Wizards Out of Tune in Motown—Wall Returning to Harmonize? | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Out of Tune in Motown—Wall Returning to Harmonize?

Updated: March 30, 2018

The Wizards lost to the Pistons in Detroit Thursday night, but nobody would blame you if you didn’t watch, or even realize a game had been played. The alleged Detroit audience of 18,268 did their best Washington crowd impression by only making respectable noise when a food-based promotion was on the line late in the game. And frankly, who can blame them?

The game was close throughout but perpetually boring and ugly, with each team’s most exciting player—John Wall for the Wizards, and Blake Griffin, who was a late scratch, for the Pistons—sitting. The two teams combined to miss 41 3-pointers and turn the ball over 33 times, and Andre Drummond was the only player to top 15 points. The final margin of 103-92 was practically settled with several minutes still on the clock; the only points scored after the 2:08 mark were three free throws by Drummond.

Though Detroit is technically still in the hunt for the postseason, ESPN gives them just a 0.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, even after beating one of the few other remaining teams in their path. Five spots in the East have already been claimed, and the Wizards, currently slotted in as the 6-seed, are a win away from clinching a spot.

It would take an absolute miracle for the Pistons to make it past the regular season: Detroit needs to win its final seven games (surprisingly possible given the team’s remaining schedule), which would give them a 10-game win streak to end the season, and also have one of Washington, Miami, or Milwaukee completely fall apart.

Fans diligently showed up, but there were hardly any illusions of interest or passion.

For the Wizards, similarly little was riding on this game. Sure, a win would’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs, but they’ve got seven more chances to get that. Much is still in the air as far as seeding goes, but given the injury situations of the Celtics (Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart) and now the Sixers (Joel Embiid), it’s hard to say winning is objectively a good thing for this team right now. A brilliant finish by Washington paired with embarrassing collapses by Indiana, Philadelphia, and Cleveland could have launched the Wizards to the 3-seed, but there was never much hope for that.

The Wizards are all but guaranteed to be either the sixth, seventh, or eighth seed in the playoffs, but given the close-knit nature of the 3-5 seeds, it’s a useless exercise to gauge what seed the Wizards should hope for.

The best-case scenario for Thursday night’s game was an injury-free contest in which role players carried the team while Bradley Beal and Otto Porter rested. Instead, Beal (knee) and Porter (ankle) each suffered minor injuries—the former returned to the game, the latter did not—and Beal played 36 minutes, committing six turnovers and finishing with a team-worst minus-17. The Wizards shot below 42 percent from the field and missed 26 of 32 shots from 3-point range, and Drummond rattled off a cool 24-23 game.

All 10 Wizards who played put at least four points on the board, and five scored in double figures. Marcin Gortat (5-for-7) and Tomas Satoransky (4-for-8) were the only two Washington players to hoist at least five shots and sink at least half of them. Meanwhile, the other three starters combined to shoot 13-for-39 from the field and 3-for-17 from beyond the arc.

Beal had a pair of nice turnaround jumpers in the first half, and Kelly Oubre provided an aggressively wavy dunk in transition, but other than that, the highlights mostly consisted of Satoransky being typically efficient in moving the ball around.

On John Wall’s Injury and Imminent Return

John Wall dressed for the game and was active for the first time since January 25, but he didn’t take the court. He could play as soon as Saturday, and it’s certainly ideal that he’s on track to get a few games to shake the rust off before the postseason.

Here are some things we’ve learned about the Wizards while John Wall has been out:

