We are now exactly halfway thought the 2013-14 season for your Washington Wizards. There have been many highs and lows as the Wizards have compiled a 20-21 record through the first half of the season. Here are some takeaways from the first 41 games this season.
Most Valuable Player: John Wall
‘AND NOW…INTRODUCING YOUR STARTING LINEUP FOR THE 2013-14 EAST ALL STARS! AT POINT GUARD HAILING FROM RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA AT 6-FOOT-4, THE FASTEST MAN ON THE HARDWOOD…J-OOOO-HHHHH-NNNNNNNNN W-AAAAA-LLLLLLLLL!
This did not happen because fan voting determines the All-Star starters, but John Wall should be the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference in February’s All-Star game. He has been that good. Through the first half of the season, Wall is averaging 20.2 points per game while dishing out 8.5 assists, grabbing 4.3 rebounds, and swiping 1.9 steals. The only other player in the league currently averaging more than 20 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game: Golden State’s Stephen Curry. Pretty good company.
The basic numbers do not tell the entire story for just how good Wall has been and how important he is to the Wizards. First off, the Wizards go as Wall goes. When Wall is locked in and playing with energy so are the Wizards. He is undoubtedly the leader of this team. You can tell how much Wall’s winning mentality has rubbed off on his teammates. With his unique combination of size, speed, and vision, Wall makes everyone around him better and it is the biggest reason why the Wizards are primed for their first playoff birth since the 2008-09 season.
Besides his leadership, Wall’s biggest impact on this team is his passing ability. He is currently fourth in the league in assist per game at 8.5. The Wizards are scoring 20.5 points per game off Wall’s assists. Wall is one of four guys in the entire league who creates more than 20 points per game off their assist who has played more than 30 games. His penetration and passing ability are the focal point of the Wizards offense for stretches. Because he can beat almost anyone off the dribble, Wall forces the defense to collapse and finds one of his many shooters spotting up around the three-point line. The Wizards shoot the fifth highest 3-point percentage in the league (38 percent) and Wall’s passing ability is the main catalyst of that.
While Wall has been setting up teammates all at a high rate this season, he also leads the team in points per game. Wall has been at his best so far this season when he is getting out in transition. Wall is a one-man fast break. He gets a few easy buckets a game just because he can beat everyone else down the court and finish at the rim. You would like to see more of this. When he attacks the basket, he is at his best. When he settles for contested jumpers, Wall is highly inefficient.
Wall’s shooting is still his biggest weakness. Although he is shooting a career high (sadly) 31.8 percent from 3-point land, Wall’s jump shot still needs a lot of work. The most work his jump shot needs is when he is pulling up and shooting. As the saying goes, “stats don’t lie.” And in this case they prove that Wall is the most inefficient pull up jump shooter in the league so far this season. He is the only player in the league who takes nine or more pull up shots a game and shoots less than 35 percent on those shots. It is certainly an issue for Wall, but the best way to counter his shooting woes off the dribble is to attack the basket more. Instead of settling for the 15-foot jumper just because it is open, Wall needs to use his size and athleticism more often and get to the rim, where he is a solid finisher. Also, the Wizards need to continue put Wall in better positions in the second-half of the season. Wall is clearly a much better jump shooter going to his right (shotchart below), meaning the Wizards should look to get him going to the right off more pick and rolls and isolations.
You can go on all day about Wall’s struggles shooting ball, but you can live with it for now because of how important he is to the Wizards. With Wall on the court, the Wizards score 106.6 points per 100 possessions. With Wall off the court, the Wizards score only 93.2 points per 100 possessions. Yeah, I would say he is important to their success.
Biggest Disappointment: Eric Maynor
The Wizards signed Maynor this offseason to a two-year, $4 million dollar contract hoping he would be able to come in and backup Wall. Well, the Wizards tried to let this happen and Maynor failed miserably. He has seen action in 22 games this season, averaging 9.5 minutes per game in those contests. In those minutes, Maynor is averaging 2.4 points on 30 percent shooting and 1.8 assists. However, those numbers may do him justice for how bad he has been. When he was the primary backup (has not seen action in 18 of the Wizards last 21 games), the Wizards had one of the worst benches in the league, he could not get the Wizards in to any offensive flow, and every opposing guard had a field day offensively against him as he tried to stay in front of them. With him on the court, the Wizards score only 87.1 points per 100 possessions. That is bad.
