John Wall Put On a Show, But Oubre Was the Star Last Night | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

John Wall Put On a Show, But Oubre Was the Star Last Night

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Updated: October 19, 2017

The Wizards opened the 2017-18 season in a familiar setting. The address on the building is still 601 F Street NW, but there were a few subtle differences in background. The venue is now officially Capital One Arena, and that(thanks to Bradley Beal) has brought in a new nickname of “The Vault.” It was formerly “The Phone Booth,” a name derived from the last corporate sponsor, Verizon.

There was no lockdown defense to warrant the vault moniker last night, but the Wizards did display the offensive firepower of a team that has seemingly figured out how to maximize each other’s strengths. The Wizards scored 120 points in front of their home crowd, and took their first step in backing up their boasts that this season would be different—meaning more fruitful— than last year’s.

The man who ignited the engine was John Wall, of course. He lead the team with 28 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, a game-high plus/minus of plus-19, and a couple of ferocious dunks. Even Coach Scott Brooks said he found himself turning to his assistant coaches to say, “I can’t believe he just did that.”

To Stagger or Not to Stagger?

As strong as Wall looked last night, the rest of the team appeared to slip into a bit of a funk when he and Bradley Beal went to the bench. (For long-time Wizards fans, this should come as no surprise.) Twice, the ‘Zards gave up leads while their two star players sat and watched from the bench. The Wizards starting unit built up a nine-point lead with 1:44 left in the first quarter when Coach Brooks decided to field a 5-man bench lineup. By the time Brooks put Wall and Beal back in the game at the 9:22 mark of the second quarter, the Sixers had cut the lead down to two and gained momentum as “trust the process” chants echoed throughout the arena.

A gripe of many Wizards fans and NBA analysts alike last season was that Brooks didn’t stagger his two stars to ensure one of them remained on the floor at all times.

Bradley Beal appears to be ready to make the transition from supposed-to-be-an-All-Star to an actual All-Star, even if he was more critical of himself after the game than others:

“I think I played bad. I really do, I swear I did tonight. I missed way too many free throws [and] missed way too many shots. There were times where my defensive principles weren’t great. In terms of rebounding, I think I did solid. Getting open shots, I thought I did an OK job.

“I’ll tell you that I’m my biggest critic so I always feel like I have to do better and become a perfectionist. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’ll take a win. A win is more important than anything. I definitely have to be better next game.”

Beal was far from bad, he finished the game with 25 points, albeit on 6-for-17 shooting, but what was more impressive was his 16 free throw attempts. Wizards fans have been clamoring for years for Brad to drive more, and he has by responded by taking a page from the James Harden playbook of point creation. Because of his improved ball-handling skills, Beal is able to attack hard closeouts with pump-fake and dribble-drive moves, and now has the strength to enforce his presence on rim-protectors and draw fouls.

In his Wizards debut, Tim Frazier’s timing appeared to be off as he struggled to control the game flow while he anchored the second unit. Frazier did finish with five assists, but failed to keep a comfortable lead while Wall sat.

The Wizards built up another double-digit lead towards the end of the third quarter, after Wall took over. By the time Wall and Beal re-entered the game with 8:33 left, the Wizards trailed the Sixers.

When asked about the lack of bench production, Brooks noted the up-and-down nature of their production:

“Some good moments, and some moments that we’re going to talk about tomorrow. I like their savvy. I like their moxy. They go out and compete. A couple of things didn’t go their way. A couple of turnovers, and the transition was non-existent during that stretch when they were in the game. We were giving up too many points in transition and then we were giving up too many 3s in that second quarter. Overall, I’m pleased with them and they’re only going to get better.”

The numbers bear the same story as Brooks’ eye test. Bradley Beal had an on court Net Rating of plus-18.7 and an off court Net Rating of minus-35.7, while John Wall had and on court Net Rating of plus-25.3 and minus-62.8 off court. These numbers are astronomical, even for such a small sample size of one game, but where there is smoke, there is usually fire. Coach Brooks may be playing with fire every time he leaves his two stars on the bench at the same time, and that’s fine—but he may not have an extinguisher ready to save his team night in and night out.  Considering the Wizards lost a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals because his starters—mainly John Wall—could not overcome the lack of bench production, this is an issue that cannot be ignored.

Kelly Oubre Steals the Show

He may have only scored had 14 points, but Oubre had quite an impact on the final outcome of the game. During the offseason, Oubre put in countless hours with his ace trainer, Drew Hanlen, and the results showed. Kelly has finally found a shooting form that works and allows him to be comfortable in knocking down his shot.

When center Jason Smith, who was starting for the injured Markieff Morris, exited the game in the first quarter after injuring his shoulder, the Wizards found themselves further shorthanded in the front court depth department. Oubre not only helped stabilize the Wiz with timely shots, but he also held his own on the other side of the ball. Coach Brooks preached throughout the preseason that he is giving Kelly the freedom to do things on offense as long as he is bringing it on the defensive end, and Wave Papi held up his end of the bargain.

Oubre finished the game with two steals and two blocks to go along with his 14 points and eight rebounds. And unlike last season, he appeared comfortable with getting a defensive rebound and pushing the ball up the court himself, instead of constantly looking for the outlet man which resulted in some poor turnovers last season.

When John Wall was asked about Kelly Oubre’s impact on the game, he went as far to call him the X-factor:

“Last year, we said that he was the X-factor to our team and that he was a big key. He used that as motivation through the summer. I can be honest with you and tell the truth that ever since training camp and practice, he’s been doing great. He’s been coming in challenging, making plays and just being more smart at it. He’s willing to listen and that’s what helping him improve, even though this is just one game, he’s going to be a big part of our team.”

I asked Oubre what it meant for him to have the trust of his coaches and teammates, and he was gracious about earning their respect:

“It is a blessing because it always did not used to be like that. I have definitely worked for that and I am going to continue to work to be the best player that I can be to pretty much not have any boundaries on me, but I just want to be the player that makes the right decisions not the forced ones so I am just definitely growing and getting better over time.”

If Kelly can keep the laser-like focus that he has shown with his training, his comments may prove to be prophetic in the sense of there not being any limits to how much he can improve. His ability to be clamps on D makes him a valuable prospect, but with consistent offensive production, he might blossom into the other star the Wizards need.

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.