  1. Tomas Satoransky is capable as a starting point guard and excellent as a backup point guard.
    • Sato was a healthy DNP nine times over the first two months of the season. In the first 17 games Wall missed this season, including the first six games of his current lengthy absence, Satoransky never once played more than 31 minutes. He has reached that mark 16 of the 21 games since.
    • Even when the Wizards brought back Ramon Sessions—who has played well at times but remains a not good choice; please bring in a young wing with untapped potential who might develop into a cheap, viable option moving forward and stop bringing in tired retreads—Sato has been the glue keeping Washington together. Beal has carried the scoring load, Porter has continued doing the Otto Porter (enough of everything to be more than a role player but not enough of anything to be a verifiable star), and Markieff Morris has enjoyed a revival, etc. But without Satoransky’s relentlessly selfless play each night, the Wizards could be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
    • Remember when Tim Frazier was a thing? He’s topped 20 minutes just three times since mid-December.
  2. Bradley Beal has developed as a playmaker.
    • Prior to Wall’s injury, 52.1 percent of Beal’s jump shots were assisted (.497 eFG%). Since Wall went down, just 45.3 percent of his jumpers have been assisted, and his eFG% has increased to .503. That’s not to say Beal shoots better when Wall is gone, but rather that Beal has developed an off-the-dribble game.
    • To that point: 22.1 percent of Beal’s shots since Wall’s injury have been of the catch-and-shoot variety, whereas that designation was applied to 26.1 percent of his shots prior to Wall’s late-January injury. And looking closer: Catch-and-shoot 3-pointers represented 23.3 percent of all of Beal’s field-goal attempts before Wall went down; since then, that number is down to 19.0 percent.
    • Pull-up 3-pointers, meanwhile, have increased from 12.6 percent frequency (.248 FG%) to 17.4 percent (.351 FG%). Scott Brooks and Co. should feel much more comfortable now going to Beal to help break a full-court press in crunch time if the defense is hounding Wall. Two reliable ball-handlers who can make a play in the open court—and that doesn’t include Satoransky—is a potential game-changer for a team that has relied on just one for years now.
    • On the other end of that spectrum is Beal’s ability to get a decent shot at the end of a possession. Pre-January 25, 40.7 percent of the 2012 draft pick’s shots came on three or more dribbles. Since Wall’s injury, 51 percent have come on three or more dribbles.
    • Beal’s field-goal attempts have actually decreased (from 18.8 to 17.3 per game) since Wall went down. They jumped in Wall’s initial absence (17.5 in January to 18.3 in February), but the drop in March (16.6) was largely due to The Rise Of Sato (3.2 shots per game in January, 7.8 per game in February) and the addition of Ramon Sessions—two players who operate with the ball in their hands and limit Beal’s ability to create for himself early in the shot clock. Sato’s emergence is a major boost for this team, but Sessions hogging nearly six shots a night does nothing to help Beal improve his own game. If Beal must play big minutes (36.3 per game), he should at least be working on something that will pay dividends down the road, not standing by as Sessions bounces off defenders.
  3. Otto Porter is, and always will be, Otto Porter.
    • Porter, on the other hand, has never been tasked with ball-handling responsibilities and shouldn’t have seen much of a hit when Sessions and Sato took Wall’s spot. His shot attempts have increased from 11 to 12.7 per game, but you’re talking about 16.3 shots per game going down with a knee injury. The max-contract wing should be picking up more than two of those.
    • Porter’s shot selection also hasn’t changed all that much. He’s creating slightly more for himself (44.9 percent of his shots prior through January 25 came on one or more dribbles, compared to 47.7 percent after) and he’s not getting as many open 3s (21.4 percent of all his shots were “wide open” 3-pointers; that number is down to 13.4 percent since the injury to Wall), but otherwise he’s playing more or less the same game he always has.
    • You’d think maybe Porter would drive more with Wall out, right? Well, he has, but it’s not
      a substantial increase. Before Wall’s absence, Porter averaged a mere 2.0 drives per game, sixth on the team behind Wall, Beal, Oubre, Satoransky, and Frazier. With Wall out, that number has increased to 3.4 per game, fifth on the team (he beat out Frazier!). On a per-minute basis, Porter is still, by far, the least-willing driver among Wizards perimeter players (Mike Scott doesn’t count). That’s not really Porter’s game, sure, but even Klay Thompson—who once scored 60 points on just 11 total dribbles—averages 3.5 drives per game, and he’s at best the third option on his team.

Where does Scott Brooks fit into all this?

There are several angles to this. Brooks thrives at getting a lot out of young players, which means he likely runs a good practice. Satoransky and Oubre are both considerably better players than they were a year ago, and Brooks deserves some credit for Beal’s growth over the past two seasons.

He also deserves credit for turning the backup point guard role over to Satoransky, but he deserves far more blame for his initial reluctance to do so. Satoransky has been the best non-Wall point guard option all season, but it wasn’t until Jan. 30 that he finally became the clear favorite over Tim Frazier in the coach’s eyes.

Brooks also shares some of the blame for not getting Porter more involved, either by designing plays for him or by metaphorically punching him in the face. But Porter also needs to get himself more involved. Bruh, you’re making $25 million. Insert yourself into the game every so often.

How much credit does Brooks deserve for turning this collection of misfit reserves into a capable bench? Probably more than he’s gotten, but again, he deserves some blame for not pining for change. The Wizards using just one of their two allotted two-way contracts is a baffling move, and bringing Ramon Sessions in as a band-aid instead of performing the necessary surgery that might pay off down the road is still a terrible option. (In fairness, perhaps he’s fought Ernie Grunfeld relentlessly and we’ve just not heard anything of it.)

Brooks has been creative with his lineups at times, and his tendency to use Oubre and Porter together is a good one. It’s not his fault 3-point specialist Jodie Meeks is shooting .335 on shots from 3-point range with no defender within at least four feet of him. If you lose your best playmaker to injury for more than half the season, and you still manage to get your supposed best shooter more than two open 3s per game (161 attempts in 71 games), you’re doing alright with what you’ve got.

Sure, more small-ball lineups would be nice, and there were plenty of times where you’d rather have seen Jason Smith instead of Ian Mahinmi, but credit Brooks for bringing Mahinmi back from the graveyard and turning him into a somewhat capable backup center.

Brooks isn’t a perfect coach, and you’d like to see a little more forward thinking out of him. But when the team owner and GM have shown little-to-no interest in forward thinking over the years, and his predecessor was gosh darn Randy Wittman, Brooks isn’t so bad.

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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.