HOUSE OF ZARDS: TINY BALL AND SUPER WALL

I’m a day late, but between Monday Football, and knowing the Wizards were playing the Heat, I wanted to wait another day before reassessing the team. I was hoping I could turn this into a dual DC Sports Win! sort of thing. But, no. Desean Jackson is the f***ing worst and my hopes and dreams were crushed.

Let’s move on.

Since we last evaluated the Wizards, the team has been all over the place. They started off by losing four in row (woo!). Two bad games against the Pacers and the Hornets, a demolishing at the hands of (again) the Celtics, and a heart breaking loss at the buzzer to Toronto after John Wall missed two crucial field goals. Two days later, they beat the Cavaliers! Things are back on track, Wall has 35 and 10, and we’re ready to get things going. The following night, the Wizards lose to a Lakers team that just handed the 76ers the only win of the season. Depression.

Then there’s Phoenix. No big men save for Ryan Hollins, whom we picked up off the street, and Dejuan Blair…. And we win! 34 points from Bradley Beal keeps us alive.

Dallas. Still no big men. We’re starting to embrace our new tiny ball with Jared Dudley at center… but Wesley Matthews doesn’t care and drops 36 points on us on 10 of 17 from three point land. It might as well be a schedule loss, but still, we thought we’d found something.

Then last night. Miami. Hassan Whiteside, the biggest of men (maybe not, but the dude has more blocks by himself this year than the entire Wizards team… so yeah) and we only have Kris Humphries.  Miami gets 18 from Bosh, 20 from Dragic, 26 from Wade, but only 14 from Whiteside including an unbelievably low 4 rebounds…Otto Porter (!!) has twice that many by the end of the first quarter. Insanity, and the Wizards get 26 from Wall, 21 from Beal, 21 from Neal, and 14 rebounds from Otto Porter who played extensive minutes at the center position. Win.

What in the world is going on this year?

Turnovers and Defense

The Wizards were turning the ball over like they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to. As of right now they turn the ball over on 14.8% of their possessions, good for 27th in a league of 30 teams. I understand they want to play with pace, but if the Wizards are going to win games, especially close ones, they have to take care of the ball. Additionally, the Wizards currently rank 23rd in defensive efficiency and are not outscoring their opponents enough if they want to compete in the playoffs. If they can minimize the turnovers, thus limiting transition opportunities for their opponents, they’ve already helped their defense.

Jingle Wall the Way

John Wall is an early candidate for Eastern Conference player of the month and we’re only a week in. Since that four game losing streak, Wall has taken it upon himself to play better and be the leader the team needs to get going. Bradley Beal is fantastic, but it’s John’s attitude that really affects the rest of the team. When he’s engaged, locked in, and pushing the ball, the rest of the team falls into place.

After getting off to a solid start, John regressed in November, averaging 14.5 points, 7.8 assists, and 37% shooting from the field (including a disgusting 27% from three). So far in December? He’s averaging 28 points, 9.4 assists, and 56% shooting from the field (including an impressive 47% from three). He is the pulse of this team, and his engagement determines the wins.

He’s actually thriving in this small ball lineup because he has space to work in transition. He’s never really been a half court player, despite how well he runs the pick and roll with Gortat, and works much better when the lanes are clear for him to drive and dish. When the bigs are healthy, Wittman may want to consider using them sparingly.

Speaking of small ball….

SUPER TINY BALL

It all sort of happened by accident, by the Wizards have stumbled into a jewel of a lineup, one that can be pointed to when talking about some of their recent success despite the injury woes to the front court. Take a look at this:

John Wall / Gary Neal / Bradley Beal / Otto Porter / Jared Dudley. Otto Porter at the four and Jared Dudley at center? How is this successful against any lineup at all? Well it’s currently outscoring opponents by 52 points per 100 possessions, their best lineup yet, though it’s only played 13 minutes together. Not only that, but they are dead even with their opponents in rebounding, a win considering their size.

They are fouling more in this lineup, probably out of necessity, and turning the ball over more than their opponent, which is a consequence of playing a fast place. These are things you can live with if you’re hitting your shots, which this squad obviously is.

I’m not ready to declare this a solution, because teams watch tape, learn your nuances, etc. But maybe when Gortat returns, you start him and limit his minutes.

Upcoming

The Wizards host the Rockets tomorrow night, but start a one week western conference road trip that includes New Orleans, Dallas, Memphis, and San Antonio. This small lineup will be put to the test in each of the situations, and Wall’s recent surge will have to continue if Washington hopes to at least split. New Orleans is certainly beatable, as is Memphis, but Dallas has already beaten the Wizards once and the Spurs are off to probably their best start ever.

My prediction is that the Wizards might come out of it 3-1, losing to the Spurs, but you never know, the turnover woes could return, and the Wizards may return to D.C. with fourteen losses and a long way to go in terms of grabbing a playoff spot.

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