Kevin C. Cox
John Wall returns as the Washington Wizards host the Atlanta Hawks. Can Washington make it two and a row, or will Josh Smith and Co. spoil Wall's 2013 debut?
John Wall is back! John Wall is back! John Wall is back! Ahhhhhh!
OK, now that that's out of the way, let's focus on the now: The Washington Wizards square off tonight against Southeast Division rivals the Atlanta Hawks. With Wall still dealing with his injury and unlikely to be in ideal shape, the Hawks' three ulta-quick guards could have a field day if Washington's big men don't step it up. Then again, Atlanta's playing the second game of a back-to-back and Washington has the wind at their backs thanks to Wall and their recent victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Where and When? Tip off is at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center.
Why Should I Care? John Wall is finally back on the court. If you're a DC sports fan with even a cursory interest in basketball, this is a must-see game.
Are They Any Good? Yep, despite a lot of pre-season predictions to the contrary. Atlanta's sitting pretty this year at 20 - 14 which is about where they'd have been expected to be if they hadn't traded Joe Johnson over the summer. They're winning with a seventh-ranked defense and a solid offense built around the drive and kick abilities of the team's little guards and the overall awesomeness of Josh Smith and Al Horford.
What Are They Good At? Atlanta's uptick in defensive efficiency is largely tied to the team's speed. Smith and Horford are among the most mobile players in the NBA at the 4 and the 5, while point guards Jeff Teague and Lou Williams are as quick as they come. The hero of last night's victory over Utah, former Net and Maverick Devin Harris, is a much more effective defensive player now that he's primarily defending shooting guards in an increasingly small league.
What Are They Bad At? Atlanta is tied with Washington and New York as the NBA's ninth worst rebounding team. This is largely due to the team's lack of size, something that has also hurt its ability to defend spot up shooters. Zaza Pachulia is the only true center on the team and the only big man other than Smith and Horford who would be able to earn a roster spot on the majority of NBA teams. Ivan Johnson has helped on the boards a bit, but it's hard to put too much stock into a guy who can't seem to go an entire season without flipping someone off.
How Awesome is Ivan Johnson? Apparently pretty awesome. Dude was banned from the Korean Basketball League.
What's Going on With Josh Smith? JSmooth has fallen back in love with his jump shot and the results aren't pretty. Despite having Lebron James-esque physical tools Smith is still taking and missing lots of outside jumpers, killing his efficiency (.482 true shooting percentage and an offensive rating of 95) when he should be all rights be the second or third best offensive player on his team. It's just so frustrating to watch talented big men like Smith, Demarcus Cousins and Andray Blatche waste their prime taking shots they have no business taking. In the spirit of the "Kobe assist," maybe we can start referring to them as Cousins Assists.