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How was Isaiah Thomas able to do whatever he wanted against the Washington Wizards' defense on Monday night? We go to the tape to assign blame.
Now that we've had a chance to digest last night's difficult 96-94 loss to the Sacramento Kings, it's time to figure out just how Isaiah Thomas was able to torch the Wizards' defense. A frustrated Randy Wittman took the rare step of subbing in a defensive specialist, Garrett Temple, to stop Thomas on the final play. When asked why, Wittman said that nobody could guard Thomas the entire night.
But is there one person in particular that we can blame for Thomas' big night? Thomas converted on nine field goals, drew fouls three times and dished seven assists. That's a total of 19 positive plays. He also missed seven shots and committed one turnover, so he had a total of eight negative plays. We're going to focus specifically on the nine field goals and three fouls below, but here are the closest defenders to Thomas on those eight negative plays, in order:
Only one of those eight plays can be credited to Wall. Does the tape on those positive plays make Wall look any better? Let's see.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas drove left on a pick and roll and drew a foul.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: Wall tried to fight over the screen and Nene came to hedge. However, rather than cut off Thomas' lane, Nene was a step late coming over from DeMarcus Cousins, and Thomas got by him with a hesitation dribble.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Nene for not stepping up.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Tyreke Evans gets a steal and feeds Thomas for the layup on a 2 on 1.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: Wall picked up Evans in transition, but Beal is not fast enough to cover Thomas filling the other lane.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Wall for turning it over on the other end, though Beal also deserves blame for not finishing his cut on the curl. Let's split it 50-50.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas lulls his man to sleep and nobody stepped up to cut off the lane.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: Good question.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? A.J. Price for not getting back fast enough. A.J. Price for his bad defense. A.J. Price for being lulled to sleep. Nene for running back to DeMarcus Cousins instead of staying in the lane.
WHAT HAPPENED: Thomas drove baseline and drew a foul on Kevin Seraphin.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN: I'm not sure what the Wizards' plan was on the play, but Thomas victimized them by attacking quickly, catching them out of position and drawing a foul.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? A.J. Price was unaware as Thomas ran him into the screen, and Trevor Booker ran away from the play for some reason instead of stepping up to cut off Thomas' drive. We'll assign most blame to Booker.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas takes a dribble handoff from Cousins and zips to the rim for a layup.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: Wall ducked below Cousins to cover the handoff, and the plan was to make sure Thomas didn't get to his left. But Wall went too far, and Thomas faked him out and got right for the easy layup.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Wall, easily. He obviously didn't want Thomas going left, but he also had no help to his right and got himself very off-balanced. Thomas took advantage by faking to his left and easily getting past Wall to the rim.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas gets from the 25-foot mark on the court to the rim unimpeded.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: They were preparing for Thomas to go right into a screen, but Thomas instead crossed over and got right to the rim with his left.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Wall, again. Look at how blatantly he opens up his defensive stance, giving Thomas the easy lane to the hoop. This is man-to-man defense 101 that Wall just failed.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas pump-fakes and steps in for an open 16-footer.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: Wall was closing out on Thomas after helping on the baseline. Standard stuff.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Wall, again, because this is one of the worst closeouts I've ever seen. How can you go for a pump fake that badly when Thomas is that far away from the hoop? Just terrible.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas gets a wide-open three off the kickout from Thomas Robinson.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: They were just trying to contain the Kings' break. Beal got caught on a mismatch with Robinson in the post, so the Wizards doubled and got confused with their defensive rotations.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Tough to say. Wall got back, but he ran to cover Evans instead of Thomas. That set up a chain reaction where Beal ran to Robinson, leaving Seraphin, Nene and Wall to figure out who covered Evans, Thomas and Chuck Hayes. Wall ran to Evans, Nene stuck with Hayes, and Seraphin got stuck with Thomas. When the ball got swung into the post, Seraphin doubled and nobody else rotated to Thomas. So ... blame Wall for messing up the transition coverage, but also blame Seraphin for using his natural instincts to help in the post.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas slithers towards the middle and hits a lefty floater.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: The clear strategy was to "ice" the pick and roll. "Icing" is an NBA term that calls for the guard defender to force his man baseline, where his big man waits. The strategy made a ton of sense on this play because this was a pick and roll initiated on the right side. If Thomas went where the Wizards wanted him to go, he'd be going away from his strong hand.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Wall, I guess, but this was more a great play by Thomas to keep his dribble low and somehow get back to his strong left hand.
WHAT HAPPENED:? Thomas draws a foul on Wall driving right.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: Wall was fighting over the screen, and Seraphin hung back to deter penetration. Wall seemed to think he'd step up to prevent Thomas from turning the corner, though.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? 40 percent Seraphin for not stepping up, 40 percent Wall for going too fast while trying to recover, 20 percent Thomas for making a nice play.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas dribbles around for a while and eventually crosses Wall up to get the layup.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: Nene stepped out really high to cut off Thomas' lane going left and allow Wall to recover. That worked. The problem is that Thomas still beat Wall going left after the initial play got cut off.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Wall, of course. Look how upright his defensive stance is here. It's no wonder that Thomas was able to blow by him off the dribble.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Thomas hits the game-winning floater.
WHAT WAS THE WIZARDS' COVERAGE PLAN?: Garrett Temple, not Wall, started out on Thomas, contrary to what Wittman and Wall said after the game. Thomas rubs off an Evans screen and it looks like Trevor Ariza will switch to Thomas, but Temple recovers. Upon the ball being thrown in, Temple gets lost behind Francisco Garcia, allowing Thomas to get to his left hand.
WHO WAS AT FAULT? Temple, of course, for letting Thomas go left.
What can we learn from this? While several players experienced breakdowns, Wall was by far the most common culprit. Some of these breakdowns are completely unacceptable and can be attributed to basic fundamental problems like a poor defensive stance, bad positioning or gambling for a highlight play.
Wall has all the tools to be an unbelievable defender in this league, but it's never going to happen until he adds some meat and potatoes to his game. Hopefully, a second straight defensive embarrassment at Thomas' hands will actually inspire him to maximize his defensive potential.