having one less spot that defenses had to track and rotate to stifled some of the Spurs’ system stuff.

This year, Leonard is a little more forceful on offense, which is forcing rotations. Pau Gasol can make a defense pay for doubling off him directly, or by keeping the offense flowing once the ball is kicked out.

There’s been an injection of youth on the roster, which provides more energy, and the Spurs’ veterans help balance out any corresponding inconsistencies new players provide. A lot of this is manifested in the second unit, which I’ll touch on later.

#2) The Spurs are human after all. What’s gone wrong—besides scoring fewer points—in the four games they’ve dropped?

@blanchardJRB: The Spurs obviously aren’t going to be as good defensively as they were in the past with Duncan gone. It’s hard to sustain a top five defense with Tony Parker and Pau Gasol in the lineup. It’ll be interesting to see what takes hold with Danny Green back after missing some time with injuries early.

Other than that, their greatest vulnerability remains its lack of creativity off the bounce. In my opinion, the pick-and-roll remains the best vehicle to drive a modern offense, but the Spurs use it more as a means to get into other things like post-ups or isolations—which suit Leonard and Aldridge.

They’re no longer a machine, but they’re still damn good.

#3) Pop has underplayed the team’s punch off the bench, and perhaps that’s to be expected from the boss. But the second unit has outscored or matched opposing benches in 11 of 19 games so far. That’s not just The System, right?

@blanchardJRBIt’s an infusion of new talent into a similar system. The individual skill sets and talents are important, but the system makes all of them greater than the sum of their parts.The most important thing for the bench is they now have some punch going towards the rim. Jonathon Simmons is the first guard with some pull toward the rim since Manu Ginobili lost a few steps. But, perhaps more importantly, the Spurs have added diving big men to pair with Ginobili.Ginobili can’t really get to the rim on his own anymore, but he’s still a wonderful de facto point guard running the pick-and-roll. Last year, the Spurs’ spacing was stifled with Boris Diaw and David West preferring to work at the elbows than diving hard to the rim. The Spurs really had nothing to force defenses to collapse.

David Lee has done enough defensively to justify taking advantage of his ability to work on dives and passing out of short rolls. The Spurs haven’t had a big man who can dive and get above the rim like Dewayne Dedmon in some time. When he comes off setting his screens toward the basket, he forces weak side defenders to rotate over—which the Spurs really missed without Tiago Splitter.

Davis Bertans has been a nice surprise working as a stretch big. He’s long and more mobile than expected defensively, and his ability to move and shoot combines with Lee or Dedmon to allow the Spurs to play defenses like an accordion, collapsing the defenses and then expanding them on closeouts.

These diversity of skills have helped recreate the movement Patty Mills thrived off of as a scoring ace off the bench, since he’s not much of a playmaker as a lead guard.


John Converse Townsend on EmailJohn Converse Townsend on FacebookJohn Converse Townsend on InstagramJohn Converse Townsend on Twitter
John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.