Another year, another opening night loss for John Wall and the Washington Wizards. After coming into the game with lots of warranted hype, the Wizards laid an egg and brought back many bad memories from previous seasons where leads were blown in multiple games.
We're already on record in saying this isn't really a game you should worry about too much. The Wizards had a depleted roster and it is still opening night -- players are still shaking the rust off.
John Wall had an up-and-down night on most accounts. After pouring in nine assists in the first half, Wall finished the game with just 11. He started the game off shooting 3-of-4 from the field in the first half, but only shot 3-of-9 in the second. But Wall's defensive effort last night against the Heat is far more concerning than his shooting from the field. Norris Cole had a career high 23 points in the game and a bulk of those points came against Wall.
Wall's night defensively was just as up and down as his offensive game against the Heat. He applied decent pressure once Cole crossed the halfcourt line, but once the ball moved, Wall followed it. The issue is that Wall took his eyes off Cole once the ball swung and it often left him floating in the middle of the floor. This is something Wall has struggled with in the past and it seems to still be a recurring issue.
Take a look at where Wall is on this play.
Wall loses Cole when his back turns to him and he follows the ball. He wants to be in position to make a play on the kickout, but he does not stay with his man and finds himself far too deep in the paint.
Cole is not the biggest three point threat offensively, but Wall still cannot be caught so far out of position here. Because he is so far off, Cole gets an open shot.
Cole only scored one other three pointer while Wall was defending him. The three he made from about 30 feet out later in the game is just something you have to live with as a defender. The other he hit with Garrett Temple guarding him.
Yet Wall also allowed Cole to score in transition while trying to prepare himself for a chase down block. This is the negative that comes with the athletic gifts Wall bears.
What Wall can do in transition on the defensive end is great, but when you get negative plays like this, it is frustrating. He totally mistimes his jump and whiffs on a chase down block attempt. At the same time, even if he does get on Cole's hip, Dwyane Wade is still in the play. The Heat would have scored here regardless.
There were far worse plays on the defensive end for Wall than that one. He had two negative plays while defending the pick and roll that really cost the Wizards in the third quarter. Here, Wall just gets caught flat on his feet and he reaches to try to stop Cole from driving into the lane after he gets frozen off of a crossover dribble.
Wall cannot play defense this way against the pick and roll. He has to know where his big man is going to be and what type of help he will get on the play. Marcin Gortat is shading Chris Bosh closely because he knows if Cole uses the screen, Bosh will fade to the outside. Gortat is sucked out of the paint because of that and Wall is shading Cole away from the pick. Wall has to know that there is no help in the paint waiting for him. He has to stay square to Cole on the play and block his driving lane. That is poor defensive awareness.
On this final play, Cole finds another free lane into the paint off of a side pick and roll. Wall allows Cole to zip by expecting help to come from Paul Pierce after Luol Deng sets a screen.
This is not completely on Wall because there should have been some help or even a switch to counteract Deng's perimeter skill a bit. However, this is still a breakdown for which Wall was partially responsible. There was poor communication; they should have pushed Cole toward the sideline to try and force a turnover. Instead, the play results in an easy two points for the Heat.
This loss is definitely disappointing and Wall's defensive effort had a lot to do with that. Is this the Wall we'll see throughout the season? Hopefully not. He's supposed to be one of the better two-way players at his position in the league and he plays on a team that emphasizes defense. This better not persist.