Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.
She went to the baker’s
To buy him some bread;
When she came back
The dog was dead!
Otto Porter? Otto Porter. Below, TAI’s Chris Thompson and I discuss his predicament: a former third overall pick with a bare cupboard of a rookie season due to injury, poor play, and coaching decisions that now, as a sophomore, is showing signs of life in a crowded rotation.
Success takes many forms, as does failure. When you get your cup of coffee in the morning from the Keurig machine, you’ve both won and lost. On one hand, it’s fast, easy, and possibly acquired without the expenditure of any currency (other than the brief amount of your life you spent getting it). On the other hand, it’s awful. Put another way: when you go to sleep at night, even after a productive day, couldn’t you have done just a little more?
Otto Porter is the third wooden body of a nesting doll that may or may not house a delicate scroll one can only read with a magnifying glass. His successes and failures don’t look all that different from one another, at least not from afar. His do-it-all-awareness could just as easily be interpreted as a lack of killer instinct, his facilitation as a form of passivity. But “Yung Limbs” can defend, especially on the perimeter. And he can score. He just needs some help. Perhaps more playing time with the Santa Claus of career years, John Wall? When Porter joins Wall in the starting lineup (small sample size alert!), he shoots 52.2 percent overall and 60 percent on 3-pointers.
Porter has shown just enough of most things to let his audience know that he could, if everything breaks right, be part of Washington’s plan, if not its core, going forward. He’s shooting 45.3 percent on 10-19 foot jumpers, and around league average on 3-pointers (35.7%), most comfortable above the break rather than in the corners like swingman predecessor Trevor Ariza. In other words: capable. And more importantly for a young player, capable of improvement. It’s concerning that the opportunity for such improvement has to come piecemeal, cobbled together in 18 minutes per game (Porter dropped from 24.5 minutes per game in November to 14.1 in December, and now back up to 17.4 in January) with a second unit that is far less able to make it easy on him.
But what’s the alternative? The Wizards are a playoff team that rolls a Hall of Famer out at Porter’s position in the starting lineup. For now, Porter has to accumulate shine in the cracks and crevices of the season. Against the Suns on Wednesday night, with Paul Pierce hobbled, Wittman split the playing time between the two forwards down the middle. And Otto delivered: he scored 14 points on only 27 touches, made three out of his four 3-point attempts, and almost brought the Wizards back from what had previously seemed like an insurmountable deficit. His shots came in the flow of the offense, and all but one of his attempts were uncontested.
It was a continuation of the work he put in after starting for Pierce against the Lakers, and it bodes well for the present, as well as the future. This isn’t a player who should be scoring the occasional DNP-CD. He’s still not aggressive enough to be a starter, though, and not strong or physical enough to defend the other team’s best player. Porter doesn’t yet have the instincts of Ariza, or the automated scouting report defensive awareness of Pierce, but he tries on that end of the floor, and that’s the first step of an eventually good defender.
Ultimately, Porter arrived in the middle of a long-term rebuild that suddenly ended, even before he played his first game for Washington. Months before Porter took the floor, the Wizards had traded their 2014 first-rounder for Gortat, and were transitioning away from an environment that could have potentially accelerated Porter’s development through brute force playing time. But not many (see Jordan Crawford, JaVale McGee, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely) young Washington players became NBA starters with that kind of gifted latitude. Maybe these two years of nabbing crumbs off of Washington’s Round Table rather than eating his minutes with a silver spoon has shown the former third overall pick how much it takes for a “well-rounded” player without world class athleticism to stay fed in this league.
I’m having a hard time articulating my thoughts on this without writing a manifesto. Here goes.
What I don’t want to do is come at it from a sort of Zach Lowe-ian “organizational efficiency” standpoint, although there’s certainly a compelling case to be made there. Because, look, getting too invested in the business dealings of sports teams has the yucky side-effect of reducing players to wholly fungible assets and not, you know, humans. And these particular humans have achieved something wonderful with all their effort and talent and perseverance: they’ve come achingly close to realizing their potential and their dreams, all at the same time. I want to root for them, not their uniforms.
So, yes, it would be good for the Wizards organization to develop a young player into a genuine asset.
Otto Porter, right now, is a skinny and relatively un-athletic guy with a developing skill set, the last part being a nice way of saying “please, God, give this guy a reliable perimeter jumper.” He strikes me as someone who already has a fairly acute understanding of the sport and relatively sharp basketball instincts. He gets pushed around and jumped over and driven by, but right now, today, Otto Porter is a real-thing NBA player in a way that, say, Jan Vesely never was.
What the Wizards should have learned from the non-development of Vesely and Chris Singleton in particular (versus the development of John Wall and Bradley Beal) is that talented young players are not effectively developed from the end of the bench. Or, anyway, their ceilings are driven downward by assigning them to the sort of hidden-in-plain-sight grunt work that tends to define Otto’s minutes on the floor. He’s investing himself in setting screens under the basket and running out to the edge as a secondary option, galloping earnestly through the offense’s actions even while that offense has no real purpose for him but as a not-very-convincing decoy.
And here’s the thing: The only way Otto is ever going to learn to be the kind of player you hope to get with the third overall pick in the draft is if he’s given some significant part of those responsibilities now with both the opportunity and mandate to grow into them. Otherwise, any ascension he eventually makes to such a role will be arbitrary and based upon grunt work he’s done as a dumpy role player. It will be the Peter Principle. And that’s not fair to Otto. He was the centerpiece of a damn good D1 college basketball team and he has a real chance to earn for himself a very good career as a valuable NBA player.
Right now he has a set of skills that is broadly useful in expanded minutes as long as those minutes come alongside the team’s starters (especially John Wall): he’s a credible wing defender, a respectable jump-shooter, a solid passer and rebounder, and he’s good in transition. There’s a way to use him where his weaknesses will be relatively non-catastrophic while he continues to develop his strengths and add new ones, but it requires consistent minutes that overlap considerably with the team’s other foundational pieces. That might be some sort of step back for a team suddenly granted fringe-contender status, but so be it. This is how an organization avoids screwing a guy out of his best chance at living his dream, dammit. An organization that does right by its players is one I’m happy to root for. One that does the opposite doesn’t deserve a championship.
The Washington Wizards touched down in Arizona to play their fourth road game in five nights. The official report from the beat back East was that the team was “exhausted,” and as night enveloped the Western Hemisphere, it became clear that the midnight oil in Wizards Nation burned with excuses and resignation. “A schedule loss,” some said.
It was comfortable. Convenient. Familiar.
Over the past decade, the Wizards, on the last day of a four-plus-game road run, have won less than a third of their games. And while these Wizards, the 2014-15 version, perform honorably with no days rest (compiling their second best record*), surviving on the other side of the Mississippi River is never easy. The basketball gods in the wild, Western Territory owe them nothing.
Nene, the squad’s heartbeat, was faint, sidelined with a sore foot. A bad omen, a damaging reality. The Wizards, coming into the game, were 25-47 (.347) without him since he joined the team.
There was plenty o’ good, for sure. Bradley Beal was dunking, Gortat was dunking, Kris Humphries grabbed half a dozen rebounds. But there was also some bad. Turnovers (4), weird spacing (Humphries and Gortat practically ran into each other, at least once), and Drew Gooden being asked to play in an NBA game.
There were 10 lead changes in the first eight minutes. The Wizards were surviving the blitz with second-chance opportunities. Second-unit (and second-rate) Wizards checked into the game as reinforcements and … well, reinforced little other than the feeling that Washington was going to get run out of the Talking Stick Resort Arena. They scored just two points in the final four minutes of the first quarter and trailed the white-hot Suns, 17-29.
More Gooden. Kevin Seraphin, Otto Porter, Bradley Beal, and Andre Miller, too. That five-man unit played the Suns pretty even—living on midrange prayers and put-backs, mostly. Gooden and Beal combined to go 2-for-9 in their second stint.
There were other warning signs: Prof. Miller tried his patented backdown move on Isaiah Thomas, generously listed at 5-foot-9, and got redirected, stuffed.
The starters, minus The Truth, checked back into the game earlier than usual. Gortat missed a hook shot, Wall was hollering for foul calls on midrange jump shots (seriously?). Otto was unable to create enough separation for a clean look and was getting caught on every off-ball screen. The Suns, at one point, led by 22.
John Wall scored his first points of the game with three minutes to play in the second quarter: on a full-court sprint during which he stepped through Thomas, a Morris twin, and Alex Len for a left-handed scoop. That cut the lead to 16 points.
Beal answered a Goran Dragic 3 with 13.9 seconds to play. The Wizards trailed by 17 at halftime.
“We let our inefficiency from an offensive standpoint drain our energy in the first half,” Wittman said post-game.
Badabing. John Wall jump shot. Badabang. Phoenix shot clock turnover. Badaboom. Paul Pierce trey ball. Timeout, Suns.
Wittman must have served espresso at halftime.
Out of the timeout, the Wizards kept firing from—surprise!—beyond the arc. The Wizards had attempted six 3s in the first 24 minutes, making two, but went 3-for-5 on 3s in the first 5:30 of the third quarter. The Suns’ 17-point lead was down to just five.
Then Eric Bledsoe scored on a driving reverse layup. A minute later, the lead was back to 10 points. Next, Bledsoe, who was left alone above the break all night, turned down two looks from 3, exploded into the paint, and made the easy pass to Dragic in the left corner. Swish.
Not even a batty, hypnotizing John Wall Vine-fest takeover could bring the Wizards back. Because for all the fancy, behind-the-back, soaring, reaching, impossible layups Wall was making, the Suns would quickly inbound the ball, make a pass or two, and bury a spot-up 3. They led by 14 at the end of three quarters.
Wittman went to Garrett Temple—flanked by Otto, Martell Webster, Gooden (yes, more Gooden), and Seraphin—to start the fourth quarter.
Sandwiched between two made 3s from P.J. Tucker was a Temple jump shot. A minute later, Temple properly reintroduced himself to the world with a Eurostep bucket between two Phoenix defenders. Seraphin got busy, hook shots and jumpers. Otto swished a 3.
Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek wanted time. It was an 11-point game.
The ragamuffin comeback was represented best by Webster going full Derek Fisher: arms flailing, legs spread, body crashing to the floor after minimal contact to earn three shots from the free throw line.
After a Tucker free throw to make it a five-point game, Wittman called for a full timeout. He decided to change absolutely nothing and ride the “hot hand,” the stuff of legends. (Doing so is totally his prerogative, but Wittman seems to get those calls wrong more often than he does right.) Tucker then made the second of two free throws and over the next 76 seconds—with John Wall and Bradley Beal watching from the scorer’s table—Markieff Morris and Dragic hit jump shots to put the Suns up 10.
Wittman called a 20-second timeout to get his star guards back into the game.
Out of nowhere, Otto Porter began playing with the type of confidence a boy gets after his very first kiss. Debutant basketball. Yung Limbs scored eight points in just over a minute and a half—a free throw, a fadeaway J, a tip-in, a 3 that barely moved the net—to cut the lead to four.
Hornacek wanted to talk about it. Seventy-seven seconds left on the clock.
Chief ‘Kieff Morris hit a high-arcing stepback midrange jumper to make it a six-point game with 23.9 seconds to play. DAGGER. There was really nothing the defense could do: Kris Humphries was all over him.
For all the improbable heroics, and the unexpected third-quarter barrage from 3-point land, the Wizards never got within four points of the Suns after the first quarter, when they let the lead slip away. Perhaps more accurately, the Suns dictated the pace of play as they so often do and ran circles around the Wizards—with and without the ball—scrambling Wittman’s defense like so many eggs at classic diners in the Sonoran Desert.
The Suns took what the Wizards defense gave them—3-pointers—attempting 29 and making 11. The Wizards, quite frankly, were lucky that Tucker, Dragic, Thomas, and the rest of the gang didn’t make more. They were free and clear on the other side of the Efficiency state line all night long.
“It was our fourth game in five nights and we were playing teams that were pretty fast—Denver and L.A. and now them, so it was tough,” John Wall said after the game.
“I’m not looking for excuses but we definitely didn’t have the same energy as we usually do.”
The Wizards are now in third place in the East: 31-16 with 35 games to play. There’s plenty of time to rise from the ashes, but something must change—the style, the philosophy, the inconsistency.
But when you play with excuses, you tend to not learn from your mistakes. You live with them. And on some nights, you get burnt.
