WASHINGTON - The Wizards have existed in a weird space for the last month. Their best player went down, and all of a sudden things were fun again. The ball was moving, the team was defending, and fast breaks were dazzling even without John Wall’s blazing speed.
And they continued to exist in that space on Wednesday night — for about a half. The Wizards fell down big in the second quarter, but made a run with their bench and even grabbed themselves a lead at one point. They were down just 58-56 at the half, and everything seemed alright.
Until it wasn’t.
The Warriors are the Warriors. They’re the best team in the NBA and the third quarter is their time — they’ve got the league’s best net rating in the third quarter at +21.6. But it’s truly incredible to watch them separate themselves in real time.
The Wizards were only down 77-70 in the middle of the third quarter. Then Kevin Durant worked the baseline and got himself a dunk. Then, right after that, Stephen Curry stole the inbounds pass and drained a three in the left corner.
5 quick! (@NBCSAuthentic, ESPN) pic.twitter.com/Ou7gTXHXDL— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) March 1, 2018
Then, they completely smothered Bradley Beal on the other end and forced a shot clock violation. The Wizards never truly stood a chance. When you look at the scoreboard, though, Washington didn’t lose by much.
They didn’t fall down by more than 16 points, either. And it felt like, at any moment, they could’ve gone on a run to hop right back in it. They did in the third quarter! A loss is a loss, but this one was different. It left me with one prevailing thought: Boy, they could’ve really used John Wall against the Warriors.
The Wizards can be fun without John Wall, but they still need him
The Wizards have the seventh best offense in the league and the highest assist rate in the last 14 games Wall has missed, but it’s evident the team still need him. Democratic offenses are fun, but against the best and most physical defenses in the league, they matter far less.
Bradley Beal went scoreless for nearly three quarters because the Warriors would shade two defenders on him anytime he touched the ball. “All eyes are on him now,” Kevin Durant said of Beal with Wall not on the court.
Beal started 0-8 on Wednesday as the focal point of one of the league’s best defenses. On this play, Klay Thompson essentially face guards Beal and doesn’t even allow the ball to get to him.
A scramble where the ball skips like that and doesn’t touch Beal’s hands is a bad one. It forced the Wizards to try to make a play with three seconds left on the shot clock and they couldn’t. There were multiple plays like this where either Beal didn’t get a look or he got a bad one because of the attention Golden State threw his way.
Beal noted how a shot creator like Wall helps in this scenario after the game. “It’s totally different. Things get a bit easier when the clock is dwindling down and he’s on the court. Defenses aren’t able to key in on one player with the clock winding down.”
“Their main objective was to take the ball out of my hands. There’ve been times where there were 10 seconds left on the clock and they were denying me at halfcourt,” Beal noted. “It’s just one of those games.”
Here’s another instance where the Warriors switch a pick and roll and provide immediate pressure to the ball early in the clock.
Satoransky immediately picks up the ball with Draymond Green jumping at him. He has no room to make a pass and turns the ball over with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. That play doesn’t happen if the Warriors are worried about Wall blowing by green. Ball pressure becomes less of an issue.
Without Wall, the Wizards are good and can create well enough for each other to thrive on any given night. But when teams put the pressure on, it’s a different story.
“You have to respect what John is able to do,” Beal said. “His playmaking abilities.”
That doesn’t mean Wall won’t have to change his game
The Wizards have caught a stride here. They’re 10-4 since he went down and have found a way to play that maximizes the strengths of every player on the roster. The key? It’s cutting.
They still run a ton of pick and roll plays with Satoransky in the game, but what the biggest change in their offense has been that has made the game easier for players around him is his slashing. He only cuts on 5.8 percent of the possessions he’s on the floor, per NBA.com’s stats tool, but he scores a whopping 1.78 points per possession on those plays. Wall is notorious for standing still without the ball and that makes things easier for the defense to predict.
Defenses feel comfortable when the ball is out of Wall’s hands. That has to change for the Wizards to get to their next level with him healthy.
Still, they need him to be there for when things break down. When teams are keying in on Bradley Beal in the postseason, Wall will be able to relieve some of that pressure. And, as we saw on Wednesday, the Wizards still desperately need that.