Golden State's Big Dogs Put Down Washington's Old Mutts and Scrappy Pups | Wizards Blog Truth About

Golden State’s Big Dogs Put Down Washington’s Old Mutts and Scrappy Pups

Updated: March 1, 2018

Is there any narrative more tired than the Wizards “being better” without John Wall? It feels like we’ve been drowning in clickbaity, half-baked thinkpieces about the subject for months now, and the star point guard only underwent knee surgery at the end of January.

The obvious answer: No, the Wizards are decidedly not a better team without their best player. The equally obvious next step in that logical sequence: The Wizards can’t even pretend to contend without him. Wednesday night’s loss to the defending-champion Warriors proved that for anybody who needed proof, as if the past few decades of NBA history hasn’t provided enough evidence of it.

There are two ways a team can reach elite levels in the NBA: 1) with a top-heavy roster filled out with capable role players, and 2) with a balanced roster that features a much smaller gap between the best player and, say, the fourth-best player.

Sure, you have your blends of these, but those are basically the two formulas each champion has used throughout the NBA’s history. The Warriors (2015 and 2017) are the rare combination of being both incredibly heavy at the top and also boasting remarkable depth. The Cavaliers (2016) employed the best player in the world, as well as two others in the top 30 or so.

The Spurs (2003, 2005, 2007, 2014) featured an elite player in Tim Duncan, two lesser stars in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and a changing slew of valuable role players over the course of nearly two decades. The Heat (2012 and 2013) and Celtics (2008) also used the Big 3 formula, while the early-2000s Lakers (2000-02) relied on a one-two punch of Kobe and Shaq that absolutely dominated opponents. The 2006 Heat also used the one-two punch method, swapping Kobe for Dwyane Wade, while the 2009 and 2010 Lakers featured scoring-machine Kobe and nightly double-double Pau Gasol.

So, from 2000 all the way to 2017, that leaves two teams that don’t obviously fit the multi-star mold: The 2004 Pistons (duh) and the 2011 Mavericks.

The Mavericks were led by Dirk Nowitzki (23 and 7 per game), but there was no clear second star. Tyson Chandler was one of the most imposing defensive presences in the league that year, Jason Kidd was a steadying force at point, and Caron Butler and Jason Terry (65 points over the last three games of the Finals!) were valuable pieces who each averaged about 15 points per game — although Butler got injured and missed the entire post-season run. But it was a group of high-end role players (plus ex-Wizards Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson and current Wizards Ian Mahinmi) behind one bona fide star.

The 2004 Pistons, well, you know the story. They’re the ultimate example of a star-less team (or a team full of stars, if you’re a glass-half-full type), the likes of which we haven’t seen anything close to since, aside from maybe the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks.

Back to the Wizards. They’re not competing for a title this year, or probably any time in the next few years, unless Kelly Oubre makes a massive leap or Ernie Grunfeld bucks the trend and swipes an elite player late in the first round (like, finding a Donovan Mitchell-type with a mid-round pick). So we can take this all with a grain of salt.

That whole breakdown of every team to win a title this millennium is to show one thing: This is a star-driven league. When it comes time for the playoffs, or as Draymond Green referred to it Wednesday night, the “real season,” you need stars to stand a chance.

Bradley Beal is a star. Otto Porter will probably never reach that level, but he has nights where he can play like a star, and who knows — he’s only 24 and has time to grow. Oubre could develop into a perennial All-Star, or he could top out as a high-end role player. Tomas Satoransky has been a revelation and deserves endless credit for his play this season, but he’s not threatening the All-Star conversation any time soon.

John Wall is a legitimate, bona fide star. He’s the one player on this roster that other teams will have to gameplan for.

Beal is a quality player who is getting better and might one day reach top-10 player status. Right now, he’s a guy who is average or worse at passing, dribbling, rebounding, and defense. He’s not atrocious at any of those things, but he’s not exactly known for them. By default, that means he needs to be a dominant scorer to really set himself apart.

Beal has seven career 40-point games, three of which have come this season, four of which came a season ago. Only one of those seven went for more than 42 points (51). That’s nothing to scoff at for a 24-year-old kid who’s missed more than a full season’s worth of games due to injury, but that’s not world-beater stuff. For comparison: Devin Booker had a 70-point game last season, and he’s added outings of 46, 43, and 40 points this season.

Beal will continue to get better, and his February numbers (without Wall) of 21.8 points, 4.8 rebounds. and 6.7 assists per game are encouraging. But the role players on this roster are nowhere near good enough to carry Washington through multiple series, and there is no second star without Wall.

After helping his Warriors beat the Wizards on Wednesday night, Kevin Durant was asked about Wall and the Wizards. Specifically, he was asked to compare what Washington is going through now with how his old Thunder teams dealt with repeated injuries to Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“We did it in the regular season, but if it had happened in the playoffs — we’d seen it the year before, we couldn’t sustain that. It’s a different game in the playoffs. You get scouting, you play a team seven times, potentially. So it’s a different game. That one-on-one stuff, everybody just looking at you and letting you score, letting you play one-on-one, it’s not going to happen in the playoffs.

“So you can get excited about what these guys are doing, obviously, you want them to play well. But in the playoffs you need your big dogs, and John’s a big dog.”

John Wall is a big dog. He averaged 27.2 points, 10.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game in the playoffs a year ago with an eFG% of .489, while playing a whopping 39 minutes per game. For comparison, likely 2018 MVP James Harden posted the following numbers last postseason: 28.5 points, 8.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game with an eFG% of .486 in 37 minutes per game. James Harden is also a big dog.

When you get to the playoffs, you need big dogs. Regular-season wins are great, and they obviously play a major role in the postseason, but Durant is right. When you get to the season’s live-or-die stretch, and you gameplan for days for each game, and you turn up the intensity, it’s going to be Wall and Beal who carry the team with a helping of Porter, Oubre, Sato (please, Scott Brooks, let him be the backup point guard in the playoffs), and whoever else shows up. Jodie Meeks might have a random big game, and Mike Scott has been a very useful piece. Marcin Gortat does stuff sometimes. Markieff Morris can be an impact player at times.

But this team goes as Wall and Beal go, just like the Warriors go as their Big 4 go, just as the Cavs go as LeBron goes, just as the Celtics go as Kyrie Irving goes, just as the Raptors go as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan go, just as the Rockets go as Harden and Chris Paul go, just as the Thunder go as Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony go, just as the Timberwolves go as Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins go, just as the Spurs go as Kawhi Leonard (possibly) goes.

The NBA is a big dog league. The Wizards don’t have big enough dogs or enough support puppies to win a title. But without John Wall, they’re a feisty Pomeranian. They might not be a Doberman with him in the lineup, but they’re at least a bulldog.

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Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.