*Wizards record by days off
18-7 after 1 day rest
8-4 after 0 days
4-3 after 2 days
1-1 after 3 days
0-1 after 6+ days (first game of the season)
Wittman on if he considered putting starters in w/#Wizards down 5 out of timeout: “I did put starters back in. I put Brad and John back in.”
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) January 29, 2015
But Beal and Wall (and Humphries) didn’t go back in until the #Wizards were down 10 pts 1:17 later.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) January 29, 2015
Welcome to the wacky world of 2015, where a drunk, off-duty spy ironically highlights our nation’s security flaws by accidentally landing a drone on the White House lawn and where the Washington Wizards are now the TV darling of the NBA.
Washington, once a terrible primetime TV flop, is now a solid main attraction, marking their third straight ESPN Wednesday night double-header appearance with a late matchup with the Suns in Phoenix.
But why wouldn’t fans be interested in the Wizards? They boast one of the most athletic backcourts in the NBA, a Polish center who moonlights as Street Fighter character Zangief, a rim-rocking Brazilian, and some guy named “The Truth.” This Wizards team is building up such a buzz that it’s making Michael Vick throw out all of his geographical allegiances to claim the Wizards as his “hometown” team, despite having grown up some 180 miles away in Newport News, VA (and sometimes favoring the 76ers, amongst other NBA teams).
I went to check my hometown Wizards out last week. Lol @JohnWall he's something else #Wiz #NBA
— Mike Vick (@MikeVick) January 26, 2015
After watching the Wizards claw back from a 19-point deficit to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, which would have undoubtedly gone down as the “Jordan Clarkson revenge game” (Clarkson was selected by the Wizards 46th overall in the 2014 draft for the Lakers and traded to them for cash), it is apparent that this team never lacks entertainment value. This Phoenix Suns team isn’t too shabby when it comes to entertainment value, either. The Morris twins are climbing up the list of players that no opponent wants any part of in a back alley, Goran Dragic has been a steady influence coming off of an All-NBA caliber season, and Eric Bledsoe is one of the few point guards in the NBA who is actually comparable to Wall athletically.
The last time these two teams met, Bledsoe gave his former college teammate fits, out-dueling Wall in the plus/minus battle, plus-5 to minus-9, in a 104-92 Suns win. Wall was not the only culprit for the Wizards, however: the entire starting five finished with a negative plus/minus for the game. The real statistics that separate these two teams are pace factor and defensive points per game allowed. The Suns rank second in the NBA only behind the Golden State warriors with an average of 99.2 possessions per 48 minutes, while the Wizards rank in the bottom half of the league with a 95.7 pace factor. Defensively, the Wizards are top 10 in points per game allowed (97.6), while the Suns rank 28th in the league, allowing 105.3 points per contest. Phoenix will try to force the ball up and down the court and dictate the pace of play up, making it very critical for the Wizards backcourt of Wall and Beal to limit turnovers and attack a subpar Phoenix defense.
Here’s to hoping that the Wiz finish strong on a four-game West Coast road trip, and that an entertaining showcase game will influence those NBA fans looking to bandwagon with a good team before Michael Vick takes the prime first class seating. The thing that makes the Wizards so riveting to watch is that they still have a tremendous learning curve. The Wiz will keep you on the edge of your seat because you never know what you are going to get. They have conquered so much already going from a basically dormant franchise, post-Gilbert Arenas, to the rising stars they are today. But you have to keep your eyes wide open at all times because they never follow a smooth trajectory to the W. But hey, maybe, just maybe, that’s why NBA fans can’t take their eyes off the Wiz.
Today Jeffrey Sanders (@JeSanders11) from Valley of the Suns drops by to assist on this preview with a Q&A. Read on…
Teams: Wizards at Suns
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Venue: US Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Suns fav’d by 6.5 points
#1) According to the latest fivethirteight.com NBA Power Ratings, the Phoenix Suns only have a 39.6 percent playoff expectancy despite having a three-game lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 8-seed out West. Is this current Suns roster ready to take the next step in their evolution as a young, up-and-coming team?
@JeSanders11: There are night where the Suns look like they can beat anyone in the league and other nights where their immaturity costs them games. Ultimately, I think the Suns’ lack of veteran leadership will prove costly down the stretch. Remember, even though this team won 48 games last season, and are right in the mix for a playoff spot again this year, they are still the fourth youngest team in the NBA. This team is still learning how to win together, but they just aren’t there yet. They need a major injury to one of the seven teams in front of them, and Oklahoma City, for them to get in the dance.
#2) Markieff Morris is having his best season as a pro with a career-high in minutes per game (30.3), FG% (49.1), and points per game (15.3). Is he already outplaying the four-year, $32 million contract extension? And is there a much ado about nothing over the Coach Hornacek-imposed automatic benching after a technical foul?
@JeSanders11: Markieff Morris may be playing himself out of Phoenix. This guy just can’t keep his composure, and it is costing his team games, and giving the coaching staff headaches. He has 10 technical fouls this season, and is the key cog for Hornacek’s policy of benching players who get a technical for yelling at officials. Goran Dragic was the first player to receive the punishment in Friday’s loss to the Rockets, as Morris was benched on Sunday. The thing was, Morris was the one shooting free throws when he got his technical, a complete selfish act when you also throw in the fact that his back-up, Brandan Wright, was unavailable due to injury. By taking himself out of that game against the Clippers, it gave them no power forward, and the Suns went from leading 60-58 at the time of the technical to losing 120-100.
After Sunday’s game, Hornacek ranted to the media about being fed up with the technicals, and maybe doing something more drastic if guys continually to show they don’t want to do things the right way. The front office is backing Hornacek’s decision to bench players for technicals, so we will see how the players take it moving forward. Jeff has made his statement by saying he would rather lose games then play players who make selfish acts.
#3) Is the small sample size of Alex Len’s 46 games of decent production (15.90 PER) enough to warrant the rumors of Suns brash actively dangling Miles Plumlee on the trade market?
@JeSanders11: A writer on ESPN.com a week ago—forgot his name—made a trade proposal of the Suns sending Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len to the Cavaliers for Kevin Love. General Manager Ryan McDonough would fall over laughing if the Cavs even offered Love for Len straight up, if that answers your question. The entire organization, from players to coaches to management, have been raving about the former Maryland product. Since Len entered the starting lineup, the Suns have gone 14-7, and it isn’t a coincidence. Now, I think Plumlee still has value to the Suns this year as a role player off the bench, but if McDonough gets a first-round pick for him, I am all for sending Plumlee out.
#4) One thing that was apparent for a lot of Wizards fans who watched the Suns’ 104-92 win in Washington was that Eric Bledsoe is one of the few point guards in the NBA who can match the athletic prowess of All-Star John Wall. Is that the most important individual matchup when these two teams face off again in Phoenix?
@JeSanders11: I don’t know if that is the most important matchup, but it is by far the most exciting. Bledsoe and Wall are two of the funnest guards in the league to watch play, and it’s unfortunate these teams only play twice a year.
Each game provides numerous data points that can lead one down a variety of paths toward the big picture.
John Wall’s game continues to ascend and, really, transcend into territory we’ve never really seen from an NBA point guard. Even his mid-gear sends defenses into a panic over what he might do, where he might go, to whom he might pass the ball.
In Los Angeles, where he likes to play in-season and sometimes calls his playground in the offseason, Wall powered his team to a comeback victory with 21 points (8-12), 13 assists, and nine rebounds. His four turnovers were acceptable though his 5-for-12 line from free throw line was tough to swallow. Wall also played on a sore left Achilles’ tendon (possibly, or not) , with what was described as a “migraine,” and, evidently, sore ankles—one of which was tweaked late in the game when Wall stepped on a baseline cameraman after a drive to the basket.
He was a warrior, and amazing almost to the point of routine. He drove hard to gnaw at the rim as necessary, attempting seven of his 12 shot near the basket (making four); he gained separation for smooth and timely midrange jumpers (4-5) like a leaf blower clearing a sidewalk path. Wall didn’t even have to attempt a 3-pointer.
But what about the rest of the Wizards? They got down to the very depleted (and already poorly-constructed) Lakers team by as many as 19 points in the first half (the halftime deficit stood at 11). The Lakers are one of the five worst teams in the NBA, and a double-digit hole was dug with both Kobe Bryant and Nick Young out due to injury on Tuesday night.
The mounting data points on the team as a whole continue to slice the question down the middle: Are the Wizards contenders, or are they middling playoff participants with confidence to beat lower rung teams but not the consistency to be a true threat. The theme, like Wall’s speed, is becoming too routine.
Wall finding Otto Porter, starting for a resting Paul Piece, for a corner 3 on the game’s second offensive possession did not strike any sort of apparent fear in the heart of Los Angeles. The Lakers played free like the Wizards of yesteryear—little pressure, idealistic ball movement, and a Jordan Crawford-esque (or Nick Young-esque) ability to splash jumpers without much thought.
But don’t credit the Lakers totally. The Wizards unnecessarily gambled on defense, leaked out on rebounds, and generally did not seem willing to respect their opponent. Wall and Bradley Beal were both aggressive on offense to start, but they let their assumptions get the best of them on the other end. Jordan Clarkson, 2014 Washington Wizards second-round draft pick that was sold to the Lakers for $1.8 million cash, and Wayne Ellington combined for 22 first-quarter points on 9-for-12 shooting. The backcourt duo finished with 46 total points (28 for Ellington, 18 for Clarkson) on 20-for-38 shooting. Ellington made his first three 3-pointers before the Wizards got wise, then he missed his next six attempts from deep.
The first half meandered along. Kevin Seraphin bricked long 2-pointers while Ed Davis scored points on him in bunches (eight in the second quarter). The second unit predictably sputtered. Sadly, the defense of Andre Miller and Martell Webster was no match for Ellington and Jeremy Lin (who hit a 3-pointer, of all things). Even Kris Humphries couldn’t get his reliable jump shot going early.
The stalwarts checked back in midway through the second quarter and chipped away at L.A.’s lead, mostly thanks to Nene’s mere presence on defense and the stylings of Wall. The Lakers got up 17 points with 2:35 left in the first half and then didn’t score again, as Washington closed the gap to 11. The Wizards merely maintained over the first half of the third quarter until Beal ignited his team with a much-needed scoring spark via nine straight points for his team. What it really was: Washington woke up on defense and outscored the Lakers 29-19 in the third period (11-2 on the fast break). Seems simple.
The Wizards didn’t dominate in the fourth quarter (23-16). Rather, they did just enough to ease the tension but not necessarily the frustration. Seraphin scrapped for points instead of settling, driving home how the onus, sometimes, is on Washington’s offense (and Andre Miller) to get him the ball in the right spots: on the block where he can unleash his deadly hook shot. Humphries and Nene added the right amount of muscle in the final stanza. Beal, perhaps because Wall was ailing, was given the ball more to create offense in the fourth quarter—it often didn’t work out. So Wall, naturally, picked up the slack with two straight 17-foot jump shots that gave Washington a five-point cushion with just over four minutes left. Beal returned the favor as the game slipped away from the Lakers. As Wall was visibly hobbling due to that ankle tweak, Beal commanded a 16-foot pull-up shot that served as the dagger which put Washington up seven points with 43 seconds left.
A win is a win, goes the mantra. And amidst a nice but barely satisfying comeback is the fact that the Wizards once again stumbled backwards into beating an inferior opponent. In this meeting at least, Randy Wittman had a project manager with sleeves rolled up in Wall to guide the initiative (while Clarkson did his best to steal the show and keep his name top-of-mind for Wizards fans).
Lesson learned? Not quite. There are more long days at the office, more data points, to come.
It's Wall's left leg. The one with the sore achilles. Now he's leaving the floor w/Wiz up 97-90 #WizardsTalk #NBA @CSNWizards #WizLakers
— J. Michael (@JMichaelCSN) January 28, 2015
And in case ur wondering, YES, u can walk on your achilles if it's fully torn. #WizardsTalk #NBA @CSNWizards #WizLakers
— J. Michael (@JMichaelCSN) January 28, 2015
Think this is where Wall got hurt. Right foot on baseline cameraman. Left Achilles was sore. #Wizards https://t.co/sS05IWduWE
— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) January 28, 2015
John Wall: “I’m alright. I’m not great. I had a migraine, sprained ankle again. But I’m just a competitive person.”
