New Identity, Mixed Feelings: Wizards Pave Over Orlando | Wizards Blog Truth About

New Identity, Mixed Feelings: Wizards Pave Over Orlando

Updated: February 4, 2018

As it happens, I watched Saturday’s game between my Wizards of Washington and the Orlando Magic not far from the Amway Center. There I sat, about an hour northeast of Orlando, in a freshly-opened sports bar in a sleepy town on the Atlantic coast. The crowd was sparse, the TVs were bountiful, and every time the bartender tried to change the channel, one of the televisions flashed to an On-Demand adult video. Everyone acted like it wasn’t happening.

Ignoring what is plainly in front of you isn’t good practice, regardless of the context. The title of the porno was hilarious (the first two words were “dong” and “stuffed” in no particular order), and the fact that the “BACK” button on the remote landed the bartender there doubly worthy of mirth. Laugh! And so it was under this roof that I watched the Wizards cement an identity without their defining star. There’s no running from that, and I’d urge you to embrace it. See it as the opportunity that it is…for the Wizards, and for John Wall. An opportunity for the best player on the team to get healthy, and to watch the Wizards adjust to life without him just how the most successful teams do: moving the ball, cutting off the ball, playing accountable defense, and winning games without over-reliance on Atlas holding the world up.

Embrace the fact that the Wizards have a talented and capable backup point guard (Tomas Satoransky) for the first time since Antonio Daniels donned a hideous teal jersey. Embrace Beal’s ascendance, and Satoransky’s eagerness to lower his own usage rate in service of upping Otto Porter Jr.’s. These are all good things. Please don’t treat the Wizards like Bruce Allen treats the Washington football team. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Throughout Wall’s career, he has improved with each offseason. This time, something was off. Maybe it was just his knee, but more likely it was his knee and a little bit of something else. Let this be the offseason that cures both for him, with a dose of challenge from an unheralded Czech on a team-friendly deal.

It should also be said, as a final note before we get into the weeds, that Orlando-loving center Marcin Gortat should not fucking needle Wall from behind his cell phone display, or otherwise. It’s immature, and exactly the kind of thing that makes a confident, happy team fracture under the weight of their own success. Gortat’s “team” tweet, which still stands unclarified by the big man, is the dumbest thing he’s ever done as a Wizard. Intrateam beef has hurt past versions of the Wizards (think Brendan Haywood, Caron Butler, Gilbert Arenas), and it’s similarly unhelpful now. The result is Bradley Beal spending his post-game interviews, during the best run of his young career, assuring everyone he still has his captain’s back instead of talking about how he secured another win for a team desperate for them. So I hope that Gortat cuts that shit right out and focuses on plays like this instead.

In short, Washington’s starting five was unstoppable in Orlando. Otto Porter led the team in minutes, had a 130.8 ORTG (offensive rating), and an 88.1 DRTG (defensive rating), which was good for a NETRTG (you figure it out) of 42.7. Numbers aside, it was a thing of beauty, even against the worst team in the league.

Much has been made of the Wizards’ ball movement of late, including by yours truly, and this game was no exception. Notably, Otto Porter had almost as many touches (61) as Bradley Beal (69), and more than Satoransky (56). While Satoransky undeniably ran the point, he often ceded control of the possession to Beal, who looked comfortable bringing the ball up and working the pick-and-roll with Gortat and Morris.

For comparison, in Washington’s January 25 loss to Oklahoma City on national television, Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 107 touches, John Wall followed behind with 88, and no one else had more than 50 (Morris had 50, Porter had 47). And so you can see that the structure of each Washington possession has changed dramatically, with the ball touching more hands, and ending in a variety of ways, instead of with desperate late shot-clock heaves by Washington’s heroes. That’s reductive, of course, because this was a winning team before the past week, but there’s no use denying that this is a prettier brand of basketball.

Satoransky mostly made up for his lack of quickness with good footwork, displaying an ability to stay even and home when opposing players drive to the basket, and a knack for heading off favorable driving lanes. On one occasion, Satoransky pinched in to help Beal defend the middle of the lane, surprised Beal’s man, whose long dribble gave Satoransky a window to make off with the ball. He took it and then did something I would categorize as essential fútbol, a give-and-go with Beal that Elfrid Payton was helpless to stop.

Another benefit of this style of play is that it has unlocked Beal’s potential as a secondary ball-handler, rather than a substitute point guard. Because Beal is Washington’s best shooter, best scorer, and most talented one-on-one player, the Wizards have too often allowed him (and Wall) to call for clearouts and work too hard for too little, i.e. a fadeaway jumper from 15-19 feet. Satoransky’s instinct to keep the offense flowing even with an isolation play evolving has served Washington well, and it gives Beal the option to use his considerable one-on-one skill to free up his teammates, rather than simply putting it all on red and spinning the wheel, hoping for a good result. Of Beal’s eight assists in this game, four were in some stage of a Beal one-on-one, and converted into open shots for his teammates. And the chemistry with Satoransky is real, given that four of Beal’s eight assists went to the Czech guard.

In games like this one, where Washington’s 3-pointers weren’t falling (7-for-26), efficiency in the paint is key. And Washington had that in spades, finding open cutters and with a variety of nifty, Arenas-esque ball-shielding moves from Beal and Porter.

Orlando, without semi-star Aaron Gordon, made their runs, but Coach Frank Vogel could not find a combination of players that could slow down Washington’s starters. Vogel threw a ton of lineups out against Washington, and almost everyone on Orlando’s roster that played ended up with 20+ minutes as a result. But even as Oubre, Frazier, and the bench mob struggled to tread water, the starters proved more than capable of closing this one out. And with a new, sustainable offensive identity, the Wizards are primed to be enjoyable even if they lose some along the way. With an eye on the horizon and Wall’s return, be careful not to look directly into the sun. Enjoy the best basketball this side of May 2017.

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.