Shocker, but it turns out the Wizards are actually better with John Wall.
Upon hearing too much chatter about the Wizards moving the ball better without their All-Star point guard, hearing, in fact, they might be a more balanced, cohesive team without him, Wall showed how much Washington really misses him in a 107-93 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
Still, no one was happier to see the franchise cornerstone back on the floor than Wall himself.
“It was great, it was cool,” he said after the game. “Just having the opportunity to practice with the guys the last couple of days and stuff made it easy for me. My emotions weren’t too high, weren’t too low. Just try to come out and play basketball the way I know how to play, not really try to force the issue. It was good to see my first shot go in.”
Wall looked different. Not just because he looked slimmer, had a new hairdo, and started wearing a headband, but also because Wall was doing things differently with the ball in his hands. Wall looked more decisive than he was prior to his surgery.
Wall put an extra emphasis on getting his teammates involved early in the game. He had five assists in the first nine minutes of the game. You could tell there was a chip on his shoulder after all the talk about how the Wizards’ ball movement improved in his absence and it showed in how he set up teammates early in the game.
“I tried not to force the issue, just play my game, and take shots that I always have, but also keep those guys in a great rhythm because they’ve been playing well,” he said. “Just make their job a lot easier so they don’t have to waste so much energy. I think we did a great job of that tonight.”
He made it look effortless most of the game. He zoomed past defenders for easy buckets in transition, got into the lane to create open threes for teammates, and ran smooth pick-and-rolls with Marcin Gortat. Otto Porter and Bradley Beal combined for 12 3-pointers, making them the first pair of Wizards’ teammates to each make at least six threes made in a game since Antwan Jamison and Gilbert Arenas did it back in 2008.
The ball movement was up across the board. The Wizards made 305 passes, much closer to the average the team posted with Wall out (312.8 per game) than what the team averaged before his injury (281.7 per game). They finished with 30 assists as a team, marking the 15th time this season they have recorded at least 30 assists in a game. They also tied their franchise record for most 3-pointers made in a game with 18.
“That Ferrari is pretty good,” head coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s fast, he’s quick. He got a lot of open shots for a lot of players. That’s what he does. That’s what he does at the highest level in the league. All you have to do is just step up and make shots and roll to the basket, you’re going to get layups. He doesn’t need to change, he just needs to keep getting some game conditioning, get his legs under him.”
Wall finished with 15 points and 14 assists as the Wizards clinched its fourth playoff berth in the last five seasons. While head coach Scott Brooks was thrilled of his team punching a ticket into the postseason, he was also thrilled to see Wall post a double-double in his first game back.
“Not a lot of guys can do that,” Brooks said. “I’ve been around the league as a player and as a coach for a long time, and a lot of guys can’t do what he just did tonight out there, like he hasn’t missed a beat. He didn’t shoot the ball well, but got a lot of good looks for his teammates. It’s based on work, it’s based on the effort, it’s based on being diligent, it’s based on coming in and doing the work, even when we were on the road he was here by himself along with (trainer) Jesse (Phillips) and our coaches. They put him through some good work. In our last 10 days of practice opportunities, he came in and gave us great work that gave him a chance to play 33 minutes and not look winded.”
The hard worked showed in his defensive performance. His counterpart Kemba Walker only made three shots and finished with 7 points, his second-lowest scoring output of the season. He also only had 2 assists, tying a season low. Wall took away the easy opportunities and fought through screens to make the tough shots even tougher:
At the end of the day, the Wall’s temporary separation from the Wizards this season may prove to be beneficial for both sides. The Wizards learned they don’t need to rely on Wall to create everything. They have enough depth and firepower for a balanced offensive attack. At the same time, their recent struggles underscore how much they need someone who can do what Wall does when the offense breaks down.
It’s too early to know if this style will last, especially with challenging games against the Rockets and Cavaliers on the horizon, but now they finally have something they’ve been searching for all through this up-and-down season: A blueprint for building on last year’s success.