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) January 28, 2015
Wizards said Wall had a sore left Achilles. He did tweak an ankle when he stepped on a cameraman at the end of the 4th quarter tho.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) January 28, 2015
So John Wall never had a sore Achilles http://t.co/qLNxm7W3yO #Wizards pic.twitter.com/CvShoeBCuP
— Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis) January 28, 2015
“Tell me when you recognize the guys in red, white and blue.” —Steve Buckhantz to Phil Chenier midway through the second quarter.
Watching the transformation of Steve Buckhantz as an announcer who used to describing the exploits of a terrible basketball team to an announcer who expects success has been a truly fascinating experience. Gone are some of the beloved tics that were evident during the Wizards’ dark days: the exasperated sigh after a terrible pass, the indignation over a boneheaded play, and the disbelief when the Wizards managed to lose yet another heartbreaker to a buzzer-beater from an opponent’s seventh-best player. Buckhantz expects and demands a level of consistency from the current team because he has been through the tunnel (along with Phil Chenier) and has emerged into the light to finally cover a team that he can announce and analyze without caveats and predicting gloom and doom.
However, it was nice to have old Buck back last night, at least for one half, as the Wizards came out cold and quickly found themselves staring down a 19-point deficit to a injury-ravaged Lakers team. Buckhantz was not scathing in his commentary, but it was obvious that his annoyance was growing after each improbable made Wayne Ellington jumper and the fact that Robert Sacre, of all people, was outmaneuvering the Wizards in the post.
That the Wizards stormed back into the game on impressive performances from John Wall and Bradley Beal was almost as enjoyable as Buck discussing with Chenier about how unneccessary the run should have been considering the quality of competition and how Randy Wittman had probably hoped to rest his starters for most of the game. At close to 1:00 a.m. on the East Coast, one realizes how lucky D.C. fans are to have the broadcast duo calling the game, because while a win is a win, they were both unafraid to call the team out on its shortcomings.
Nene Hilario, PF
26 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-3 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 6 PTS | +9 +/-
It was not the type of night that Nene will want to put on his CV when he returns to Brazil and raises the most lowly of souls to heights of basketball bliss. The spin moves to the posts were stripped by the likes of Robert Sacre, the passes were errant (if downright sloppy), and the shots were a tad ill-advised. Yet there were the huge rebounds at the end of the game, the conversion of unexpected free throws, and the fact that Nene always manages to make that one “glue play” that reminds you of his benevolent worth.
Otto Porter Jr., SF
30 MIN | 5-9 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 12 PTS | +6 +/-
Surprise starter Otto Porter looked the part of a young ingenue for almost the entirety of the first half, getting lost in transition, muscled down by larger big men, and looking a tad overmatched against the dregs of the Lakers frontline. Quote from Phil Chenier when Otto was backing down guard Jordan Clarkson: “Wizards taking advantage of the big-small mismatch … uh, well, Otto is taller.” But then second-half Otto appeared and the clouds parted and all was right with the world. It was ungainly, it didn’t inspire concrete confidence, but Porter managed to not break anything permanently while he was on the court.
Marcin Gortat, C
29 MIN | 5-7 FG | 1-1 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | +8 +/-
The Polish Hammer ran into his arch-nemesis on the evening, the dreaded zebra. Gortat was whistled for a shady blocking foul and went full Nene on the referee, barking at him from the prone position. Gortat did enliven the Wizards fans in attendance by demonstrating the team had a pulse in the second quarter with a furious jam off of a John Wall assist.
John Wall, PG
36 MIN | 8-12 FG | 5-12 FT | 9 REB | 13 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 21 PTS | +9 +/-
If the end result of the game had been any different, John Wall may have received a C, for the simple matter that his free throw shooting form departed him on the evening: he clanged six shots off the back of the iron. As it stands, the rest of Wall’s performance was transcendent as he willed the Wizards back from a 19-point deficit, locking down on defense, exploiting Jeremy Lin, and getting to the basket at will. Wall basically strapped the team on his back and refused to let them lose the game. Not much more can be asked of your franchise player, and for now, you can blame the free throws on the migraine Wall complained about after the game.
Bradley Beal, SG
38 MIN | 9-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | +8 +/-
Somewhere in the last week Bradley Beal had a personality transplant and is starting to do the things that people have been pleading for him to do for the last several months. Beal went on his own personal 9-0 run in the third quarter, but it was the way he did it that has to excite Wizards fans. With his outside shot not falling, Beal went to the basket early and often and for once did not shy from contact. Some of the resultant shots were ill-advised, but you take the bad with good if Beal has finally decided to add slashing to his repertoire.
Kris Humphries, PF
26 MIN | 2-5 FG | 4-4 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +1 +/-
I see you, Kris Humphris. I see those 11 rebounds. I appreciate that you did not take too many 20-footers. I also appreciate your efficiency at the line. You sir, are a true mensch.
Martell Webster, SF
6 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -6 +/-
After a knee-to-knee collision with Jeremy Lin, Webster was taken back into the Wizards locker room to be evaluated. It was disappointing to see as Webster appeared to finally be finding his footing in the offensive scheme and was giving his best effort on defense. As an X-Factor for the rest of the year, Webster’s continuing to develop comfort in the system Wittman has in place.
Kevin Seraphin, C
15 MIN | 2-6 FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -6 +/-
#KSLife attempted to do too much in the Wizards’ first aborted attempt at a comeback. He settled in nicely to give Nene valuable rest in the fourth quarter.
Wittman was probably hoping for a Wizards blowout, which would have allowed him to rest his starters a bit before crucial “measuring stick” games against Phoenix and Toronto. However, the Wizards’ performance was so dreadful in the first half that Wittman may have realized that losing to the Lakers and a once-in-a-lifetime Wayne Ellington performance was bound to have resounding psychological consequences for his team. So he rolled out the starters for the majority of the third quarter and his imploring of the Wizards to lock down on defense resulted in a bevy of Lakers turnovers. It wasn’t pretty, but Wittman always values a W over a learning experience.
Beal currently averages exactly four 3-pointers per game. Compare that to Wesley Mathews (7.7), Damian Lillard (7.2), Thompson (7.0), C.J. Miles (6.3) Danny Green (6.0), and Gerald Green (5.9), to name a few.
Part of being a 3-point shooter is taking 3-point shots frequently. Per 48 minutes played, Beal takes 5.9 3-pointers. Bench players like Rasual Butler (7.4), Luke Babbitt (7.3), Aaron Brooks (7.9), and Patrick Patterson (6.3) all fire up long shots more frequently and, with the exception of Patterson (41.8%), all shoot the ball as well as Beal.
I’ll take it one step further. Beal’s already low 4.0 per game average is over-inflated by the number of 3-point attempts he takes off passes from Wall on 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 fast breaks. The Wall-to-Beal fast-break 3-pointer has become a staple of Washington’s offense and is a joy to watch. But those are not the type of 3-point attempts that create the floor-spacing and ball movement in the half court that is coveted in today’s NBA. Beal can keep those crowd-pleasing attempts, but he needs to add more.
In his support for Kyle Korver’s All-Star candidacy, Grantland’s Zach Lowe explained how deadly 3-point shooters can have a huge impact on offensive possessions without touching the ball simply by moving beyond the arc and forcing defenses to react. When you take and make a high percentage of 3s, defenders are forced to close out on you, which opens driving lanes. Weak-side defenders are also forced to stick by your side, which opens the paint for cutters and creates space for pick-and-rolls.
There have been countless articles, posts and tweets about Randy Wittman’s love of midrange jumpers. When TAI’s Adam McGinnis asked Wittman a couple weeks ago about Washington’s paltry 28th ranked 15.8 3-point attempts per game average, Wittman chalked up the dearth of long-range shots to the lack of 3-point shooters on the roster. But that does not explain why the precious few 3-point shooters Washington does have on its roster launch so few attempts. In Beal, Washington has a deadly 3-point specialist who does not shoot 3-pointers.
But this isn’t just about improving Washington’s team offense. An increased emphasis on 3-pointers may be just as important in Beal’s individual development as a lead scorer.
After a stellar playoff run last season, many people expected (or hoped) that Beal would make a leap in his third season. Such expectations were understandable given how dominant Beal was as a lead ball handler and pick-and-roll option versus Chicago and Indiana. Don’t get me wrong. Beal is having a good season. But he has not shown the aggressiveness that fans (and Wittman) want to see. Beal settles for too many midrange jumpers (although midrange shots make up a lower percentage of his total overall shots this season, 28%, than last season, 36.1%). Also, he rarely gets to the line (2.5 free throw attempts per game).
Washington runs a lot of plays for Beal, but they always seem to result in Beal catching the ball while curling around a screen at the elbow or simply running circles around Nene in the high post. Those are the midrange-by-design plays that frustrate fans. Why can’t Wittman pretend Beal is Rasual Butler and run a half dozen plays for him to come off a Nene screen at the 3-point line?
If I were Wittman I’d institute a mandatory minimum of six 3-point attempts per game and glare at Beal (the same way he glares at Kevin Seraphin) whenever he falls short of that goal. This may be more pop psychology than basketball analysis, but Beal’s occasionally lackadaisical play is more mental than physical and developing a killer instinct is a mental challenge, not a physical one.
Wall and Beal are the foundation of this team and the franchise will only go as far as the backcourt carries it. Wall has already made the leap. Beal is not behind schedule, but it’s also not too early to give him a push.
An (unwritten) 3-point mandate would prompt Beal to constantly look for opportunities to exploit unbalanced defenses, like Ray Allen did so well, instead of drifting out of the play when his initial cut does not produce a scoring opportunity. It’d make a big difference: Beal isn’t just a corner specialist—he’s shooting 43.6 percent from above the break. And those extra 3-point attempts would also force defenders to close out hard on Beal, encouraging him to drive to the basket more, instead of pulling up from the midrange, where he’s shooting 33.33 percent.
Beal already has a green light. But, like a driver talking on his cell phone at an intersection, he sometimes fails to see it. The doldrums of the regular season are the perfect time for Wittman to honk his horn and urge Beal to put his foot on the gas.
Hey, hey, hey! Whatcha got to say?! Hollywoooooooood … Hollywood swingin’.
The Washington Wizards are in Los Angeles tonight. And, well, all those basketball fiends that marked this one on their calendars are going to disappointed. Not in the result (a Wizards win, probably), but in the some of the names featured in the opening credits.
On the East Side, Paul Pierce is questionable with “a nagging sore left toe.” John Wall is questionable, too, with a sore Achilles tendon. Neither player participated in Tuesday morning’s shootaround. There is a chance one or both could play, sure, but neither should. The Wizards need both Wall and Pierce humming and ready to roll in April much more than they do tonight.
That’s not to say that playing without the captain will be a cakewalk for Washington. Wall has averaged 24.7 points and 14.7 assists in three games vs. the Lakers on the road. And, as we’ve established, without Wall, the sometimes very average Wizards wings won’t benefit from the Optimus Dime Effect.
However, on the West Side, Kobe Bryant is out. Everybody knows this. (More on him below.) But news! Nick Young is unlikely to play … after suffering an ankle injury in practice yesterday. The Lakers are calling it a moderate sprain—Young went in for an MRI today, according to a report from Inside Local.
The Wizards—lifted by a 17-point, 16-assist game by Wall—cruised to a 111-95 win over the Lakers in early December. It’ll be interesting to see what they’ll do without him for the first time since 2012-13.
Does Martell Webster remember how to make it rain from 3-point land? Has Otto Porter learned anything? Can Andre Miller physically play more than 25 minutes? We’re about to find out.
Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold), editor of the ESPN TrueHoop Network’s Lakers blog, Forum Blue & Gold, stops by TAI with a Cali cool assist: a Q&A preview of tonight’s hoops action.
Teams: Wizards at Lakers
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Venue: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 8.5 points
@forumbluegold: I’m strongly leaning towards no on both questions, but I think it’s silly to think there aren’t reasons to go the other way. At some point, even someone as maniacal as Kobe will stop enjoying the process and putting in the work necessary to play at a level he’s comfortable with. Could this surgery and the pending rehab be the thing that makes him question that? What about how good a roster would surround him next season? Does he want to play at what could be a diminished level for another bad team? These are real questions that you have to figure Kobe will ask himself at some point. Again, I think he comes back for his final year and tries to go out on his own terms. That’s the only Kobe I know, but it wouldn’t shock me if he decided against that.
