Tonight felt like a track meet, and it's all thanks to John Wall. After an uneven first quarter that saw Kobe Bryant and Nick Young take turns hitting a bevy of low-percentage shots, Washington was eventually able to take control of the pace and and do what they've always done best with their franchise player. They continuously raced down the floor against the slower Lakers defenders, getting to the rim at ease as they picked up another home win, 111-95.
There was no answer for Kobe Bryant or Nick Young tonight, who combined to score more than half of their team's total points, but things never seemed to get out of hand, and it never looked like LA would run away with this. Their bigs still plodded their way down the floor in transition, which Wall wisely exploited a number of times as he made his usual forays to the hoop. The jumper may not have been there tonight for John, but it hardly mattered as there wasn't a single defender capable of staying in front of him. He picked up 15 assists to go along with his 17 points, and he made it look ridiculously easy in the process.
In a fast-paced game like tonight, you're bound to see multiple players filling up the stat sheet. Marcin Gortat had another double-double and ran the floor extremely well, Paul Pierce had his moments as did Rasual Butler, and most important of all, Bradley Beal got it going as he scored a team-high 27 points. The offense built on their performance from Monday against the Miami Heat, and will look to continue the trend against the 25th ranked Nuggets defense on Friday.
Three things we learned:
1. We under-appreciate John Wall's defense
We spend a lot of time dissecting his defense - whether he falls asleep too often on-ball, or that he doesn't exert enough effort against lesser quality opponents - but what seemingly gets swept under the rug is how much of a terror he actually is. He's making about two or three highlight-worthy plays a night on this end of the floor just off his freakish athleticism alone, but it's uncanny how much ground he's able to cover, and how smart he is with his rotations.
Just look at how rotates to Jordan Hill as he fades off the pick and pop, and how quickly he scurries back to Jeremy Lin. He bites on the pump-fake (which is routine when the clock is winding down), and still recovers to block the ensuing attempt. We always discuss "second jump-ability when it comes to a draft prospects ability to protect the rim and rebound, well John has it too. Like I said, uncanny.
2. Wittman may need to rethink how he uses Beal
I reference Beal's sampling period all the time, but it's become increasingly obvious that the offense functions better when the Wizards aren't deploying their 2-guard as an off-the-dribble creator. In the long-run, it may bear fruit, and seeing Klay Thompson blow up on the other coast certainly strengthens their stance. But the Wizards are making a run at the top of the conference, and they know how much better he is when he isn't being experimented with. We'll see where their priorities are.
There was much better balance tonight and it does help that Wall was able to attack so easily, opening lanes for Beal to aggressively attack closeouts. But away from the ball is where he made his money tonight, and it was nice to see him constantly catch the ball on the move and make quick decisions as opposed to him having to break down his man and read the second line of defense. It's not his strong-suit, just yet.
3. If Washington has to rely on Pierce's defense, they'll be in trouble.
Kobe will get his, but it's clear even when Beal gives it his all that he'll never amount to what Trevor Ariza brought to this team last season. And that's fine! On most nights, the Wizards do get by with what they have, but eventually, this problem will creep back up. Beal threw the kitchen sink at Kobe tonight to no avail, which forced Wittman to cross-match and have Pierce take on the stopper-role, something that probably shouldn't be in the cards moving forward.
Pierce can defend most wings, but he's still old and without the necessary foot speed to keep up. Same goes for Rasual Butler and to a lesser extent, Martell Webster (at least that was the case last season). Otto Porter barely played in the second half tonight, which speaks to the confidence Wittman has in him to be that guy, and all that's left is Garrett Temple, who we've seen plenty of.
It's not a pressing concern, but it's worth keeping an eye on.