Everyone will come away from last nights' heartbreaking loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder with two thoughts on their minds: The Wizards blew it and Bradley Beal is the truth. But the one underlying story to this game that may get swept under the rug was John Wall's 3-13 shooting night, and more importantly, the missed layup that would have nabbed the Wizards another road win.
It was tough sledding for the franchise player, who recorded yet another game shooting 38 percent or lower (his fourth of the season), but unlike his previous outings, he faced a vaunted Oklahoma City defense that could provide a blueprint for how to defend him moving forward.
What makes OKC such a stout defensive unit is their length and athleticism. They're able to collapse on you at moment's notice, they make some incredible plays on the ball (i.e. Serge Ibaka coming out of nowhere for a block) and they have the athleticism to make up for any botched assignments. Wall received a heavy dose of all three throughout last night's contest, but unlike in the past where he simply ran into a wall of defenders in the paint, Wall was completely taken out of his element and was forced into operating from the perimeter almost exclusively.
Of his 13 shot attempts, just two were at the rim (one coming on the final play in overtime). On the surface, this isn't what you want out of your point guard, but it also pinpoints a clear shift in his mentality. Unlike his sophomore season, where he generated close to 60 percent of his offense in the paint per NBA.com's stats page, he's more than happy taking what the defense gives him and adjusting on the fly. Now, over 25 percent of his scoring is coming from behind the three point line, and just 34 percent is coming in the paint.
OKC conceded just that in their win over the Wizards on Sunday night. All eyes were on Wall as he came off pick and rolls, and he regularly saw an extra defender sagging off his man in order to close off any driving lane.
In this case, Westbrook ices the pick and roll in semi-transition (more on this here) which funnels Wall into Perkins along the baseline. He's already surveying the floor, knowing he can't make his patented cross-court pass in the corner with Sefelosha lurking, and he also can't hit Gortat rolling to the basket with Durant positioned the way he is. But more importantly, there's no way he can successfully split the defenders and attack the basket because the Thunder have loaded the paint.
In a perfect world, Nene would have slid over to Wall to provide him with an outlet earlier in the possession, but again, this is in transition and everything is happening so quickly. The Thunder have taken away Wall's first two reads -- the rolling Gortat and the corner three -- and are perfectly content having Reggie Jackson along the top of the key to stunt to both Nene and Martell Webster.
Wall takes a step back three in the corner with 13 seconds still left on the shot clock.
Here's the video of the play:
This all goes back to the maturation process Wall is still undergoing as a scorer. He could have kept his dribble alive and saw Nene finally make a move toward the ball, but carelessly fell into OKC's trap and failed to reset the offense. It's a long season, and as the Wizards get into more of these high-intensity games against perennial playoff teams, Wall will understand the importance of maximizing each possession.
But despite all the different looks Scott Brooks threw at him last night, Wall still managed to impact the game in other areas; always a good sign for a player mired in a shooting slump.
It really is excellent how Wall is dealing with OKC’s aggressive hedges.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) November 11, 2013
Wall hasn't made shot but is still impacting the game. That's max material.— Michael Sykes, II (@Mikey_NBA) November 11, 2013
What makes John such a special player is his unique ability to read plays a step or two ahead of the defense. We always say corner threes are a result of great ball movement, and very few in this league have the ability to catch defenders out of position in a split second and make the skip pass into the corner so effortlessly and right where the shooter wants it.
Here, Wall is just about to take the pick from Nene. Westbrook is already pointing to Ibaka to get in position to hedge, and John knows just what he wants to do. He's seen this defensive alignment a million times since he's entered the league, and every season he's gotten better at moving the help defender with his eyes, much like a quarterback looking off his intended receiver to get the safety out of position down field.
All John needed was a split second to look at Nene fading to the top of the key to get Kevin Durant to jump out, leaving Trevor Ariza wide open in the corner. Gortat puts the icing on the cake by clearing out that side, but regardless, Perkins had no shot at closing out in time to contest the shot.
This pass is a layup for John at this point, and the Wizards' perimeter shooters have gotten so good at catching and shooting.
Here's the video of the play:
Aside from the first half against Philadelphia, we have yet to see the jumper Wall has worked so tirelessly on over the summer. But as was the case with LeBron James, a 40 percent shooter from three a year ago, teams like the Spurs will gladly see him shoot unimpeded rather than wreak havoc on drives to the basket. It's up to Wall to make these subtle adjustments over the 82-game stretch while continuing to trust that he'll hit his stride as a jump shooter.
More from Bullets Forever:
- Wizards vs. Thunder final score: Washington blows double digit lead, loses in overtime, 106-105
- GIF: John Wall's blown layup to end Thunder vs. Wizards game
- Wizards vs. Thunder: Washington falls in OT in heartbreaking fashion
- Wizards vs. Thunder preview: Russell Westbrook and John Wall square off
- Nene, Marcin Gortat a fun duo both on and off the court