MINNEAPOLIS — Tim Frazier has carved out a career as a backup NBA point guard by being himself. On Tuesday night, as he made another start in place of four-time all-star John Wall, who is sidelined for an extended stretch, the Washington Wizards showed how they can win even with Frazier not changing his role.
As Wall sits with a left knee injury, Frazier will attempt to do what several other backups could not — effectively take Wall’s place. Wall was averaging 20.3 points on 16 shot attempts and 9.2 assists before coming out of the lineup to receive treatment on his ailing knee — numbers that the Wizards will not, realistically, expect Frazier to produce. But the 6-foot-1, 170-pound player in his fourth year out of Penn State can get away with being the anti-Wall.
Throwing slick no-look passes, obliterating the rim on fast breaks and dropping 20 on a whim — the Wizards must wait until Wall gets healthy again to get this out of their starting point guard. With Frazier, they’ll take simplicity. Against the Timberwolves on Tuesday, Washington Coach Scott Brooks used Frazier as a backup, playing him a little less than 16 minutes. Frazier scored two points, dished four assists and followed the trend of several other starters by sitting the entire fourth quarter and finishing as a minus-11 while on the floor.
“He’s not going to play like John and we don’t expect him to play like John,” Brooks said Tuesday night before the Wizards faced the Minnesota Timberwolves. “We want him to just play to his best ability, and that’s getting our team in the offense and not turning the ball over, take the open shot.”
Frazier played a quiet eight minutes in the opening quarter. He returned to the bench as Tomas Satoransky came in ready to shoot and showcase his game, scoring five points and assisting on four field goals through nearly 11 minutes in the first half. Other times, the Wizards went without a traditional point guard guard as Bradley Beal brought the ball up and initiated the offense.
The lead guard-by-committee plan will likely continue as Wall recovers while receiving platelet-rich plasma and viscosupplementation injections in his left knee. The team announced Saturday that Wall would miss approximately two weeks.
During Wall’s career in Washington, the team has employed several backup point guards and no one has stuck for two consecutive years. Even last season, the Wizards attempted to fill the position with three players — and two are no longer on an NBA roster (Trey Burke is playing in the G League while Brandon Jennings plays in China) and Satoransky became the third man in the point-guard rotation.
By making a draft-day trade for Frazier, who will become a free agent next season, Washington again found a temporary solution to an eight-year problem. Frazier hasn’t tried to copy Wall, and Brooks — a career backup himself as a player — likes it that way.
“I was smart enough to realize I wasn’t as good as the guy in front of me but I had to play my game,” Brooks said. “My game was just being aggressive defensively, being a pest. Making sure that we got into our offense, not turn the ball over and make open shots. I kept my game simple.”
In his first start Saturday night against Portland, Frazier scored a season-high 11 points. Frazier looked more aggressive than usual, but still stayed within his own personality — especially as he exaggerated contact against Damian Lillard, the point guard he backed up during the 2015-16 season, and drew an offensive foul.
“Sometimes I go out there and get rebounds, sometimes it’s draw charges and steals, flop from here to here,” Frazier said. “Whatever the team needs for us to win that’s between the lines and appropriate, I’ll do.”
On Tuesday night, with the Wizards staring at an early 12-4 deficit, Frazier could be seen directing center Marcin Gortat during a timeout. After the huddle, when Markieff Morris missed a three-pointer and Gortat cleaned it up with an offensive rebound putback, Frazier quickly transitioned to defense and pointed to Morris’s defensive assignment. Later, past the midway point as the Wolves attempted free throws, Frazier made eye contact with Beal and spun his finger in a circle, indicating the Wizards needed to pick up the pace.
Frazier looked the part of a lead guard, but his play bore little resemblance to Wall’s.
Through his opening run, Frazier did not attempt a shot, nor run a pick-and-roll as the ballhandler. He didn’t attempt a shot until the 10:06 mark of the third period — a layup at the rim blocked by Andrew Wiggins. As Frazier’s replacement, Satoransky has shined on the second unit with a plus-13 over the last two games.
Though Frazier played a very limited role, his statistical line was typical — four assists and no turnovers. This season, Frazier has a 2.29 assist-to-turnover ratio. While Brooks appreciates the tidiness to Frazier’s play, he would prefer more shot attempts.
“That’s the thing I want him to do more. If I can criticize one part of his game, take the open shot,” Brooks said. “You work on it, you’re pretty good at it and he seems to pass up on it and he takes a tough shot. But I think he’s done a great job in assists to turnovers.”