Though losing point guard John Wall to knee surgery for the next six to eight weeks could have undercut Washington’s offense, the remaining players have collectively raised the level of execution with some of the best passing of the season.
Wall ranks second in the league with 9.3 assists per game, but in the three games without him, all wins, the Wizards have totaled 97 assists. Also, their 32.3 assist-per-game average tops the NBA over this three-game stretch.
Somehow, the Wizards improved their passing — without their best passer — by forming basketball’s equivalency to a co-op.
“We know we are going to be without [Wall] for a stretch of games,” Coach Scott Brooks said, “and we have met and we have talked and we are trying to figure out ways how we can win and still be effective because we have a prideful group, guys that care. We have enough, and my job is to find ways to keep moving the scoreboard and keep getting the defensive stops that we need. John is one of the fastest, quickest, toughest guards I have ever coached, and we had to make adjustments without him.”
The adjustment did not happen with the scheme; players say they’re running the same offense as before. But the biggest change might be the new mind set: everybody eats because the Wizards need everybody to fill in for their five-time all-star.
“More guys are playing. We need everybody to win without Five here,” Markieff Morris said, referring to Wall by his nickname. “That’s basically it. We need everybody to contribute. That’s what we got the last couple games.”
When Wall sat out Saturday in Atlanta, the Wizards had their most assists in a single game (40) since 1992. Then on Tuesday night, Washington overcame poor shooting by assisting on 79 percent of its field goals and defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder. By Thursday, the sharing continued against the Toronto Raptors, the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. Every starter had at least two assists, backup point guard Tim Frazier amassed five and the team finished with 30 on 44 makes.
The Wizards’ ball movement showed even as Toronto opened a 12-point lead in the opening quarter. Instead of choking the offense with acts of isolation, players continued to share each possession. Washington closed the quarter with Beal driving into the lane before sending the ball to the left corner for Frazier. Just before time ran out, Frazier zipped a pass to Mike Scott, who was waiting and open beyond the arc for a three-pointer. The shot pulled Washington to within 34-27; a small but significant step in the team’s comeback.
“We are just focusing. With John out of the game, we have to find other ways to score,” Brooks said. “John gets so many easy shots for our guys, and we do not have that. We do not have his speed in transition, we do not have his . . . playmaking on pick-and-roll plays, and we have to make adjustments.”
In the three games before this current streak, as it became apparent that Wall was not playing like his usual self, the Wizards averaged 22.7 assists and went 1-2. Tomas Satoransky has replaced Wall in the starting lineup but doesn’t want anyone believing that the team is somehow better without Wall on the court.
“John is our main guy who’s so gifted in talent, who always creates something the others,” Satoransky said. “We don’t have anyone except Beal who can create one-on-one . . . This is the really good game that we have, passing to each other and having good ball movement in [the] offense. John — you could see he really wasn’t feeling like himself. The knee was bothering him and he wasn’t the John from last year.”
But in his absence, the Wizards want to eat.
“It’s fun basketball,” Beal said of passing the rock around. “Everybody gets a touch, everybody gets shots. It makes life easier. It keeps the locker room close, it keeps the camaraderie going. At the same time, that’s the type of team we need to be in order for us to be successful.”
Read more on the Wizards: