There has been a lot of discussion on John Wall’s pending return to the Wizards and how he can reintegrate with the team without sacrificing what the team has done well in his absence. While the Wizards need Wall’s unique skills to reach their potential, they also need him to adapt some of what he does to help them shine.
To make the transition as seamless as possible, I believe there are a couple of elements from Tomas Satoransky’s game that he could use, that would enhance his game as well as the team’s overall play.
Playing off the Ball
Even though Wall is a five-time All-Star, one of the best point guards in the league, and one of the best players in franchise history, there are still some glaring weaknesses to his game. The one that sticks out most is his ability to play off the ball. This is a common issue for players who are used to having the ball in their hands. They don’t develop that part of their game because it simply isn’t necessary.
What Wall Has Done
In this clip, you will see Wall standing flat-footed while waiting to receive a cross-court pass. This is a common mistake that Wall made early in the season. Starting from that stance gives the defense more time to recover and force Wall into a contested jumper.
In this next clip, you see a very similar setup with even more options, but once again he stands flat-footed which gives the defender time to recover and cut off driving lanes.
Off-ball players are taught to take advantage of the momentum of a defender aggressively closes out on you. If you have a player running full speed ahead in one direction away from the basket, moving in the opposite direction makes it easier to get past that player, and force the rest of the defense to scramble and get out of position as well.
In the last clip, there were a number of glaring options that were available to Wall, by simply attacking the closeout. Kris Dunn had cheated over enough to the middle of the court to help with Beal that Wall could have easily slipped by him and gone straight to the basket for an easy layup or he could have even moved in enough to cause the defense to react and he likely would have had Marcin Gortat wide open for a dunk or a layup.
For years he has watched teams go underneath of screens and even play off of him when the ball is in his hand to force him to take jumpers. The book on Wall has been you would rather him shoot a jumper than to get inside and break down your defense. In two of the past three seasons, Wall has shot 35 percent or higher from beyond the arc. Perhaps teams are recognizing that and making more of an effort to close out on him. Regardless of what the reasons are, he has a chance to be more aggressive, play off the extra attention that Bradley Beal tends to get and create havoc on defenses.
How Satoransky Does It
Satoransky doesn’t have the same explosion as Wall, but he’s done a good job during this stretch of taking advantage of opportunities similar to the ones described above.
In this game against the Magic, Satoransky receives the ball while he is already in motion to attack a very weak closeout, which kept Speights on his heels and makes it easier for him to work his way to the paint for an easy basket.
In this next clip, Beal is once again being doubled and the ball eventually swings to Satoransky on the perimeter with Kyle Lowry closing out. Satoransky patiently waits for Lowry to closeout and then he blows by him to get the space he needs to get off a beautiful floater.
In this next clip, Satoransky gets a pass in the corner, once again off of a Beal double team (if you are sensing a theme, we will discuss it in a moment) that swings to him. Once he gets the ball he sees Jarrett Jack’s momentum carrying him off to the side, which opens up a clear lane for him to drive into the lane for another nice floater.
Looking at these clips, it is no wonder we have seen the discussion of Wall’s lack of movement on offense. It’s clear he doesn’t always take advantage of opportunities afforded to him while playing off the ball. Meanwhile Satoransky, who does not possess the same burst to take defenders off the dribble, has used his craftiness to generate quality looks off of closeouts. If Wall could use his speed and athleticism in the same way it could greatly enhance his efficiency.
Patience on Offense
Another area where Wall struggles at times is settling for inefficient shots early in the shot clock instead of working to get better looks later in the offense.
What Wall Has Done
Here’s an example from earlier in the season where Wall takes a contested, baseline jumper with 17 seconds left on the shot clock after collecting an offensive rebound:
What Satoransky Has Done
Wall and Satoransky are similar in that neither are great at taking contested shots, but Satoransky has shown in recent weeks that he’s more patient in finding an open shot. What helps Satoransky in his decision making and what has ultimately helped the Wizards to stay afloat without Wall is his self-awareness. He understands his limitations and works within them, rather than try to be something he isn’t.
In a game against the Sixers earlier this season, you can see this approach play out. There are less than three seconds left in the half when he gets the ball. No one would fault him for taking a jumper at this point, but he decides to move quickly to create an opening for a better shooter. He attacks the closeout and moves the defense in enough to create enough space for Otto Porter to drill a buzzer beater right before the half.
Some would call this a willingness to look for a better shooter, others might call it a hesitance to take a bad shot. While Wall’s aggressive approach can pay dividends at times, being a little more patient makes a lot of sense, considering how many efficient shooters he has around him now.
Another tidbit to consider
A big thing to keep in mind here is Beal’s usage has increased significantly this season, and that was even before Wall’s knee issues flared up. Beal is Wall’s first teammate since Jordan Crawford to post a usage rate over 25 percent for a season. So regardless of what you think about how Satoransky runs the team, Wall needs to do some things differently to take advantage of Beal’s growth.
Over the past few weeks, he has had time to study how this team has played, and what they’ve done well in spite of his absence. The time is quickly approaching for him to show what he’s learned and his willingness to make the changes necessary to get the Wizards to the next level.