@forumbluegold: The Lakers’ issues defending the paint go well beyond the fact that Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre and Carlos Boozer aren’t deterrents in the lane (I don’t include Ed Davis or Tarik Black in this group because they are much better than those other guys). The root cause, to me, is that they allow players to get into the paint so easily in the first place. The Lakers do not possess one plus perimeter defender (no matter what Byron Scott thinks of Ronnie Price and Wes Johnson), and that shows up with wings consistently getting into the paint. Even when the bigs do rotate and challenge, no one is helping the helper and that leads to dump off passes or offensive rebounds for easy put-backs. I could go on and on, but you get the point.
How does it feel to be the mid-2000s Wizards West?
@forumbluegold: Do we get Andray Baltche?
On a serious note, I’ve written that the way Young played last year (generally playing hard and showing a bit more unselfishness in his game) was a big surprise to me. I’ve also said that over the past two years of losing, his genuine love of being a Laker and fun loving attitude has dulled the edge of some of the losing. However, this season he has played quite poorly and has taken a step back (no pun intended) in how often he looks to move the ball and how engaged he is defensively. His recent effort level against the Rockets and subsequent second-half benching is also a concern. So, going back to your 2000s Wizards comment, can the Lakers win the lottery and draft a John Wall-type talent?
If you were Byron Scott, what’d be the game plan vs. Washington?
@forumbluegold: Normally, I’d say that the Lakers need to try to use their depth of quality bigs to try and work the offensive glass and overwhelm their opponent. On a lot of nights, that might just work, but with the Nene and Gortat roaming the opposing paint I don’t see that as a viable strategy. So, my game plan would mostly hinge on ball movement, quick drives after ball reversals, and pray that some of their 3-point shots fall. I’m not very confident this will work.
@forumbluegold: I have been pretty hard on Scott this year. While I don’t like watching a losing team, I understand the talent at his disposal is low and that, ultimately, is what wins games in this league. However, he’s done several things this year in terms of process—starting Price over Jeremy Lin, playing Ryan Kelly at small forward, dismissing the value of the 3-point shot, etc.—that I have strongly disagreed with. So while I’m happy I am not Scott, I sort of wish I could have him change up some of his tactics, you know? Maybe like “Being John Malkovich” or something.
So Wall dishes out the clever names, but aside from JDub, Jimmy Wa, Game Changer, and Wall-Star, John didn’t have a true go to one until now. TAI’s John Converse Townsend, with the help of Bullets Forever’s Jake Whitacre, used a Transformers-themed idea for Wall: “Optimus Dime.” It received immediate positive reviews. The writing staff at CBS SportsLine loves it.
During a Wizards’ highlight package of their blowout win over 76ers last week, the ascension of the name continued when it was dropped glowingly on SportsCenter.
“They are starting to call—wish that I could take credit for this… They are starting to call John Wall ‘Optimus Dime.’ I love that,” said an ESPN sports anchor.
Wall’s own website has embraced the name.
I asked some of the team what they thought of Optimus Dime.
“Little bit into Transformers, but I had never heard of that until now,” said Porter, “It (the nickname) can work, because his dimes do come automatic like that.”
“That is cool, I like it,” remarked Butler on Optimus Dime. “That is a cool one right there. I am fan of the Transformers movie and I grew up on the cartoon.”
Humphries admitted when he watches replays of Wizards’ games, he does with the sound off so this is why he might miss any nicknames. He was unaware of Bradley Beal going by Big Panda or Wall calling Butler “Hot & Butter.”
I pressed him for any other nicknames on the team. “I will try to observe and report back to ya, dude,” Humphries said. Fair enough.
The Georgetown men’s basketball team thumped No. 4 Villanova at the Verizon Center last Tuesday, 78-58. The Hoya students spilled onto the floor to celebrate. Hoya coach John Thompson III was not a fan of the storming of the court by the college fans and JTIII was supported by all sorts in the “get off my lawn” crowd. Some love to bemoan any sign of kids enjoying themselves. Notorious Wizards hater Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon had their typical outrage cranked up (via Sports Bog):
“What has happened to Georgetown that they stormed the court [after] beating Villanova?” Tony Kornheiser said Tuesday on his radio show. “I mean, come on. Do people not remember how great Georgetown was? Didn’t that make you want to throw up?”
“Georgetown is one of the all-time great programs under John Thompson, under Big John,” Kornheiser said. “They’ve done very well with JTIII, a very likable fellow, and I’m sorry, you’re Georgetown. You’re Georgetown. A regular season win? Stop it. Stop it!”
Georgetown student Madeline Aurebach had a solid defense of the fans euphoria and threw in a nice, subtle jab at the Hoyas recent post season disappointments:
Yet, in the same vein, I do not think that you can realistically blame or criticize our students. After missing the NCAA tournament last year, a second round loss in the NIT, disappointing inconsistencies, frequent turnover trouble and absence of key players for part or all of the season, it’s understandable that big wins are exciting for us this year.
One of Kornheiser’s key points was that students haven’t done their research and they fail to understand the prestigious nature of Georgetown’s basketball program historically. He notes that there were years when Georgetown was a contender for the national championship every year, thus making it embarrassing that we celebrated a win against a conference rival that didn’t really even pose that much of an uneven match-up. Maybe he is right in that us students should read up a little more on the basketball program we’re so passionate about, but it’s unfair to be upset about the fact that not everyone knows what happened in the 1985 NCAA Championship. It’s unfair to assume that everyone possesses a comprehensive knowledge of Georgetown’s entire athletic history, and it’s unfair to expect that of every student.
Former Hoya star and Wizards’ second-year swingman, Otto Porter, disagreed with his old coach and the bitter PTI crew.
“That is what college is for. You are not going to do that in the NBA. It is college. Kids like to have fun,” said Porter.
Otto likes what he sees out of the current Georgetown team.
“They are coming along. They have a bunch of young guys, each game, they are improving. They showed what they can really do against Villanova. I wasn’t surprised when I saw the score,” said Porter. “I have seen it over the summer how good they can really be if they get the right chemistry and find some type of leadership on the team and go from there.”
The Wizards started out of breath. John Wall, soothsayer, foretold of such before the game.
John Wall on the altitude in Denver: “The first three minutes is going to kill us but other than that it ain’t gonna bother us.”
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) January 26, 2015
Fifty-three basketball court minutes later the Wizards were still left gasping for breath, lucky that they didn’t have to play five minutes more. The chance of a veteran like Paul Pierce having his out of bounds pass picked off like [insert Skins quarterback name]. The chance of Ty Lawson intercepting the ball with (just) over three seconds left in overtime, within steps of the basket and down two points, tossing up a hot potato at the rim, and missing.
The outcome and all the work leading up to it came down to that last, half-assed gasp. Wall was right, though. He alone is the right lung of the Washington Wizards, his teammates make the left. Wall breathed just enough life into his team to leave Colorado with a win one game-night after blowing a lead late in Portland.
Denver moved the ball well early, combining that with altitude and second-chance opportunities to get the Wizards reeling. But by the five-minute mark, Wall and Bradley Beal, recipient of a Wall pass for a dunk, were running. Marcin Gortat, too. Wall twice used the center as a traffic cone, maneuvering around it and the defense with changes in direction for scores at the rim.
The pace continued, somewhat recklessly. This was followed by the normal confusion from Washington’s second-unit offense. The game became a symphony of screeching Metro rail escalators. Arron Afflalo was grinding shots, and Martell Webster echoed that noise. Jameer Nelson swiped 3-pointers past the net, J.J. Hickson and Kevin Seraphin exchanged fares. Darrell Arthur made change with his jumpers. Otto Porter, the soft thud of a rubber railing.
The first half train was led by Wall’s seven assists to zero turnovers; Ty Lawson paced the cars behind him with the same ratio. Nine different Wizards scored; eight Nuggets got on the board. Pierce chugged his way to the free throw line and Kris Humphries chugged everywhere. True to form, Beal displayed the strength of his jump shot and weakness in ability to maneuver off the dribble. Nene and Marcin Gortat battled Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic to a draw. The two teams were tied at 59 after one half, the Nuggets making up points against more a advantaged Wizards team by hitting three more 3-pointers (in five more attempts).
As the halftime #WittmanJava started to take effect, or whatever Randy Wittman used to rev up his players, if anything at all, the Wizards found themselves down a consistent seven-to-eight points over the meat of the third quarter.
“They getting tired!” you could hear someone repeatedly yell over the television broadcast minutes into the period. Seemingly a Denver supporter: it was usually said while Lawson had the ball. This contrasted with an obvious Wizards fan sitting behind CSN Washington’s Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier—the vocal minority was very audible over a mellow Denver crowd toward the end.
Both teams relied heavily on starters in the third, the Nuggets more so. Lawson hit a 3 in Wall’s grill; minutes later he was dropping a dime to Afflalo for 3. Both times Wall thought he could answer with his own 3 and both times he missed, and the Wizards were down eight with three minutes left. A timeout soon thereafter registered another notching in Wall.
To watch a point guard you’ve observed all of his pro career, the good and the bad, grasp a game by the lapels and dictate what’s fashionable brings a comfort that’s hard to truly appreciate. That’s why they get drafted so high, yet some still fade. The Wizards ran some action to get Rasual Butler a look from behind the arc, and he made it—Wall assist. Wall next passed up his own 3 to get Butler another look, but he missed. The takeover, the process, continued nonetheless—Wall hit a tough floater, bounced to Gortat on the move with an assist, dropped a dime to Webster’s hot flash hands. The Wizards pulled within one point and Wall had 11 assists, still zero turnovers to end the third quarter.
Randy Wittman ground his teeth and tinkered with his lineup into the fourth quarter, trying to be effective, trying to get keep the mileage low on those with escalating odometers. He had a short leash for his poorly-performing second unit in the second quarter. Early in the final quarter, before overtime, he rode the waves with good ship K.S. Life. Seraphin displayed newfound baseline drives, his patented hook shot, and even a recently discovered rebound put-back—six points in the period’s first two minutes. But then the kiddo settled for a jumper, later committed a couple bad fouls; a plus-3 in the fourth still added up to minus-9 for the game.
Nene, and Pierce, returned midway through the fourth. Nene was wearing tape around his body like war paint, or maybe I just expect him to bleed neon green like the Predator. He was a key part of the late-game action and the focus of Wall’s pick-and-roll game. Nene and Humphries served as Wittman’s rarely-used combination down the stretch—10 minutes together versus the Nuggets, 48 total minutes prior. Both relentlessly attacked Denver, Humphries on the glass and Nene in any way he could (he was so excitable that he travelled twice—it’s #NeneHands, not #NeneFeet). Nene was respectably physical, especially against Faried. Nene apparently knows what “buyer’s remorse” means in Portuguese.
But back to the evening’s proper owners: Wall and Lawson. The former continued to set up his teammates with action on the move—pocket passes, picks, rolls, and pops. The latter forced Washington’s defense into mismatch after mismatch, then he used his speed and acceleration to do damage. Wall totaled 19 points (16 shots), 16 assists, and two turnovers. Lawson provided 31 points (20 shots), 12 assists, and two turnovers.
The game’s final, waking inhale wasn’t as much exhilarating as exasperating. You have Faried’s missed free throws, Pierce’s knucklehead turnover from the baseline, and Lawson’s hiccup off the rim. The Wizards just happened to win. The duel of point guards exceeded hype and still entertained those watching nationally and internationally on NBA TV.
Adjusting to big narratives, John Wall needs help. Pierce has been close to what people expected this season, and Nene has been better than expected. Beal and Gortat are the two starters currently living below expectations, which isn’t to say they’ve been bad, or even less than good. It’s on the front office to strengthen the bench.
Wall also needs to help himself. The team is only one lung without him, but that doesn’t mean he needs to unnecessarily hold his breath. He lost focus during winnable fourth quarters in Oklahoma City and San Antonio. His only two turnovers in Denver came in the fourth quarter and overtime. One unforced attempt to be fancy with a five-point lead and 2:17 left in OT yielded another classic instance of “Faces of Randy Wittman.” Then again, without fancy stuff on our calamari, we wouldn’t be treated to Wall’s between-the-legs assists to Gortat. Got to let stars try to shine.
So Washington escaped, 117-115—give Wall credit for making his free throws, and credit chance otherwise.
The Wizards are a very win-and-move on team. For a team with 30 wins to 15 losses, they haven’t often enacted their will to bend an opponent. Which is alright when you’re a franchise with 14 seasons of 30 or fewer wins since 1990. Flaws are OK. As long as they are recognized. Are the Wizards growing up past them, or are they settling for a pretty damn good living with them?
