Back in May, on the heels of a brilliant Game 1 performance against the Hawks, Mike Prada detailed just how useless the old John Wall scouting report was. You can going under as many screens as you want, have your big men zone him up by dropping into the lane, but over the course of 48 minutes, Wall will figure you out. The Raptors and Hawks tried and tried to bait him into jumpers, but there was no answer.
And that was with John shooting just three-for-twelve from three! He wasn't even burning the Raptors and Hawks the traditional way -- by making them pay from distance -- he continued to throw the book right back at them by relentlessly probing the lane and forcing defenders to commit to him.
Now, he's shooting at a league-average clip from three, and 41 percent in the month of December, yet the scouting report hasn't changed. And it won't. It's the lesser of the two evils, and Washington's coaching staff knows it too. This season they're not just relying on Wall to figure things out for himself. They have set plays built into their offense to counter this type of defense, which we saw on display against the Sacramento Kings last night following the opening tip:
Did you catch that? What looks like the same ball screen that has led to John Wall walking into an endless amount of elbow jumpers over the years has one interesting, yet calculated twist to it. Garrett Temple, who appears to be cutting through the middle of the floor and into the weakside corner stops in the middle of his route, waits for Wall to take the initial screen, then comes up to nail an unsuspecting DeMarcus Cousins with a backscreen of his own.
Rewind the play again. Moments before Temple's screen, you can see Wall hesitate just a bit, enough to make it look like he might pull up into a jumper. But Temple's screen induces a second burst from Wall, which necessitates a whole new string of Sacramento rotations. Rondo, Temple's original defender, has to step up and block Wall's path to the hoop. That leaves Cousins in charge of defending Temple and McLemore to make sure Gortat doesn't roll to the hoop unimpeded. The entire Kings defense is in disarray.
At that point, Sacramento is toast. There's way too much going on in the thick of the play for anyone to pay attention to Garrett Temple fading out above the break. One pass later and he bottoms an open three.
Against the Miami Heat, the Wizards once again net an open three off this action, but this time without the use of Wall's dribble penetration. They open up in HORNS, with two players at the elbows and two in the corners. Kris Humphries and Gary Neal will break off to set a pair of staggered screens, but with a twist: Neal won't screen for Wall so much as he does for Humphries, who begins to roll down the lane.
All Neal has to do is hold his ground long enough to get Winslow -- his original defender -- to latch onto Humphries rolling down the lane. Once Neal releases and pops out, Bosh mistakenly retreats back to Humphries instead of following, leading to another wide open look above the break.
The Wizards break off into a similar alignment against New Orleans, except this time Wall improvises enough to reject the screen in front of him and zoom right into the lane to draw the blocking foul. Neal's backscreen on Anthony Davis serves no purpose here -- Davis is already out of position with little chance to get back in the play --- but had Wall taken the screen and gone right, things would've been much different.
We're starting to see more teams counter their traditional scouting report. Watch enough Warriors game and you'll see teammates improvising screens by screening off their own man, knowing their prone to jump out at Curry or Thompson flying open off the ball. It's no different with the Wizards. They know how teams want to defend their star point guard and are discovering new ways to leverage it into something greater.