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If the Wizards are going to improve defensively, it must start with John Wall

NBA: Washington Wizards at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Wizards have been woeful on defense since the All-Star break. What was once considered a major strong suit for this team has turned into a glaring weakness overnight. Since the All-Star break, the Wizards rank 22nd in the league in Defensive Rating.

There are several reasons why the defense has taken a hit over the past month but the most infuriating, yet most fixable reason, starts with the head of the snake; John Wall.

Wall can be a top defender in this league when he’s engaged. But for whatever reason, there have been too many instances recently when Wall hasn’t been at his best. But fortunately for Wall and the Wizards, most of these issues are correctable.

Early in the season, Wall was crowding up on defenders making things uncomfortable for them as they crossed half court. Now, not only is Wall not crowding defenders, he isn’t fighting over screens as much, like we see here.

Yes, Wall is counted on to play heavy minutes, but this mishap is likely due to a lack of intensity and not fatigue, considering this occurred in the first half. He provided little to no resistance against Walker from when he crossed half court to when he shot the ball. Fortunately for the Wizards, Walker wasn’t able to connect, but that’s the exception, rather than the norm in those situations.

A similar issue pops up here. The Hornets run a high pick-and-roll at the top of the key. Wall relaxes on the play, which forced the defense to scramble and led to an easy layup.

Wall is the first line of defense. When he can’t get through screens like this, it causes a domino effect for the rest of the team. And if rotations aren’t crisp, it results in an easy shots like the one above.

Here’s another example where Walker gets a good look because they switch the screen too early and too easily:

Jason Smith is left on an island guarding Walker, which forces Porter to help off his man to cut Kemba off. Walker missed the shot, but Nicolas Batum was able to get the easy putback because there was no one available to box him out.

The play below might look like a positive play by Wall but it’s actually the most dangerous of them all.

Wizards faithful know that Wall has become far too comfortable with purposefully letting his man go around him while he tries to tap the ball away from behind. When Wall doesn’t poke the ball away, it puts the defense in a compromised position because they’re playing five-on-four with Wall trailing the action. It’s great when you can create a fastbreak opportunity, but it rarely justifies all the other times the team is put in a vulnerable spot.

For all of the mishaps mentioned, some of them are not fixable. As we know, the starters play the second-most minutes of all starting units in the NBA led by Wall who averages just under 37 minutes per game. As a result, the Wizards must accept some defensive lapses are bound to happen due to fatigue, like this one:

In this clip here, Wall was in the right position but he took his eye off his man for a split second as he cut backdoor for an easy basket. This play took place late in the game on a night where Wall played 35 minutes on the second half of a back-to-back. Unfortunately for Wall and the Wizards, mishaps due to fatigue tend to happen at inopportune times, especially late in games when players are the most tired.

Aside from giving the starters extra rest, there’s not a lot you can do here, and the Wiz must chalk up certain defensive possessions as a loss.

This all looks really bad, but in reality, most of this is fixable. If the Wizards are going to get back to the way played earlier this season, it has to start on the defensive end. Washington needs to step up if they’re going to finish the season strong and stay locked into a high seed heading into the playoffs. But it all starts and ends with their leader, John Wall, as the one who needs to get the Wizards right defensively.