The Wizards beat the Nuggets with their feet full of bullet holes. By turns encouraging and disappointing, and wholly excruciating, the “craziest game of the year” (according to John Wall) culminated in a rare moment. After Denver’s Wilson Chandler hit a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to bring the score within two (117-115), Paul Pierce hurried to inbound the ball and threw it right at Ty Lawson, creating a really unfortunate situation: a wide-open Lawson, with 3 seconds left, taking a shot to tie it. But instead of getting to the basket, or dishing to one of his frontcourt teammates to his left, Lawson pulled up from 13 feet out, and … missed. He just missed, plain and simple.
Despite the basketball histrionics, there was joy to be found, even before the relief settled in. Pierce, whose left eye was swelling shut after an encounter with one of Nene’s limbs, had recently received an unsolicited vote of confidence from TNT’s Reggie Miller, false prophet, holder of bad opinions (at least for the night).
No offense to John Wall, GREAT player, but end of game situations, ball needs to be in the hands of Paul Pierce.. #JustMyOpinion
— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) January 26, 2015
That Wall went on to control the game, both with his passing and his defense, while Pierce almost fumbled away a hard-won victory, makes Miller a GREAT player that just can’t have the phone in his hands in end of game situations. #JustMyOpinion.
The overtime caper wasn’t the first escape of the evening. With under two seconds remaining and the game tied in regulation, Kenneth Faried was at the line with a chance to hit a pair of potentially game-winning free throws. He … missed both of them. What else can you say?
Pierce, after the game, summed it up well to media in Denver: “Thank you, Kenneth.” And then, on Lawson’s miss to end overtime: “Thank you, thank you, Ty Lawson.”
Let’s break out the red pens.
Nene Hilario, PF
Paul Pierce, SF
33 MIN | 4-9 FG | 10-14 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | -7 +/-
With the offense sagging, Pierce pressed the issue, getting to the line five more times than the rest of the team combined.
The Wizards signed Pierce in no small part for late-game situations, for finding baskets that just aren’t there, and for making his own luck. The free throws are great evidence of that. The botched inbounds play? Not so much.
Marcin Gortat, C
28 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 7 PTS | +11 +/-
Gortat saw fewer minutes than Kris Humphries in the contest, largely because Humphries was on fire. But hopefully the Polish Machine was entering some data into his mainframe, because Humphries, limited as he is in some ways, showed what Washington needs more from Gortat: ripping, tearing, offensive rebounding, and tip-ins at the basket. Gortat also allowed opponents to shoot 60 percent at the rim, while Humphries held opponents to 37.5 percent.
Accumulating 28 minutes in an overtime game is a nice reprieve from a health perspective, but it’s also telling. Gortat’s pick-and-roll game with Wall hasn’t yet become automatic (as it is between Wall and Nene), and without that in place, Gortat’s value decreases.
John Wall, PG
42 MIN | 8-16 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 16 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 19 PTS | +5 +/-
Wall had a hand in 10 of Washington’s 12 overtime points, either assisting or scoring on all but the first basket of the extra frame. He also shot 70 percent on attempts inside the 3-point line, found his teammates over and over again, and, most encouragingly, seemed to be testing out a probing dribble that worked like gangbusters from the jump. With his team down two in the final minute of regulation, Wall pushed the ball toward the basket, recognized he no longer had a lane, kept his dribble alive while pulling the ball back out, and then drove the other direction, opening a seam just big enough for Nene to catch and stretch to the basket for a layup.
And the 3-point attempts? Keep them coming, especially when they’re wide-open.
Bradley Beal, SG
28 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +2 +/-
At this point, it’s clear to me that Beal has a Bluetooth device snugly lodged in his ear that plays Aloe Blacc on repeat. Everyone who has watched Beal play knows he could be a fantastic NBA player one day, but if you watch enough of the team, you see the hard work scattered at his feet, yet to be taken up. As a defender, Beal gets caught out of position far too much, and still “ball watches,” even in late-game situations. In losses to the Thunder and Blazers, that was made manifest. As a shooter, he settles, again and again, for the easy way out, and struggles to finish through contact.
Against the Nuggets, Beal tried, valiantly, to get position on a driving Kenneth Faried in the waning seconds of regulation. He was still moving when Faried collided with him, and the Nuggets got two free throws while Beal was exiled after picking up his sixth foul. In a sense, he saved the game: Faried missed both.
Kris Humphries, PF
Otto Porter Jr., SF
2 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -5 +/-
It was Martell’s turn to play.
Martell Webster, SF
15 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +3 +/-
It was Martell’s turn to play! And for the first time this season, Webster turned in a good performance. Flashes of the Webster of old showed up against the Blazers, where Webster cut to the basket over and over for Andre Miller.
Against the Nuggets, Webster hit a few uncontested shots, and didn’t look like he was going to limp off the court at any moment.
Rasual Butler, SF
28 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 7 PTS | +8 +/-
Butler was more of a cog than a trebuchet against the Nuggets, playing his part in the ball movement offense that the Wizards attempt to run. His shot is falling off, but not precipitously enough for concern just yet.
Kevin Seraphin, C
14 MIN | 5-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -9 +/-
With almost as many points as minutes, Seraphin held up his end of the bargain. While Wittman may feel that it is a deal with the devil at times (Seraphin is not a willing passer), Seraphin’s passion for scoring has finally become a useful tool.
Andre Miller, PG
11 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -1 +/-
The Andre Miller I know and love doesn’t miss as many layups as this guy has over the last week. In the last four games, Miller is 1-for-9 at the rim. He, however, did hit a jumper in Jameer Nelson’s grill.
Perhaps the team should spend some practice time on inbound plays. Washington almost turned it over on several occasions late in the overtime period, and then actually turned it over late in the overtime period. All the cumulative “Faces of Randy Wittman” in the world would not have compared to the despairing glare should Ty Lawson have nailed that final shot.
John Wall and Kevin Seraphin both have big dogs, and they often share pictures of them on social media. But they are not the only animal lovers on the team.
Kris Humphries is the proud owner of two dogs. Brodie is a miniature pincher and Gizmo is a yorkshire terrier. Washington is the sixth NBA team that Humphries has played on during his decade-long career and his pet canines have been with him on each move.
“I have had them for nine years,” Humphries told me recently. “Brodie was born in Utah.”
Gizmo even has his own Instagram account and this clip of Kris trying to get him to dance to club music is hilarious:
Humphries is a big fan of the popular car service Uber. He routinely gives them a shout-out on Twitter.
With this type of promotion, you suspect maybe he is getting paid by Uber. Naw, he just really likes the using the app. Plus, it’s a positive thing to be advocating safe transportation options. Ty Lawson should have taken Humphries’ advice.
I asked the Minnesota native about his affinity towards the popular and controversial car service.
“It is great, because you don’t have to drive. Out here (D.C.) there isn’t much parking. It is easier just to go door to door. A lot of spots don’t have valet,” said Humphries.
Kris laughed when I referenced Uber’s surge pricing and he explained how he goes about getting his favorite type of ride: “I try to request the black car. ‘Request, nope, cancel, request,’ I flip around, I am always trying to get the SUV.”
This could be another reason Humphries doesn’t like normal taxis.
In my Kris Humphries social media deep dive, I found some other Twitter gems…
The Wizards and the Nuggets will both try to avoid matching their longest losing streaks for the season of three and six games respectively. The Nuggets are a franchise at a crossroad, not good enough to maintain relevancy in the deep Western Conference, but also not bad enough to stay in contention for a Top 5 draft pick. The Wizards, on the other hand, have the luxury of being one of the top tier teams in the Eastern Conference, but need to get focused for a very difficult stretch of games before the All-Star break.
These next two games against the Nuggets and Lakers are critical must-wins to assure at least a .500 record on their current four-game road trip—they’re also the only two non-playoff teams the Wizards will face until Brooklyn in D.C. on February 7. The Nuggets are not going to roll over for anyone, and with their floor general Ty Lawson returning to action from his recent DUI arrest, this should be a competitive game for the Wizards. Denver is coming into Sunday night’s game with the 12th ranked offense in the NBA, averaging 101.6 points per game, and should be a formidable test for a struggling Wizards defense which has been outscored in the second half in each of their nine last losses and in 14 of 19 games overall.
One of the Wizards’ major problems over this stretch has been the inconsistent play from their wing bench players. Rasual Butler has cooled down in the month of January, watching his points per game drop to 7.7 (39.2 FG%) after a healthy 11.6 points per game (47.6%) in the month of December. Coach Randy Wittman keeps trying to incorporate Martell Webster into the rotation at the expense of Otto Porter’s growth and development. Wittman has also tried to infuse a little more youth into the second unit by shifting his substitution pattern and allowing Bradley Beal to run with the bench mob in the second and fourth quarters. Beal, however, has struggled this season as a secondary ball-handler having increased his turnovers from 1.8 per 36 minutes last season to 2.1 per 36 this season.
Like Paul Pierce said back in December: “We have to build ourselves on great habits.” Sunday’s night’s game against the Nuggets needs to serve as a building block for getting back on track and finishing strong.
Stopping by TAI today is Justin Faudree (@SmoothsHoops), contributor to the ESPN TrueHoop blog Roundball Mining Co. Let’s get Rocky Mountain…
Teams: Wizards at Nuggets
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 3 points
@SmoothsHoops: That’s really impossible to judge because no one knows what the franchise’s plans are moving forward. Everything is very much a mystery. Does ownership and management still feel the team is good enough to contend? Would that make a coaching change more likely than a roster rebuild? What players would be available should a full rebuild be their chosen path? Do they think any player is untouchable? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions because I don’t see a coherent vision or plan. There have been rumblings the team is floating Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo in discussions. If they’re willing to part with Lawson, it would appear no one is off the table.
I would say Lawson and Afflalo are most likely to be playing for another team by February 20. The second tier would include Wilson Chandler and/or Danilo Gallinari and Darrell Arthur. The third tier might be Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson. The Nuggets are kind of stuck with no good way out. Lawson is good, but most playoff teams already feature point guards as good or better. Their assets are difficult to pin down. Who might want what Denver is offering? I don’t know.
Does this type of negative story, combined with his active Twitter personality (anointed the Social Media MVP by Bill Simmons in his latest trade value column), detract from the impact that Lawson is having on the court as the leader of the Nuggets and the de facto face of the franchise?
@SmoothsHoops: In my opinion, no. Lawson is still Denver’s best player. Regardless of what happens with him off the court, he will always be their best player. And while he may be the current face of the franchise, he is most likely not its leader. I believe Danilo Gallinari’s steady resolve occupies that role—even while he’s been injured. The negative publicity of this story is nothing new for the Nuggets. There’s been negativity surrounding this team since Masai Ujiri walked and George Karl was fired. Nothing can detract from what is already a difficult situation.
@SmoothsHoops: I believe Nuggets fans are concerned about both of those things. Sure, Brian Shaw might not be the best coach. But how good is his roster? Is the roster good enough to be coachable? Should they really be winning more games? It’s impossible to differentiate where the problems begin and end. My guess is it’s a little of both. The roster needs a serious influx of talent (as can be seen by what may or may not be returned in potential trades) and the coaching may not be up to snuff if and when the rebuild is complete. But like I said above, no one knows what’s going on with the Nuggets. There is no easy fix. Where would you even begin?
@SmoothsHoops: Yes, I think they believe to have found a hidden gem. They likely wouldn’t have traded Timofey Mozgov if they thought otherwise. And no one can blame them. Nurkic has been the team’s most (only?) pleasant surprise this season.
@SmoothsHoops: When pondering any such trade scenario, it’s best to look at the contract of the player returning. Seeing how Otto is owed $15.1 million over the next three years, I find it very hard for Denver’s front office to rationalize such a trade—unless a third or fourth team was involved to cushion the blow of some of Denver’s larger contracts. According to the ESPN Trade Machine, a Chandler-for-Porter straight-up swap would not work, as it takes the Wizards over the luxury tax. The Nuggets are in no place to be adding salary. However, they did just that in trading Nate Robinson for Jameer Nelson. So what do I know? Anything with Denver would be difficult to accomplish. The best answer is there are no easy answers.
When you tell your friends LaMarcus is putting off surgery and returning to the lineup pic.twitter.com/ksvMuJ1HGD
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 24, 2015
“It doesn’t change shit.” That was Marcin Gortat’s response to the news that LaMarcus Aldridge was going to skip surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb and suit up against the Wizards.
“We got to be ready to play,” Gortat continued. “He’s just one player—he’s really good but we’re going to go at him.”
