If Washington's past two games came on opposite ends of the spectrum, tonight's bout against the All Star-less Atlanta Hawks falls closer to their one against the Sixers. The Wizards, fueled by a well-rested John Wall, got what they so desperately needed. A 108-99 win, yes, but a productive night from both Nene and Paul Pierce to boot, two veterans that have struggled to keep with the rigors of a full NBA season.
Nene chipped in a double-double, while Pierce canned four triples en route to his 14 points on the night as the two continue to find their footing before the playoffs. With two games to go, the Wizards have every reason to prioritize rest over wins, but what they can't do is preserve their two vets like they have been all season. Now is the time to ramp it up, and tonight's performance is a step in that direction.
There was no reason to panic tonight. The Wizards started off hot, and never looked back.
Here's one way to create a corner three
If I asked you why we haven't seen Wall generate as many corner threes as last season, you'll probably answer it with one name: Trevor Ariza. And you wouldn't be wrong. Regardless of who he's been replaced with, or Washington's often horrendous floor spacing, or them lacking another credible shooter for much of the second half of this season, no factor holds more weight than the Wall to Ariza connection. It was so good that Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry wrote a brilliant feature on it last year:
When it comes to corner 3s, Trevor Ariza is Art Garfunkel; John Wall is Paul Simon. They make beautiful music together, but Ariza is just kind of standing there while Wall is busting his ass.
Corner 3s have a tendency to be among the most passive shooting plays on the court. Make no mistake, it's clearly important that Ariza is able to find open spots and knock down open shots, but it's also important to note that Wall is more often than not the begetter of those points.
Goldsberry goes on to mention the importance of the right elbow, and why so much of Wall's offense is predicated on either pulling up from that spot or finding his man in the opposite corner. What he didn't mention was the action leading up to it -- a high pick and roll involving Gortat which would suck in Ariza's defender to clog up the roll to the rim.
That's the action team's have gotten better at taking away this year. Sure, simply getting better shooters would help immensely, but it isn't always that simple.
You don't always have to run high pick and rolls to run an efficient offense. Watch how Gortat bails on setting his screen as soon as Antic lines up to hedge on Wall, which is then preceded by Gooden nailing him with a screen of his own that throws everything out of whack. Another defensive rotation later and Wall finds Otto Porter with an easy skip pass.
Nene is the back-up five, not Seraphin
It's safe to assume Beal will get staggered in with the second unit just as he was last season, but it's become increasingly clear that Nene will be joining him too. Wittman decided to trot out the two at the beginning of both the second and fourth quarters along with Sessions, Porter, and Gooden (with Humphries subbing in for him shortly after). This is probably (and should be) the playoff rotation. Most of us thought a decision had to be made between Gooden and Humphries, but this is the right call. Seraphin may protect the rim adequately, but he's proven to be a minus everywhere else, and struggles to find his footing when he isn't the primary post-up hub of the second unit.
Beal's struggles against trapping defenses continue
If you have a good enough handle, your eyes will light up at the chance of seeing a defense try to trap you as you come off a screen. Most big men have slow feet, even the quicker stretch-forwards and wings-turned-into--forwards are at a disadvantage by the sheer nature of having to anticipate a guards movements and stepping up to a spot where the ball handler will be forced to pick up his dribble.
It's why Wall is always at his best against these defenses while struggling against the more conservative one's. He's too quick to keep out of the lane, and if you choose to take your big man out of it where he could otherwise coax Wall into a jumper, your only hope is for him to miss the layup.
Unfortunately, this is where Beal struggles. He doesn't have an especially tight handle, but what's more concerning is how blatantly obvious it is that he doesn't trust it. He constantly picked up his dribble tonight, basically inviting the Hawks to trap him.
There's no improvisation to his game, which makes everything he does telegraphed. Just a minute later, Wall will come off the same dribble-pitch action, only he see's Schroeder try to ice the play -- thinking he would work a pick and roll with Nene. So he reverses course, rejects the screen, and gets into the lane.
Maybe Beal can't split defenders just yet, but he can function a dribble-drive player with his level of athleticism, and it would make Washington's offense that much more effective. But he has to be more decisive first, and if not, Toronto (a likely first round opponent) will exploit him.