Sturdy Magic Bench and Poor Defense Mar Wall's Career Night | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Sturdy Magic Bench and Poor Defense Mar Wall’s Career Night

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Updated: December 7, 2016

The Orlando Magic do not have a player that is even remotely close to the talent level of John Wall. And in today’s superstar-driven NBA landscape, the best player on the floor will—more times than not—lead his team to victory. Despite Wall’s superhuman effort, and a career high 52-points, the Wizards were largely not even competitive against a sub-.500 club.

Wall was the only Wizard to stand and face the media after the disappointing loss, and he may have also been the only Wizards player to actually look like he gave a damn during the 48 minutes of game action.

Washington had two previous meetings with the Orlando Magic this season—both of those contests were highly contested. In the first meeting, the Wiz blew an 18-point lead and ultimately lost the game by two points (Markieff Morris missed an open 3-pointer at the buzzer). The second meeting, Washington’s first road win of the season, also came down to the wire, 94-91.

Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel has switched up his starting lineup over the last few weeks, and the results have been positive to say the least. The Magic replaced Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton in the starting lineup with Bismack Biyombo and D.J. Augustin, turning the Orlando bench into a veteran-laden unit nearly as strong as their starting five. That lineup change was the catalyst for one of the more lopsided bench matchups that you will ever see. The Wizards bench was outscored 73-22. As alarming as that statistic is, it only paints a small picture of some the issues this team is dealing with.

When I asked Scott Brooks what he saw from the Magic’s bench in their 73-point performance, he was very complimentary to those players:

“Well, they’ve got three guys that started a lot of games, actually four with Jodie Meeks coming back. They scored a lot of points off the bench, we have to be able to guard all the players. They’re in the NBA for a reason, they’re good basketball players, there’s 450 of them that can play the game, and we have to be able to guard all the players that come on to the floor, and tonight we weren’t able to sustain that type of intensity to get a stop.”

Brooks is right. The Magic have four bench players who’ve started a lot of NBA games. That is a major luxury the Wizards simply do not have. The Wizards bench is an “Island of Misfit Toys,” mostly filled with castoffs from NBA franchises that Ernie Grunfield drukenly put together like a fantasy lineup. According to hoopsstats.com, the Wizards not only have the worst bench in the league this year, by a wide margin, but they may also have the worst bench in modern NBA history. The Wizards bench has a point differential of minus-19.7, which is the highest margin listed going back as far as the 1997-98 season.

Point differential is not the only category that the Wizards bench ranks dead last or next to last in:

The Wizards bench is dead last in rebounds (10.4).

Dead last in assists (4.9).

Dead last in blocks (0.9).

Next to last in bench points per game (23.7).

Should you be surprised that Grunfield’s hand-picked bench would underwhelm? Obviously not. The team started making free-agency “splashes” on day five—after all the highest quality basketball players had agreed to terms on new deals away from D.C.

While the Ian Mahinmi signing seemed defensible at the time, he has only played in one game this season, and his injury history was documented enough for a savvy GM to parse.

Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith were teammates on the very same Orlando team that the Wizards lost to yesterday, and were not in the plans for Orlando after falling out of the rotation on a 35-win team.

Marcus Thornton was re-signed after a poor showing last season and not fielding much interest from other teams.

Trey Burke was basically pushed with two-hands out the door in Utah, and hasn’t looked like an NBA player since being drafted as the heir apparent to the Jazz backcourt.

And Tomas Satoransky has looked promising as an above average defender, but is not ready to produce offensively on this level—making him an occasional liability on the court without playmakers around him. He received a DNP-CD last night.

What Orlando’s bench did to thoroughly outperform the Wizards bench can largely be attributed to newly-minted backup point guard Elfrid Payton, who also reached his career-high point total (25) on the night. Payton started out the game hot, shooting 9-for-9 from the field to start, including 3-for-3 on 3-point attempts. Coach Brooks admitted to the media that a part of the Wizards’ gameplan was to not close out on Payton’s 3-point attempts, since he is a notoriously poor shooter.

Give credit to Payton for hitting his shots.

John Wall tipped his cap to Payton’s performance, but emphasized that the Wiz didn’t exactly follow through on their coach’s gameplan:

“Just tip your cap to him, but I think in the first half, the coverage that we had, we weren’t being aggressive with what we were doing and what the concept Coach wanted us to do. That gave them easy opportunities just to get easy looks and get into the paint as easy as possible.”

It sounds as if Scott Brooks implemented a proper gameplan that the Wizards were not able to execute due to, for lack of a better word, effort. The closeout defense was horrendous because the on-ball perimeter defense was also horrendous. Payton and Augustin were able to dribble-drive in the lane, sucking in the defense before kicking out to Orlando shooters. This amounted to a bevy of practice-level shots for, say, Jodie Meeks (18 points on 4-5 from 3) and Jeff Green (20 points).

Orlando prides themselves on being a defensive-minded team under first year head coach Frank Vogel, who said “We want to be the best defensive team in the league. We’re really rallying around that.” Orlando is creeping its way up the defensive rankings, but it was their offensive outburst that did in the Wizards yesterday. The most alarming of those stats being giving up 40 points in the second quarter and allowing the Magic to exceed their season points per game average of 92.3 by the third quarter. They had 96 points going into the fourth.

Defense was once the calling card of this Wizards team just two seasons ago, when Paul Pierce was a meme king during an unexpected sweep of “the North.” Now this team has become a shell of its former self in terms of defensive prowess.

Twenty games is a large enough sample size to decipher that this team is what it is at this point, and there is no metric or lineup change that will make this current group want to put more effort into defense. As entertaining as it was to watch John Wall attempt to put the team on his back and will the team to victory, it is even more sobering to realize that even superhuman displays of talent isn’t enough to put butts in the seats or beat average teams.

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
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Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. He is going into his second season writing for Truth About It, and also writes for sports analytics website numberfire.com. You can find him in a district bike lane in the Northwest neighborhood of Bloomingdale.