That was nice and good, but Aldridge isn’t just the “straw that stirs the Blazers’ drink,” as Chris Lucia wrote in the Opening Statements, he’s the shot of MiO that ‘changes everything.’
The Blazers big man had a big game. Aldridge scored a game-high 26 points, leading all players with 16 in the second half, and went 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
Nene did a decent job crowding him from the opening tip, but his defensive know-how wasn’t enough. Aldridge hit shots and drew whistles all night and didn’t seem at all bothered by his bum left thumb. Nene fouled out in the fourth quarter, frustrated, scowling. And no other Wizards player was prepared to be the game-changer on defense, which was obvious to everyone watching: “Gortat really has no chance,” laughed the Blazers broadcast crew.
“I’m not into the rah-rah story,” Aldridge said post-game. “I just wanted to come back and play. I wanted to test it out at home, and versus [the Wizards] because I felt they were a physical team and if I could play against these guys that would be good. And I was OK.”
Understatement of 2015? Perhaps.
Here’s a definitive statement: There’s no way that the Wizards would have lost this game with Aldridge in a suit.
Nene Hilario, PF
28 MIN | 7-11 FG | 1-3 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 15 PTS | +4 +/-
Nene is the best defensive player on the Wizards, but he still couldn’t contain LaMarcus Aldridge, a world-class basketmaker. Aldridge got off to a red-hot start, scoring eight points on his first seven attempts and, as you read above, stayed busy till the final whistle.
Nene’s best play of the game didn’t even count. He sold a corner 3 with a shoulder shrug, removing Aldridge from the equation entirely, and raced to the hoop for a big dunk. The problem? The shot clock expired before the ball went through the hoop. Turnover.
His worst play was fouling Myles Leonard in the right corner with 68 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. Leonard made all three free throws to extend the Blazers’ lead to six.
Paul Pierce, SF
30 MIN | 7-10 FG | 3-4 3FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 19 PTS | -1 +/-
Pierce hit a walk up 3 to open the night, then a pull-up jumper from the top of the key, then swished his next look. He tried some slightly suspect jab-and-heaves from the midrange area as the game went on, but he’s made a career out of those looks, so he gets a pass. Strong showing, just not enough.
Marcin Gortat, C
31 MIN | 2-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | +3 +/-
For the second game in a row, Gortat failed to win a single trip to the free throw line. And although he rebounded fine, leading all Wizards, he’s become entirely dependent on handouts from John Wall on offense and made too many mistakes on defense: leaving his feet on pump fakes and not tracking the roll man with enough interest.
John Wall, PG
35 MIN | 10-17 FG | 5-5 FT | 4 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 3 TO | 25 PTS | +4 +/-
Twas a tale of two halves for John Wall. In the first, he did a nice job of distributing, penetrating well and dumping the ball off to his frontcourt players for easy buckets. The floater was working for him, too: the highlight was a high-arcing push-shot to end the first quarter, giving the Wizards a 30-18 lead.
The dribble-drive action that worked so well in the first half wasn’t there in the second. Neither was his jump shot. Worse, and especially frustrating: Wall only attempted two shots in the paint in his 35 minutes.
To cap off a very average second half, he double-teamed LaMarcus Aldridge on an inbounds play, leaving Lillard wide-open from the top of the arc. Lillard buried the shot—as you’d expect—to extend the lead to seven points with under three minutes to play. Later, after the Wizards gave up an offensive rebound to Portland with 17 seconds to play, Wall let 10 seconds come off the clock before fouling Lillard. Dagger.
Bradley Beal, SG
32 MIN | 7-15 FG | 1-4 3FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 2 TO | 16 PTS | -4 +/-
Bradley Beal, early in the first quarter, outran the entire Blazers squad for a transition dunk. Portland’s color commentator Mike Rice mistook him for John Wall. Not sure why Beal doesn’t flash that speed more often…
Another thing: He has a bit of a habit of picking up his dribble too early on drives, making shot attempts in the paint much more difficult than they have to be. This tendency also leads to more midrange jump shots than you’d ever like to see—in one stretch during the second quarter, Beal ended three possessions with midrange Js as the Blazers’ second unit was making a comeback.
Sad Panda misread screen action a few times, got caught up, and allowed West Matthews to have clean looks at the basket. This happened late in the game too, unfortunately. “All day, I’m gonna make that shot,” jabbed Matthews after one swish.
(Five of Matthews’ seven made field goals came from 3-point land.)
Kris Humphries, PF
19 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 STL | 4 PTS | -12 +/-
Humphries got absolutely scrambled by a Thomas Robinson dunk in the first quarter. I’m not sure he ever recovered because he missed open looks and was often out of position on defense and late on rotations. Rough night.
Martell Webster, SF
19 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 5 PTS | -7 +/-
He ran round. He hit one 3, his second of the year. He also air-balled a wide-open 3 from the corner.
Rasual Butler, SF
16 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -3 +/-
Made a nice pass to referee Violet Palmer.
Kevin Seraphin, C
17 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 4 PTS | -1- +/-
The first real taste of the #KSLife came on the defensive end. Wild, right? He blocked a driving layup by Chris Kaman. That wasn’t a harbinger of a show-stopping night, though. On the possession where the Blazers took their first lead of the night, Seraphin doubled Wes Matthews for absolutely no reason, allowing LaMarcus Aldridge to have a wide-open shot from the top of the key—Humphries recognized the error but couldn’t make up enough ground to disrupt the shot.
His only made field goals were a pair of long 2s in the fourth quarter. That’s unacceptable because the second unit is entirely driven by Andre Miller post-ups, which didn’t work at all, and Serabot stuff. The Wizards desperately needed more.
Andre Miller, PG
13 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -9 +/-
Steve Blake made Andre Miller look slower than usual. Blake also broke The Professor’s ankles with an in-and-out move, finishing the play with a layup and a mean mug.
Miller did make a nice pass or two, but he is not John Wall.
When the Wizards offense is firing on all cylinders, it is easy to get behind Coach Randy Wittman’s philosophy of taking “open shots,” which may rely heavily on the derided long 2 but can effectively grind down the opponent if the Wizards adhere to Wittman’s mantra of locking down on defense. Against Portland, it appeared for most of the night that Wittman’s “old school” basketball was going to get the better of Portland’s “bombs away from behind the arc” approach. Washington took a 55-45 lead into the half with the offense shooting at a tick over 50 percent. Everything for the Wizards was working. John Wall couldn’t miss from the field and was distributing the ball with aplomb, Nene was holding his own against LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, and Bradley “Sad Panda” Beal appeared to have been rejuvenated by the cool air of the Pacific Northwest, attacking the basket and being aggressive on both sides of the floor. It was the best possible performance that Washington could have asked for against a strong Western Conference opponent, and yet it wasn’t enough.
Despite their best efforts, the Wizards were done in by Portland running one of those crazy newfangled offenses that relies on chucking it from deep and letting their two stars (Aldridge and Damian Lillard) get to line and convert free throws. With 4:28 left in the fourth quarter and Washington leading 84-81, the Portland offense started to punch holes in the Wizards defense. Wesley Matthews (noted Wizard killer) drilled a 3 with 4:08 remaining to pull the Trail Blazers within one. After Nene missed a contested hook shot, Portland went right back to the well with Matthews, who hit another 3 and put Portland in front for good at 87-85. The Wizards would valiantly stay within striking distance, but the stake was driven into their heart when Nene fouled out of the game with 1:07 remaining by contesting backup center Meyers Leonard’s 3-point attempt. Leonard converted all three of his free throws.
The sum total can be read as such: Portland went 13-for-31 from 3 and went 20-for-20 at the free line. The Wizards shot 5-for-15 from 3 (including Paul Pierce’s 2,000th) and were 11-for-14 from the line. Washington executed better, ran their offense almost perfectly (they ended up shooting almost 49% from the field, while Portland shot 40%), and still ended up losing the game. The blame should not be focused on a missed Nene free throw or Martell Webster’s air-balled 3 from the corner, but on the sole fact that no adjustments were made in the offensive scheme to counter a well-scouted offense that is solely predicated on long-range shooting. The Wizards escaped earlier this month with a win against Houston (a team that, like Portland, also shoots 3s in bunches) and it took a Herculean effort from Beal to pull out that win against the Rockets. Wittman is going to have to go into his bag of tricks and tweak something, because while the Wizards are fully capable of beating most teams with their current offensive set, they will nine times out of ten find themselves coming up short against a team that understands that three points is more than two.
Classic Church Lady #WittmanFace. pic.twitter.com/s3Yut3w3MB
— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) January 25, 2015
UPDATE: So, it seems that LaMarcus Aldridge is going to hold off on surgery to fix a torn ligament in his left thumb and will play versus the Wizards tonight. What say you, Marcin Gortat?
BREAKING: LaMarcus Aldridge (ligament tear left thumb) puts surgery on hold; will play tonight versus Washington.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 24, 2015
Gortat on Aldridge: “It doesn’t change shit. We got to be ready to play. He’s just 1 player. He’s really good but we’re going to go at him.”
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgeccastillo) January 24, 2015
After beating the Spurs and Bulls in back-to-back games (after getting destroyed by the Hawks by 31), the Wizards since don’t exactly find themselves in a position backed by confident bragging rights. They got handled by the Nets by 20, in Washington—probably the most embarrassing loss of the season to date. They beat the Nets (in Brooklyn) and 76ers as perhaps expected, but then got out-clutched by the OKC Thunder this past Wednesday
Now Washington embarks on a four-game Western Conference swing. Ten out of their next 16 games will be on the road. First up, Portland. The Blazers have been hit with a bout of bad luck. They lost their lead star, LaMarcus Aldridge, for 6-to-8 weeks, then lost two games in the row (one to the Celtics in Portland), and have already slipped from the 2-seed to 3-seed in the West. After facing the Wizards this evening, Portland will play seven out of 10 on the road. The Blazers also might be without Nic Batum (wrist sprain, doubtful) and Chris Kaman (leg contusion, questionable) against Washington; centers Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland are currently out for an extended period of time.
Meanwhile, the Wizards are fully healthy but struggling in a search for consistency. They don’t have time to feel bad for Portland. Besides, Damian Lillard still exists. John Wall’s adidas buddy just might be good enough to beat the Wizards on his own. The Wizards have won two of their last three games in Portland (remember Jordan Crawford’s game winner, for olde tyme sake, which happened just over two years ago) and four of the last six versus the Trail Blazers overall.
Stopping by TAI today is Chris Lucia (@chrislucia_be), staff writer for the SB Nation blog, Blazers Edge. Let’s dive into the Q&A.
Teams: Wizards at Trail Blazers
Time: 10:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Moda Center at the Rose Quarter, Portland, Oregon
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 4 points (as of Saturday morning)
The Blazers have scored 108 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court, 2.7 points above the team average, which is a team-best. So who rises to the prophecy of the next man up cliché?
@chrislucia_be: Total bummer is right. Aldridge is the straw that stirs the Blazers’ drink, so to speak. Most of the offense runs through him and his teammates find many of their open shots due to how much opposing defenses have to account for the 6-foot-11 power forward who can shoot 20-footers like they’re layups.
Realistically, there is no “next man up” behind Aldridge. So far, there’s not a single player on Portland’s roster that coach Terry Stotts can put in the starting power forward spot and be comfortable with in big minutes game-in and game-out. He’ll have to adjust his playing rotation to suit the matchups the team faces on a nightly basis.
Dorell Wright can stretch the floor and create a bit of offense, but he’d get roasted in the post by a traditional power forward. Thomas Robinson brings the energy but sometimes the passion he plays with can be as big of a detriment as it is a benefit, and Victor Claver has seen some time at the four spot lately, as well. I’d expect to see Meyers Leonard starting once Robin Lopez and/or Joel Freeland return from injury in the next few weeks. He’s got the size, athleticism and the shooting range to best replicate what Aldridge does offensively—compared to Portland’s other options right now, at least—but Stotts needs him right now to back up Chris Kaman at center.
So for now it’s going to be either Wright, Robinson or Claver at the power forward spot depending on the specific matchup. I’d anticipate Robinson starting tonight against Washington to go against Nene, but at this point, it’s a toss-up until we see how Stotts’ rotations unfold in the coming weeks.
You’re not starting a branding new team with one of these point guards, you’re adding them to an already veteran laden team … in the Adriatic League. Rank who you would choose.
