WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08: Nick Young #1 of the Washington Wizards and Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks go after a loose ball during the first half at Verizon Center on February 8, 2012 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The Washington Wizards fell victim to the Jeremy Lin show. Hard to really come away from this game with any other conclusion. Lin showed the world again why he's legitimate, and the Knicks completely picked the Wizards apart in the pick and roll in winning, 107-93. It ended up being one of the most embarrassing losses for the Wizards all season, if only because of the inevitable Lin vs. John Wall framing that tells us absolutely nothing about why this game was lost.
Wall had 29 points and one turnover in the entire game. Wall was not the reason the Wizards lost. In fact, without Wall, they probably lose by 30. The Wizards' pick and roll coverage was awful, and the big men were mostly to blame. Lin can certainly change speeds beautifully, but the Wizards' big men never were able to prevent him from getting inside the free-throw line extended. Proper pick and roll coverage involves Wall pressuring the ball, the big man stepping out and beating the guard to the spot and Wall recovering quickly, in that order. The second part of the chain kept breaking down, and that is why the Wizards lost.
Credit Lin, of course. He's definitely good. But the Wizards as a team didn't show up, outside of Wall and Trevor Booker. Let's not get caught up in the narrative framing here.
- The Wizards' early pick and roll coverage on Jeremy Lin was very soft. I blame JaVale McGee here. When Lin comes off the screen, McGee stayed back, and Lin's just too smart finding Tyson Chandler rolling to the basket. To stop Lin, the Wizards need to get their bigs out hedging hard, and McGee instead stood in no-man's land.
- If Booker can consistently knock down a 17-foot jump shot, it makes him a threat in post-up isolations. That's why that shot is so important. Jared Jeffries dared him to take it, and he set him up well to get it in rhythm.
- You can see the growth of John Wall's pick and roll game with one sequence early in the first quarter. Wall drove left off a screen and slowed up like many other point guards do. However, he wasn't trying to draw the primary defender or even the big man helping out on the pick and roll. Instead, he was reading Bill Walker, who was guarding Chris Singleton in the weakside corner. Wall held the ball just long enough to cause Walker to sink into the paint, then delivered a beautiful cross-court pass to Singleton for the wide-open three.
- Jordan Crawford came into the game and immediately fell back into his bad habit of dribbling without a purpose, launching a horrible shot over Jared Jeffries after killing the shot clock. Unless you're really good, in this league, you have to make your dribbles count. Crawford too often doesn't.
- If Kevin Seraphin is ever going to be a post player, he has to get low on his dribbles when he backs in on players. It's way too easy for defenders to poke the ball away and force him into fadeaways that have no chance of going in.
- The big thing Lin does so well in the pick and roll is stay low with his dribble. It allows him to be deceptively quick. With less ground to cover when accelerating to the rim, he's able to change speeds pretty easily. Whereas, if a player has trouble changing speeds, it's usually because he tries to get lower as he's doing it instead of staying low and just controlling that. This is something Wall often struggles with.
- The Wizards go for so many pump fakes.
- What is JaVale McGee doing not passing to Nick Young or anyone else when he got a steal?
- Not to take away from Lin, but this game really shows the value of someone like Tyson Chandler. He nails every single screen and has such a great feel for when to roll, when to slip and when to set a bone-crushing screen in transition. He has the willingness and the game. It makes life sooooo much easier for Lin. Wall, on the other hand, has ...
- Wall really took it to Lin late in the quarter, sensing that his teammates didn't have it. He was working on floaters before the game and often works on floaters before games. He showed off that body control in the air late in the quarter.
- The Wizards did a much better job fighting over ball screens on Lin and recovering to three-point shooters early in the third quarter. They didn't really change anything up with their coverages. They just executed better. Credit Wall for fighting over more screens and the weakside defenders for not getting caught drifting off their men.
- Young is the most indecisive post-entry passer I've ever seen.
- The jumper that Booker hit early in the first quarter set up his drive to the basket for the reverse layup in the third quarter. That's why the development of Booker's 18-foot jumper is so important. Later in the third quarter, Chandler even bit on a pump fake that Booker threw at him in the post. You don't do that if you're as smart a defender as Chandler unless you think that shot is a legitimate threat.
- Lin's legit, no doubt. Playing him tight man-to-man can be difficult because of how he can change speeds - witness his crossover on Wall for the dunk. Lots of people are going to wonder about Wall, but you have to remember that there is no such thing as true man-to-man defense anymore. Wall got very little support from his big men. Booker would jump out to cut off Lin, but not jump far enough out to cut off the angle. Lin would sneak away left, then cross over back to the right to force the matchup against the big man. All of these things are wonderful, of course, but they also speak to the need to have big men who can guard the pick and roll.
- Did Wall look at this a bit too much like a one-on-one matchup? Perhaps. But he was also the only one who could do anything offensively, and the game was starting to get away from the Wizards. We praise great players for taking it on themselves when the rest of their teammates are struggling. That's what Wall did. Unfortunately, his teammates never caught up.
- I will say I was wrong in this respect - I thought going small would be a good thing against Lin. Instead, it opened up the Knicks for offensive rebounds. I know McGee was struggling early, but maybe this was a good time to go back to him.
- The Knicks were really good on the weakside in this game. Fields looked like the Fields of old, making timely basket cuts as his man turned his head. The tic-tac-toe passing between Lin, Chandler and Fields is the kind of play where you have all the elements working out. It's the footballization of basketball in action. On this team, Wall may have been a beat late on the pass, McGee would have committed an offensive foul and Young would have stayed in the right corner. All these elements are needed to make a point guard look good, and a point guard can make all these elements good.
- It really came down to letting Lin get to his sweet spot too easily. In this case, his sweet spot is the right elbow. The Wizards needed to provide a hard hedge and cut him off before he gets there. Once he gets there, you're trailing him, and he can pick you apart finding the open man. Wall's job is to pressure and recover, but he needs support from his big men. If the big man can't prevent Lin from dribbling to his sweet spot, then there's literally nothing Wall can do to prevent Lin from finding Chandler or finishing. The big men have to divert Lin's path away from the hoop instead of trying to trail him.