The first 15 games for the Wizards have been more than discouraging. Well, discouraging probably isn’t the word for it. The season so far should be categorized somewhere between disappointing and repugnant.
The defense has not performed anywhere close to expectations. The bench that held so much promise and depth by the end of training camp has proven to be a complete dud. Almost everything that could have gone wrong for Washington has this season. The only thing we’re missing so far is the dreaded “players only” meeting.
But its only 15 games, and the season is far from over. The Wizards are only two games back of the 8 seed and 4.5 back behind the 2 seed in the conference. There is time to play catch-up.
To do that, though, the Wizards will need their backcourt to perform well night in and night out. Luckily for them, things are starting to trend in that way.
Over the last few games, John Wall and Bradley Beal have been clicking on all cylinders. Since Beal returned from injury against the New York Knicks, the two have combined to average 51 points and 14.2 assists per game. The Wizards are outscoring opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions when they’ve shared the floor.
After all of the talk and tension in the offseason about the tension and strain in the relationship between the two on the court, they’re coming together in ways they never have before and in ways the Wizards should be happy to see.
Last season, Beal’s effective field goal percentage was down 3.6 percent when sharing the court with Wall. This season, that number has completely flipped.
Beal is a much more efficient player with Wall on the floor this season. He is scoring at a better rate per possession, shooting more efficiently and using the ball less with less responsibility to set others up and run the Wizards’ offense.
But the relationship isn’t one-sided. The John Wall effect certainly is helping Beal, but Beal is having his own effect on Wall’s game just by being out there.
With Beal on the floor, Wall’s shooting percentages don’t really fluctuate. His effective field goal percentage dips 1.6 percent and his true shooting percentage drops 0.9 percent when Beal heads to bench.
Neither of those changes are anything to write home about. But once you look past Wall’s individual contributions, you start to see the issues. With Beal off the floor, Wall doesn’t have another scorer he can depend on or anyone who can take the ball out of his hands. As a result, Wall’s usage percentage rises from 29.4 percent all the way up to 43.4 (!) percent when Beal is on the bench. The outcome is Beal’s super-efficient assisted shots and the space he creates for others is swapped with Wall having to create shots for everyone on his own. Their bad offense turns into a worse one.
Whether Beal is on the floor or not, Wall will still use a lot of possessions and will likely be the ball handler on most of them because it is one of his strengths. But having Beal as another perimeter scoring option off the dribble allows Wall to flex his improved three point shot as well as his catch-and-shoot ability.
Beal is finally eating up double teams when coming off of screens. He’s using the threat of his jumpshot as a weapon more than ever, and its led to easier shots in the right spots for him and better shots for others around him.
Over the last five games, Beal has averaged 4.4 assists to just 1.6 turnovers on just 30 passes per game. And according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, he created 10 points per game on passes in that span. That shot creation makes the Wizards offense more unpredictable and should lead to some improvements going forward even if they aren’t showing now.
After all the talk this offseason about how the Wizards’ backcourt couldn’t work and whether it is time to move on from one or the other, what we’ve seen so far this season may indicate otherwise.