@chrislucia_be: Hmmmm… So, who would I choose to add to a veteran Euroleague team? Lillard, Curry and Paul’s shooting range would dominate overseas where the 3-point line is shorter. Although Lowry, Westbrook, Wall, and Teague could all do a ton of damage by getting into the paint and kicking out or finishing at the rim among smaller frontcourt players.
I think my order would go something like this, though it would ultimately change depending on the talent around them: Curry, Lowry, Lillard, Paul, Wall, Westbrook, Teague. Really, though, you can’t go wrong with a single one of these guys, and you could even include players like Mike Conley, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe or Ty Lawson, too. Point guard is such a stacked position in the NBA right now, it’s crazy.
@chrislucia_be: Aldridge is 100 percent, no doubt a five-year max player. Would I be cautious to give $110-plus million to a guy who turns 30 in July? Sure, but it’s not my money. Also consider that Portland isn’t likely to ever attract a player of his caliber via free agency, so they have to keep the homegrown talent around, and Aldridge is top 3 at his position and arguably the best power forward in the game right now. Blazers fans are hoping that his production doesn’t tail off as he advances further into his 30s—à la Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, etc.—and that he’ll remain free of serious injuries in the long-term. Paying a guy like that $22-ish million a year isn’t going to look too bad if/when the salary cap goes way up in the next couple years, either.
Lillard’s sticking around, and I’d be surprised if Wesley Matthews didn’t get a long-term deal from Portland this summer. Batum and Lopez won’t even be 30 by 2017, so I think Blazers GM Neil Olshey will also try to find a way to pay them to stick around.
Continuity is a buzzword right now in NBA circles, but it’s pretty justified. Look at the top teams in the league right now and you’ll see that most of them have minimal roster turnover (at least in the starting lineup) from year-to-year. If Olshey can find a way to keep Aldridge, Lillard, Batum, Matthews, and Lopez in Portland, 2017-18 would be their fifth year together as the core of the team and they’d all be in their late 20s or early 30s. I’d imagine Olshey and team owner Paul Allen will try to figure out a way to keep this core in tact as hard as possible.
@chrislucia_be: Well, yeah, Batum isn’t shooting nearly as well as usual, and it’s inspired a vocal minority of Portland fans to sound off about how Olshey should flip him right now while he still has perceived value across the league.
Personally, I find that a bit reactionary, short-sighted and under-informed. Batum has spent his summers for years playing with the French national team, he suffered a knee contusion in November then aggravated the same knee injury and messed up his shooting wrist a few weeks later in a game against the Bucks when Larry Sanders sent him to the floor on a hard foul. Batum has been tired and banged up all year, so it’s no surprise that he’s not able to score consistently at his career levels.
I’m not worried about him long-term, and I think when fans in Portland focus solely on his lower shooting percentages, they’re not taking into account everything else he does on the court, which is initiate the offense, grab rebounds, and consistently defend up to four different positions effectively. Yeah, you’d like to see Batum hit his open 3s—and eventually Stotts will need him to do that—but he’s clearly playing through pain right now.
If he’s still shooting like this after the All-Star break and into the playoffs when the team will need him most, I’ll be much more worried. Until then, though, I think Batum deserves the benefit of the doubt.
But with T-Rob, who’s been on three teams already by this his third season, what has led to his comfort zone in Portland? He numbers are better than previous, how close is he to performing to a fifth overall pick levels?
@chrislucia_be: It’s probably important to note that Robinson was more of a financial casualty when the Rockets traded him to Portland the summer before last, when Houston GM Daryl Morey was clearing all the room he possibly could to acquire Dwight Howard.
That said, Robinson certainly hasn’t lived up to his billing as a No. 5 draft pick and that was made clear back in October when Olshey declined to pick up the (roughly) $5 million team option on the 23-year-old power forward for next season.
Robinson may not ever be a full-time starter in the NBA, but his athleticism, hustle and effort—particularly on the glass—can turn the tide of a game in Portland’s favor pretty quickly. He plays his best in front of the home crowd, for sure, when he can feast off the energy in the Moda Center. Being behind Aldridge in the rotation has probably helped stabilize Robinson’s outlook. He’ll never be a big minutes guy for the Blazers by virtue of him backing up the best power forward in the game, but he can be a rotational player who can provide a spark offensively and come through with big rebounds. Robinson’s energy can ignite the team on the defensive end, though it can also go both ways.
I’d say he’s comfortable here because there’s really no question what his role is and Stotts seems to run his bench rotation as a meritocracy, so Robinson knows what he needs to show in practice and in limited court-time to stay on the floor.]]>
You’ve surely seen Kris Humphries. Somewhere between bro and brah, reality and TV, boxers and briefs, the land of 10,000 lakes and the Potomac River, swimming and basketball, Uber rides and ‘fashion’, the midrange and the 3-point line.
These days he’s no longer an ‘item’ athlete; he’s looking to avoid controversy. Doubt Humphries would come first in any “most disliked player in the NBA” surveys today. Out of the ashes but perhaps still in a cocoon, this bird (and/or butterfly) has a flight path with two destinations: the midrange to drop jumpers and the glass to snatch boards.
“That’s what he does (rebound). I told Humphries that’s the reason he got paid—it wasn’t that jump shot.” This is what Paul Pierce said with coatings of facetiousness after Humphries pulled down 20 rebounds against the L.A. Lakers in Game 17 of the season. Or maybe the future Hall of Fame veteran actually believed what he said. Maybe Pierce’s mind has changed since. What matters is that he was wrong.
Ernie Grunfeld, Tommy Sheppard, and staff knew exactly what they were doing when they pegged Humphries as a free agent target this past summer. Once Trevor Booker signed a partially-guaranteed two-year, $10 million contract with the Utah Jazz, the Wizards moved fast to sign Humphries for cheaper—three-years, $13 million, with a team option for the third year.
It was hard for Washington’s front office and coaching staff to lose a player like Booker—a home-grown draft pick—but statistics played a large role in shifting their equation to Humphries. In losing Booker Washington would be losing presence and muscle, that’s for sure. To their surprise, and to the chagrin of Wizards fans, Booker has found a 3-point shot in Utah—1-for-10 from deep over his first four NBA seasons in Washington, 14-for-39 (almost 36%) so far this season with the Jazz.
Instead, the Wizards will more than take what they have in Humphries, who also provides presence—different than Booker’s but speaking to the soul of the team nonetheless. Also, Humphries is a full two inches taller with almost three more inches in wingspan. Booker—bless him and his cereal—was often vertically challenged in the restricted area. Humphries is a better rebounder than Booker (10.5 rebs per 36 mins. to 8.9), turns the ball over less (1.3 TOs per 36 mins. to 2.3), and is a better free throw shooter (74.6% to 62.9%). These metrics are some of the reasons why Washington, in essence, chose Humphries over Booker, and why the Wizards’ choice has a slight edge in defensive presence. Humphries’ Defensive Real Plus/Minus of minus-0.65 ranks 51st* amongst NBA power forwards; Booker’s minus-1.26 ranks 60 (*minimum 20 minutes).
But all of that is merely icing. The ultimate difference, contrary to Paul Pierce’s belief, has been Humphries’ jump shot. Half the time, it’s good every time. And it has been somewhat of a revelation, and it has given John Wall a true stretch-4 (not named Drew Gooden) who’s also smart enough to find seams in the offense that Optimus Dime creates with his speed.
On 2-pointers from 15 feet (about free throw line distance) to the 3-point line, Humphries is shooting 50 percent (67-134) through the first half of the season. This ranks fourth in the NBA (minimum 75 attempts) after Kevin Love (56.6%), Dirk Nowitzki (51.5%), and Al Horford (50.5%). In comparison, Booker is shooting 34.4 percent on 2s beyond 15 feet. Sometimes it’s better to be a reliable threat from an area that the defense gives you instead of an occasional gimmick—not all midrange jumpers are bad, provided the players who are taking them are open and can make them, and not launching with abandon.
“He’s got a really good jump shot,” Boston coach Brad Stevens told me when his Celtics last came to Washington. “I’m not as familiar with his time in Brooklyn, other than just watching some tape. But when he got there you could tell he’s got a good 15-to-17-foot jumper and I think he’s expanded it even more.”
From a TAI analysis on Humphries when he signed last August:
Last season (in Boston) 36.7 percent of Humphries’ field goal attempts came from beyond 16 feet but inside the 3-point line. In his prior 245 games with the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, only 18.4 percent of his shots came from that range (just under his career average of 18.7 percent).
Humphries 16 Feet to the 3-Point Line, FG%:
Humphries just keeps getting better from 16 feet to the 3-point line (note that I used 15 feet as a starting distance above by means of the free throw line; Basketball-Reference.com breaks its data into the “16-feet < 3-point line” range).
Also: thanks a lot, Rajon Rondo and John Wall.
Wall has assisted on 44 Humphries field goals over their 615 minutes together. Rondo dropped 43 dimes to Humphries in just 415 minutes last season. (Yes, Wall is a much better scorer than Rondo and this year’s Wizards team has more overall options than last year’s Celtics.)
Credit Stevens for helping condition Humphries’ game, too.
“He’s told me that he wasn’t as used to playing in hand-offs and those type of things, and we asked him to do all that and I thought he did a really good job,” said Stevens. “And when Witt (Randy Wittman) called [last] summer and we talked about Kris, I had nothing but great things to say about him. I hope that it continues to be a great relationship for all of them because he certainly seems to be playing very well for them.”
So far, so good. You can check Vines of Humphries conducting dribble hand-offs with Bradley Beal and with Martell Webster.
“Looking at Coach’s offense, the bigs handle the ball. You’re running a lot of dribble hand-offs, you’re getting shots in a flow,” Humphries told me about his tutelage under Stevens. “So for me it was like, ‘OK, I really got to improve my shot and work on it.’ And I feel like I got a lot better playing with different aspects of my game—handing the ball, seeing cuts, all those kind of things.”
Seeing cuts? For sure. This Vine shows Humphries finding the space (with some credit to Otto Porter for the screen) as Andre Miller initiates offense from the post. Don’t leave him open either, Dirk Nowitzki. Humphries has even pulled out a shoulder shrug after making a jumper this year; perhaps he was as baffled as we were as to why Taj Gibson left him so open.
In a Wizards offensive set that I’m particularly fond of—putting a shooter in each corner and letting John Wall and Marcin Gortat work the high screen-and-roll—Humphries has found a knack for finding space in the defense along the baseline, acting as a safety valve for when opposing defenses are able to negate both Wall and the roll man as options. This Vine shows that; also note how deceptive Wall is when he makes this pass. The moving diagram of this action can be seen here via NBA.com. (UPDATE: Humphries also found the same type of shot against the Nuggets in Denver recently.)
But what about 3-pointers? Should Humphries learn to launch them like Trevor Booker?
He went 2-for-6 from deep his rookie season, 2004-05 in Utah. He shot 17-for-50 his one season at the University of Minnesota. Over 10 NBA seasons since, he’s 0-for-17 from deep, including 0-for-4 with the Wizards.
“Umm… You know what? I think some guys you do (ask to extend their range), and maybe in the corner, but I think that his comfort level is just inside the line,” said Brad Stevens.
What say you, Kris? Do you 3?
“I work on it all the time. My 3-ball’s wet, it’s just not something we’ve needed on this team right now,” he said, in essence dropping the mic on the interview process and exiting the locker room.
Is that so? Well, Nene has been feeling spry lately. Maybe one day we’ll see the 4-man in Washington’s offense hitting a long ball as the trailer on the break or when planted in the corner. Or maybe Kris Humphries can just keep doing what he’s been doing; his marriage to the Wizards seems to be working so far.
With just under four seconds remaining in overtime of an incredibly competitive game, the Thunder inbounded the ball to Russell Westbrook. The plan, according to John Wall, was to deny the inbound pass just enough so that Westbrook had to catch the ball moving away from the basket and toward halfcourt. But Bradley Beal was overzealous and came out too far, enough that Anthony Morrow, the passer, initially looked for another recipient for the inbound. Morrow faked a pass toward the basket and away from Beal and Westbrook’s positioning battle. Beal froze for just a second, Westbrook looped back around towards Morrow, and caught the inbounds on the run with Beal already left for dead in his wake. Westbrook sped past a sealed-off Paul Pierce (and the other three reaching Wizards), and converted the layup with relative ease. He then rode an imaginary pony past the Wizards bench while Marcin Gortat gripped the sides of his own face in a suddenly familiar agony.
