Wizards Bench Press the Bulls for a Big Road Win
Road Warriors the Wizards are not. That’s why it was imperative that this team actually finish off a road opponent in the midst of a three-game trip. Washington was able to once again come back from a double-digit deficit (13 points in the first half) to win.
Their 107-97 victory in Chicago is one of their most impressive wins of the season and clearly their best road win. The Bulls jumped out to an 11-point first quarter lead because they were dominating the offensive glass (6-0 advantage) and converting those boards to the tune of 11 second-chance points. The Bulls player who was seemingly having his way was Taj Gibson, who regularly gives the Wizards problems because if his outright relentlessness in attacking the rim. Markieff Morris was not able to match Gibson’s intensity in the first half, and the Wizards nearly dug themselves a hole that would have been very difficult to climb out of. Gibson finished the first quarter with eight of his 17 points, and the Bulls led 33-23.
Luckily for the D.C. team, there is a guy named John Wall, and he’s pretty damn good at basketball. Wall was able to lead the Wizards on an 8-0 run in the second quarter that saw the Bulls largest lead of the game (13) quickly cut down to five points, essentially making it a competitive basketball game going forward. During this stretch, Wall picked up his eighth technical foul of the season, putting him more than halfway to 15, which would trigger an automatic suspension. He is certainly growing a reputation for being overtly displeased with the lack of calls in his favor, as well as perceived disrespect from the officials. Wall does seem to have a case—”John Wall is apparently too fast to foul,” tweeted TAI’s Kyle Weidie—but for his team’s sake, it will be important for the team’s lone All-Star to properly channel his aggression.
— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) December 22, 2016
New Bench, Who Dis?
John Wall has been doing #WallStar things, and Bradley Beal has been making his case to join him in New Orleans in February. But Wednesday’s victory was about more than the two stars, it was a confidence booster for a much-maligned second unit: the Wizards bench outscored the Bulls 33-32. While one point seems minor, for a team that has the worst bench differential in the NBA (-17.0), any opportunity to keep the game close is a win within the win. It was only the fifth time all season that the Wizards bench has outscored the opponent’s bench, and not coincidentally the Wizards are 4-1 in those matchups.
There still remains a major talent gap when it comes to Washington’s bench versus other bench units around the league. The Wizards do not have the luxury of turning to even one current bench player who has been a capable starter for any team in the past, besides Ian Mahinmi, who has only played one game this season and was recently announced to be out at least another six weeks.
The one unknown entity on the bench unit has to be rookie guard, Sheldon McClellan. McClellan, who was recently recalled from the D-League, celebrated his 23rd birthday yesterday by dropping seven points in 19 minutes of surprise game action, partially due to Otto Porter missing the second half with back spasms. (Scott Brooks had already gone to McClellan in the first half of the game before Porter’s injury, so it wasn’t as if this was completely injury-related.) The young rookie out of the University of Miami has shown flashes this season, most noticeably in a 15-point performance the last time Washington visited Chicago in mid-November—when McClellan had to start for an injured Bradley Beal.
McClellan’s stint with the Delaware 87ers gave him a few weeks of both game experience and tutelage that NBA teams simply do not have time for. It seems to have paid off. McClellan displayed his ability to stay within his role on the court, while being aggressive when the situation dictates as such.
The Trey Burke & Marcus Thornton Show, still on public access but picking up viewers… pic.twitter.com/JP6bhLRHMt
— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) December 22, 2016
McClellan wasn’t the only spark plug off the bench. Trey Burke and Marcus Thornton both played exceptional in limited opportunities. Thornton led all bench scorers with 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting, and he continues play a surprisingly efficient brand of basketball. Thornton has tried his best to go against his natural inclination of jacking up any and every shot that comes his way, and in turn this self-control has allowed him to flourish within the Wizards offense.
Burke has done a good job of carving out a niche for himself in the rotation since being relegated to the bench after his early-season struggles. Burke has found his shooting stroke and has limited his turnovers, which has allowed Brooks to trust him more. Brooks again went to a heavy bench unit at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and although I do not agree with any fourth quarter lineups sans Wall AND Beal, it worked out for the Wizards because Burke and Thornton were not only able to keep them from falling behind further, they made sure that the Wizards were in control when the two stars checked back in.
Getting Out and Running.
They key stat that affected the outcome was Washington’s 32 fastbreak points. The Wiz doubled up on the Bulls, who were only able to get 16 points in transition. Wall is at his best when he controls the pace of the game and uses his speed to create points for himself and others. The noticeable trait about the Wizards in transition is that it is not just Wall who is leading the break, as was the case in year’s past. Beal has also done a great job of using his improved ball-handling to get the defense moving. The fast-break starts with rebounding, and the next step is creating a good outlet pass look. Marcin Gortat has improved on during his matriculation in Washington—nevermind his turnover on a home run pass in the first few minutes. Give Gortat credit for taking his time and making sure that the guards are ready to receive his outlet passes before firing away. Also, give credit to Wall and Beal for doing a much better job of coming back to the basketball and decreasing the opportunity for mistakes.
With four wins in the last five games, the Wizards are finally playing a more consistent brand of basketball, and a much of it starts with Wall and Beal. The supporting cast is becoming more confident in their execution, too. If the second-unit can continue to improve and just keep the games close enough for the starters to close them out, this team will continue to climb its way into the playoff picture.