It is shame he has played so poorly because I have always like Maynor’s game since his VCU and Oklahoma City days and I had pretty high hopes for him as a Wizard. He just does not seem to have it anymore since the devastating knee injury he suffered while playing in OKC two years ago. It is even more of a shame because the Wizards backup point guard spot is one of this team’s biggest downfalls. Garrett Temple mans the duties now, but he is only a slight upgrade from what Maynor brought to the table early in the season.
Best Game: Win over the Miami Heat
This was a no-brainer. The Wizards shocked the full-strength Heat 114-97 on Jan. 15 in front of a rowdy Verizon Center crowd. I wrote about the signature win in more depth last week, but it was just an awesome game in which the Wizards had everything clicking.
The Wizards got off to as hot of a start as any team in the entire league has this year. In the first quarter, they scorched the nets for 43 points on 77.3 percent shooting from the field while knocking down all five three-point attempts as well. The Wizards had the Heat scrambling around as they whipped the ball around the perimeter to create easy shots. Of course, it is easy to get up for games against the two-time defending champion, but we saw the full potential of this Wizards team in this contest. It was quite the sight to see.
Best Play: John Wall’s circus finish against the Chicago Bulls
I honestly still have no idea how the shot went in. Take a look as Wall was thrown around by Bulls forward Mike Dunleavely and somehow flicks the ball over the head as he simultaneously smacks the court. What a play from the one and only John Wall.
Favorite Moment: Bradley Beal beating the New York Knicks
It was Bradley Beal’s first game back from his leg injury that had sidelined him for a few weeks, but Beal had no rust in this one, especially in the fourth quarter.
They say stars always come to play in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, and Beal was nothing less than a star in the fourth period. He went 6-of-8 from the field, scored 14 points, and dropped in the last five points, including the game winning layup, for the Wizards in their 102-101 victory.
You can watch the full highlights below of Beal’s 21 points in the game, but if you want to see the magic in the final minute just fast forward to 1:10 in the video. Beal’s bomb from about 26 feet was a big time shot and is a huge reason why this was my favorite moment up to the halfway point this season.
Biggest Storyline: Not being able to get over the .500 hump
The Wizards have had five chances to go over .500 for the first time since the 2008-09 season and their record in those five game is 0-5. For some reason they just cannot win that one game to reach that high point for this lowly franchise.
They have lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons (twice), and the Boston Celtics in games they had a chance to get over .500. You would think the Wizards would have been able to knock off one of those teams to have a positive record. The only team on that list who has a winning record is the Mavericks. Is it beginning to become a mental thing for the Wizards in these “above .500 games.” I believe they may actually be feeling a little pressure in these games. I mean after all, it is what everyone is talking about the minute they are .500 again. And their latest game against the Boston Celtics helps prove my theory correct and may be an indication that this franchise will in fact NEVER get over .500 (kidding…maybe).
Going into Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics, I really thought this was the one. The Celtics had lost 12 of their last 13 games. They were coming off a tough road loss in Miami the night before. They were missing Rajon Rondo and his backcourt counterpart, Avery Bradley. They were starting rookie Phil Pressey, who has the fifth worst player efficiency rating for a point guard in the entire league. All the pieces were falling together for the Washington Wizards. The basketball gods seemed to be on their side! I figured they would waltz into their home arena, handle their business, and come out with a winning record. Unfortunately, it was not just the bloggers who thought this. The Wizards players did as well. Jeff Green came into his college arena and lit the place up for 39 points. Phil Pressey shut me up and dropped 20. Gerald Wallace ending the game with an isolation which led to a layup and the Wizards lost 113-111 in overtime.
It was a disappointing and uninspiring loss. The Wizards came out tight and unenergetic and the Celtics took advantage of that by going up by as many as 19 at one point. The Wizard players should embrace the .500 record and accept the challenge of doing something no Wizards team has done in years. If they do not, this will be the biggest storyline of the second half of the season.
The second half of the season is going to be fun. We will likely get to Wall make plays during the All-Star game. The Wizards will be right in the mix for a playoff spot in the East. And maybe just maybe, the Wizards will have a winning record at some point in the next 41 games. Stay tuned.