Everyone had their own take, all without the benefit of a second look:
Randy Wittman: “I don’t know if Brad went for a steal or lost his balance, I don’t know. Westbrook jumped into the backcourt, which is fine, but now you got to make him catch the ball in the backcourt. I don’t know for sure, like I said, I haven’t looked back on the tape yet, but somehow he got free and Brad was on him. He had a full head of steam to the basket.”
Paul Pierce: “Truthfully, I am not even sure. We are playing so fast right now. I just saw Westbrook coming down the middle. I was the guy right there. I had an opportunity to step up. I felt a little push (from Steven Adams) but there are no excuses. Maybe I could have fouled him or prevented him.”
John Wall: “We tried to deny them the ball, and had the opportunity where we denied them too far to half court. We have to try and make them catch the ball out and come back to the basket.”
Russell Westbrook: “Just get a shot. Try to find a way to get a shot in. My job is to try to attack the basket and that is what I tried to do.”
Kevin Durant: “I was going to try and end the game myself, Coach Brooks drew up a great play—Russ ran to the halfcourt line and they threw two at him and he was able to get free. Coach said whoever catches the ball be aggressive, so it wasn’t just a play for me, it was a team play and Russ made a phenomenal move, and Steve cleared the lane for him as well. Big win for us.”
Now that we’ve raked the moment over the coals of a soggy, amateur campfire, it’s time to move on. This game was ugly, but not as ugly as ESPN analyst Hubie Brown indicated. The two teams combined to go 13-for-59 on 3-pointers. The Wizards alone went 1-for-7 in the first quarter. And, aside from Gortat’s 3-point attempt, that was … encouraging? Yes, encouraging (as an airball can be). Pierce and Beal both missed wide-open looks, and they looked to the naked eye like they were attempts that could, if the need should arise, be replicated.
As surly as you like, Randy Wittman asserted after the game that while the Wizards have to be better at getting to the line “especially when we aren’t shooting the ball well.” He was, as evidenced by his strong reaction to a fair question about Wall drawing more free throws, only speaking generally, and definitely not about John Wall on the ill-fated, barely worth mentioning final “possession” of overtime, in which Wall caught the ball far from the basket with 0.8 seconds remaining and fired up a desperation shot.
Part of it is getting to the line, but free throws are a symptom of the greater virtue of driving to the basket with more regularity. The Wizards don’t have many capable ballhandlers, and even secondary ballhandler Bradley Beal doesn’t have a great handle, yet. It’s a weakness, but an aspect of the game that has to be remedied come playoff-time, when the ability to get to the hoop for an easier look (also a great way to open up shooters from 3) could be the only way to break down a playoff defense.
The long road to those rocky final seconds started off smoothly enough. Nene specifically was brilliant. Early in the game, the Brazilian backed down Serge Ibaka once, twice, faked a shot, and while Ibaka was up in the air, Nene tucked neatly underneath, stretching his arm to the hoop for a layup while Ibaka crashed clumsily down to make the basket an and-1. After the first quarter, though, the offense flatlined, with Wizards whiffing on layup and long-ball alike. Spectacular plays died on the table with a fumble or a failure to keep concentration long enough to finish through contact. With the Wizards in a supreme slump, some timely Paul Pierce layups in the third quarter (by way of his typically crafty footwork) kept them resembling an NBA offense.
Down seven points with under five minutes remaining, Wall and Pierce connected to go 4-for-7, with two of those 3-point
answers by Pierce. Wall had a chance to win the game in regulation, but the final play was another quiet disaster, a snow globe of a play, where Wall and his defender were hermetically sealed off from the rest of the court. They swayed left, they swayed right, and an isolation shot was taken with two seconds left in the fourth quarter—air ball. These deflating plays rarely work, don’t feature any movement by Wall’s teammates, and feel expressly like giving up.
But as Topper Shutt, local weatherman, pointed to a photo of Kevin Durant in a Wizards jersey and made the universal signal for “I beg you” during a schtick on the arena’s big screen, and the discomforting cheers crashed into the pixels making up Shutt’s face, I realized that nothing even mattered anymore.
I called on the Earthmother, and bid her welcome me into the soil, far from the devices and buzzing of modern life. The Wizards played on, but they played on in a world changed. A world where the idea of ‘Topper’ begging Durant to “join us,” to essentially “run home, Jack!”* all over the Thunder in the middle of a professional** basketball game exists. The image was burned so far beyond my retinas that it may have created additional neon circuitry to a brain in an already overburdened corpus begging to just sleep already. And in that sleep of death, what wins may come!
Things will get better, though. The season marches on. But hot damn, that Kevin Durant is a hell of a player.
*”Hook” is a good movie.
**At least, it had been professional up to that point.
It was a grinding affair. An awkwardly grinding affair. Like the doughy but confident underage kid who snuck into an Irish bar with a dance floor (yes, those exist, at least in America), roaming around, bobbing his head to Top 40 hits, occasionally stopping to awkwardly peddle his dancing wares (in his mind, a mating ritual) lest he look too awkward standing still. The scene, as dark and murky basement dance floors are wont to do, featured obscured talent just worthy enough to serve as a distraction.
We’re talking about last night’s Wizards basketball game versus the Thunder, right? I think so.
The thud of missed shots acted as the bass. The cheap courting of the other team’s star acted as the screeching treble. Nothing sounded right. At least the competition, available at a minimum, served as a nice backdrop.
These are two good teams, Washington and Oklahoma City, and their overtime battle was an exhilarating rug burn, leaving the Wizards shrugging their shoulders at the cross roads of ‘They have superstars who can just wake up ready for the catwalk’ and ‘We are a team trying to escape bone-headed plays on a wobbly ladder of consistency.’
The Wiz Kids, not all fully injected with Paul Pierce’s gusto, tried to skip some rungs, and that ultimately led to Russell Westbrook skipping around and Kevin Durant supremely satisfied that he could give his hometown a show.
The Wizards attempted 10 more uncontested field goals than the Thunder but only made five more of those shots.
The Thunder attempted 12 more contested field goals than Washington and made seven more.
In most worlds, that doesn’t work out for the visiting team. In Washington’s world of unfamiliar basketball relevance, without protection of throat-slashing stars who will dunk on the nub where a head once stood atop a neck, it
’s amounts to a beta dog licking its wounds and searching through grass and dirt for sustenance while gazing at the backside s of an alpha: not exactly seeing the feast of meat and bone hanging from a mouth and leading to a satisfied stomach, but knowing that it’s there nonetheless.
The gist? Westbrook and Durant combined for 66 points on 22-for-51 from the field. Washington’s starters not named Nene combined for 56 points on 21-for-60.
But hey, basketball.
Nene Hilario, PF
34 MIN | 9-14 FG | 6-9 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 24 PTS | 0 +/-
Nene made a last-resort jumper off great ball movement on the first offensive possession for Washington. (I still need to find that stat for his field goal percentage after knocking down the first attempt from distance.) But on this night, Nene didn’t rely on his jumper: 10 of his 14 attempts came at the rim and he made eight of them. Looking as comfortable (and spry) as he’s ever been, he took it to both Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams in the post, mostly Adams. There was one devastating move where he pivoted the New Zealander out of his shorts. He scored nine of his points in overtime, when Washington’s offense finally managed to get movement and action with high ball screens. This more than made up for airballing a corner 3 and then missing two free throws within 40 seconds midway through the fourth. There were also a play, maybe two, where Nene was uncharacteristically out of position on defense. It was that kind of night all around, but also, Nene was the only Wizard who truly showed up.
Paul Pierce, SF
37 MIN | 5-13 FG | 2-2 FT | 12 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -2 +/-
Pierce started the game by jetting past a sleeping Kevin Durant on the baseline and dunking on Anthony Roberson. He then missed six 3-pointers, looking short on many his shots—to the point where Hubie Brown had to say something. Pierce did other things while he was cold from the field, keeping his team warm like the sweater of an old grizzled sailor, eating rebounds like biscuits, de-robing Durant a couple times. He knitted them a mitten, grabbing an offensive board and put-back, then followed that with a cutting layup midway through the third quarter. Pierce knitted another mitten with some heroic 3s in the fourth quarter (being super wide-open and at the top of the key also limited miles on old legs in the equation). Pierce didn’t get much of a chance to do anything in overtime, other than allow himself to get sealed (perhaps illegally) by Steven Adams on Westbrook’s game-winner.
Marcin Gortat, C
37 MIN | 5-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -5 +/-
After that one, Marcin Gortat needs to have amnesia that would stun a psychiatrist (and Bradley Beal). It was quite the forgettable evening. He…
A tiny bit of positive: Gortat logged three blocks—one came versus Durant, there should have been at least one more.
John Wall, PG
44 MIN | 6-17 FG | 4-4 FT | 6 REB | 13 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 18 PTS | +5 +/-
As has often been the case with All-Star John Wall, the point guard, he started the game measured with the efficiency of an overachieving manager at a plastic spork factory who likes to make sure all his employees feel special. The Wizards’ offense looked smooth in the first quarter, scoring 31 points despite going 1-for-7 from 3. But then sometimes and later on, Wall tried to take all the credit, but mostly missed jumpers. He tied his season-high (previously set in OKC) with six 3-point attempts, making two (which is also how many he made in OKC).
So, a B-minus is generous considering that Wall missed a “hero” jumper toward the very end of regulation and that he seemed apathetic toward Washington’s chances, down 3 in overtime with 0.8 seconds left, placing himself so far away from the basket that his only choice was a desperation heave.
Bradley Beal, SG
42 MIN | 5-21 FG | 2-2 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | -6 +/-
Beal got some plays run for him early, investigated some forays to the basket, is still not confident enough, nor capable, to drive on the B/W Parkway alone.
Let’s put it this way: Beal pretty much sucked worse than Dion Waiters. But, unlike Waiters, he doesn’t come across as an arrogant basketball ignoramus, and he did other things to involve himself in the game—such as air-balling a 3-pointer but hanging around the basket to receive a pass off a Paul Pierce-gathered offensive rebound for a dunk.
Beal’s forgettable performance turned disastrous when he misplayed the final defensive possession in overtime, allowing himself to be distracted by the concept of Russell Westbrook’s conceptual fashion when the gambled for a conceptual steal. No dice, said Russ, the alpha dog. He won the night and Beal went back to chewing on post-game bamboo. At least he admitted it: “I got caught ball watching.”
Kris Humphries, PF
19 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2 +/-
Humphries hit one shot, a jumper from the short corner, and he played nice help defense on Westbrook at one juncture … but that ultimately led to a Nick Collison bucket, and no one wins when Nick Collison scores. Not totally sure why Humphries gets a ‘B’—the nine rebounds were cool, I guess.
Otto Porter Jr., SF
7 MIN | 0-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 1 PTS | +4 +/-
Can’t be missing those wide-open baseline jumpers like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming paddleboat in shin-deep, lukewarm water, Otto. Body almost got snatched by Kendrick Perkins on a routine play, too.
Rasual Butler, SF
25 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | +5 +/-
Butler must have some sort of karma. As Hubie Brown was bragging about him over the ESPN broadcast, he sat in the lane on defense, seeing ball and man, and picked off a pass for the steal. Butler, fully aware and dedicated to John Wall, then sprinted up the court with his point guard and ultimately received a pass for the dunk.
Karma, however, stops at Kevin Durant.
Butler’s efforts to defend him were valiant—Durant went 3-for-5 with eight points with Butler in the defending area. Two of those makes, 3-pointers, came in the fourth quarter. And it was nothing that Butler did or didn’t do, it’s just with guys like him, guys like Durant smell blood, and all the karma in the world is no match for teeth sharp enough to cut bone.
Kevin Seraphin, C
11 MIN | 4-9 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | -2 +/-
Kevin Seraphin, out of any Wizard, represents the ups and downs of life. He started his game with an offensive rebound and impressed (Hubie Brown and me) with his composure. On a couple possessions Seraphin was very Nene-like from the high post, moving the defense with hesitation and the threat to pass before attacking the basket.
As goes life, Seraphin got dunked on by a New Zealander, almost got eviscerated by a Durantula, and followed a nice step-back jump hook against Kendrick Perkins by getting his shot blocked by the sour-faced one on the other end. C’est la vie.
Andre Miller, PG
9 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -7 +/-
The Professor almost had a nice maneuver against center Steven Adams and almost scored at the rim. Washington’s offense was otherwise a man with the shakes trying to cut a pea with cheap diner silverware on a cheap porcelain plate when Miller was in the game.
I wonder what Nate Robinson’s spirit animal is. Just a little bit.