The Washington Wizards entered Wednesday tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 28-22 record and rely heavily on Wall. He is second in the league with 9.3 assists per game and averages 19.4 points, second on the team behind fellow all-star Bradley Beal. Defensively, Wall is often tasked with shutting down the best opposing guard on the floor, often disrupting passing lanes (2.7 deflections per game) with quick hands that can create turnovers (1.3 steals per game) and blocks shots (1.1 per game).
It’s easy to look at the worst-case scenario whenever a team loses its best player, but it doesn’t take a defeatist to realize that the Wizards are in trouble while Wall is unable to suit up.
Yes, I know the Wizards beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, the fifth-best team in the West, without Wall on Tuesday night, but the Wizards shot a woeful 38 percent from the field and needed Oklahoma City to set a season-high turnover rate of 17.4 percent, with their 20 turnovers also equaling a season high. So let’s call that a Thunder loss instead of a Wizards win.
And trust me — wins like the one Tuesday night will be the exception, not the rule.
This season, the Wizards outscore their opponents by 4.3 net points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor. When he sits, their inconsistencies are magnified and they are beat by 1.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s roughly the difference between the top team in the East, the Boston Celtics, and a worse version of the Detroit Pistons, who are currently out of the playoff picture. When Wall missed nine games earlier in the season, Washington was outplayed by 1.3 net points per 100 possessions.
|2017-18 Wizards||Off Rtg||Def Rtg||Net Rtg||Implied win rate||Projected wins out of 82 games|
|With Wall on court||109.0||104.7||4.3||0.706||58|
|With Wall on bench||103.9||105.6||-1.7||0.376||31|
|Wall out for games 20 to 27||104.9||106.2||-1.3||0.492||40|
The way to mitigate the loss of Wall lies in how backup guards Tomas Satoransky and Tim Frazier play in his absence. Satoransky is averaging 10.5 points and 11.4 assists per 100 possessions and Frazier is chipping in 14.5 points and 8.0 assists per 100 possessions. Those aren’t up to Wall’s standards, of course, but no one should think that’s possible.
|2017-18 Wizards (per 100 possessions)||Points||Rebounds||Assists||Steals||Blocks|
“We don’t expect all of a sudden for Tomas or Tim to be one of the best point guards overnight,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said before the Thunder game. “But we expect them to play hard and play together, move the ball and defend, help each other and get through this.”
Satoransky did that against the Thunder on Tuesday, holding Russell Westbrook to five points on nine possessions in addition to chasing him down the court to finish with a block near the rim. Frazier still has to grow into the role but hopefully can do little damage playing 15 minutes a game.
Beal figures to carry the brunt of the offense with Wall rehabbing his knee. When the two shared the court this season, Beal was used on 26 percent of the team’s possessions, sharing the burden almost equally with Wall (28 percent). With Wall off the court, Beal is using 32 percent of the team’s possessions, nearly 10 percentage points higher than both Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris. Beal will also have to work harder to get points for himself and to manufacture opportunities for his teammates due to an increase in double teams.
|2017-18 Wizards||Usage rate with John Wall on the court||Usage rate with John Wall on the bench||Difference|
|Kelly Oubre Jr.||14%||23%||+9%|
|Otto Porter Jr.||16%||21%||+6%|
He’s been double-teamed on 30 percent of possessions this season compared to just 24 percent last season, and that figures to go up with defenders able to key in on him in Wall’s absence. But Beal has been deft at passing out of these situations, whether he finds himself in isolation (1.2 points per possession, fourth most among 13 players double-teamed on at least 40 iso possessions in 2016-17) or as the ballhandler on the pick-and-roll (0.94 points per possession, top 66 percent of the NBA).
“I have no choice,” Beal said. “I’m a 6-4 guard and every one else is 6-9 so I have to get off the ball as soon as possible. When they try and take me out of the game I try and find ways to be aggressive whether it is in iso or try and get around the pick and roll. If I see it, I try to get rid of it was quick as possible because it’s an advantage for us.”
To remain competitive in the East, the Wizards have their work cut out for them. Using the win rates that fuel our weekly power rankings, which take into account a team’s actual record and what its record should be based on points scored and allowed — also known as its Pythagorean win percentage — Washington could have been expected to win 46 games in 2017-18 with Wall available for the entire rest of the season. That falls to 43 victories by season’s end with him sidelined for six to eight weeks. There is, however, a 42 percent chance they exceed that mark.
“I’m not happy about [Wall’s injury], but I am excited about the opportunity for the other guys,” Brooks said. “We’re not going to be down. We are going to try and win every game. We’ve had some stinkers along the way but we still got a good group of guys that will continue to fight for one another and hopefully we can win some games along the way.”
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