Yes. It’s that time to ask the question that will be asked from now until the end of the season… are the Washington Wizards better without John Wall?
Since Wall has gone down, the Wizards are 3-2 and the ball doesn’t seem to stick as much. This doesn’t mean that the Wizards are better without Wall. What it does mean is that the Wizards are “different” without Wall.
The NBA has moved into an era of more ball movement. It’s a different type of ball movement than in the past. Don’t expect to see the ball movement you saw from the Bulls in their Triangle offense. A lot of the ball movement comes off of dribble penetration with extra passes being made on the perimeter due to the defense’s rotation patterns. The ball frequently ends with a wing or corner 3 or a dump down to the post when the dribbler isn’t shooting the ball.
The Wizards came into the season wanting to shoot more three pointers. They are far from being the only team that had this in mind. See Bucks, Milwaukee. The problem with this edict is you have to shoot them well and it’s hard to do that when a ball dominant point guard isn’t a threat from there. The ‘what about’ crew would bring up Ben Simmons. The difference in the Simmons comparison is his size. Simmons causes so many match-up problems because he has the skill to post up, distribute and get in the lane at 6′ 10″. Furthermore, the Sixers have done a decent job with constructing a roster around Simmons’ limitations. In theory, as Simmons’ game grows, the skillset of the “help” will change which should make Philadelphia more of a threat to come out of the East.
Wall isn’t going to be you with size. He can try to beat you off of speed but, even then, how often do you see him do that especially at the end of games. He dribbles the air out of the ball and then shoots a three on a team where Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are much more dependable out there. So how do you get them the ball in that situation? It has to be in action. It can’t be a 1-4 set with Wall dribbling for 18 seconds. Where the Wizards could miss Wall is in transition. His ability to be a one man fast break and/or stress the defense for a transition three pointer by his teammates is valuable.
Without Wall the Wizards change immensely. The ball moves whether it’s off of screen and roll or dribble penetration. This helps a guy like Porter who is coming off injury. He’s getting better looks and is in ready shooting position when he receives the pass. Add Tomas Satoransky, Jeff Green and a hustle player like Thomas Bryant and you have a competent team that is probably more fun to watch.
So ask yourself the question… how did we get here?
Is it because President/GM Ernie Grunfeld hasn’t put together a roster that is conducive to Wall’s strengths? Grunfield’s “misses” have been well documented. GM’s can miss on players or have a salary cap blunder or two. What they can’t do is have both. That’s Grunfeld’s sin. As the CBA has changed, making front office mistakes have become more punitive. More than any other professional sport, in the NBA, you have to have a competent front office. Unlike the NFL, you can’t buy your way out of bad contracts especially when none or a little piece of the money is guaranteed. In MLB, there isn’t a salary cap so teams can work around mistakes or trade a mistake and agree to pay part of the salary. In the NBA, the contracts are guaranteed and moving them can be difficult.
Are Wall’s strengths not conducive to today’s NBA? This is a more interesting question. Wall’s speed is almost unmatched. He gets up and down the floor with the ball in his hands and he can do it in the half court. But in the NBA where spacing and perimeter shooting is key, does Wall do that well enough? Standing in the corner or on weakside looking uninterested doesn’t help his cause. At times, Wall doesn’t even flow to a better angle to receive a pass from a teammate. He tends to stand like a child mad because someone else has a turn at dribbling the ball. Even when he does receive the ball, he’s better off getting it in a position that allows immediate penetration. Wall isn’t Steph Curry. Heck, he isn’t even Damian Lillard or Kemba Walker.
Is team chemistry in the NBA underrated? Too many non-NBA fans feel like the NBA is individualized to a point where chemistry doesn’t matter. This isn’t the case. This isn’t the 1990’s NBA that had copious amounts of two man games and back to the basket post sets. In today’s NBA, chemistry must exist out on the court. No one does that better than the Golden State Warriors. It’s more than their talent. It’s the flow on the floor. Not only do they know where their teammates should be but they also know where to get them the ball. Add in their unselfish nature and you have the best team of this generation.
That’s not necessarily the case in Washington. There seems to be a lack on chemistry on the floor, at times, when Wall is out there. He doesn’t do a particularly good job in getting his teammates the ball in the correct spots. He gets them the ball when there’s a definitive ending to his move. At that point, players could be anywhere out of the floor and the angles might not be there.
We will learn a lot about this team with Wall out the rest of the season. The Wizards don’t need a leader, they need a “culture”. They don’t have one at the present time. Part of that goes on Wall. Part of that goes on the ownership and front office. Culture comes in different flavors. The culture with the Warriors isn’t the same as the San Antonio Spurs but both have had extended success.
The current group of Wizards will have a chance to define a culture with Wall out. This is the second chance at it. The first time they squandered it with Marcin Gortat’s silly tweets and this “we all eat” petty mantra. That’s not a culture, it’s a social media spat amongst teenagers.
Remember this. Washington doesn’t have the luxury of tanking. The fan base has long lost trust that Grunfeld will make the right move with a high pick. Another stint in the lottery will just mean another ho-hum reaction from the fans who haven’t already abandoned ship.
The Wizards need to try and make the playoffs. They are only 3.5 games out of the eighth spot. A night in, night out effort will be the first step in regaining the trust of the fans and, more importantly, of each other.