The Wizards are not better without John Wall, they are just playing better

Let’s get this out of the way in the start, the Washington Wizards are not better without John Wall, BUT they are playing a better brand of basketball without him. In Wall’s absence, they have stumbled upon a way to play a style that maximizes the talent they have on the floor. Bradley Beal has stepped up not only as a scorer but as a creator for others. It is not just Beal who stepped, down the line, guys like Tomas Satoransky, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre, and Marcin Gortat have picked up their play in Wall’s absence. The key to the Wizards’ new brand of basketball is ball movement. If the Wizards continue with this ball movement trend with a healthy Wall, they can make some noise come playoff time.

Wall has only played 38 games, and has two extended stints; first missing nine games and their last 19 games and counting. The Wizards are 17-13 in the games without Wall and 23-17 with him. Many thought the Wizards were going to fall off once it was announced Wall was going to miss extended time. So struggled in the first extended absence going 4-5 in the nine games Wall missed but really got it going in this current stretch where they are 12-7 (at the time of the writing). The ball is flying all over the court in a good way.

The challenge with playing with Wall is that he dominates the ball offensively, the ball tended to stick in his hand and there just weren’t that many possessions with five or six passes but several ones that had three or fewer passes. The difference between a possession with multiple passes is that it puts more pressure on the defense, especially if they are scrambling. According to NBA.com/stats in the two stints when Wall was playing they ranked 28th and 25th in passes made during that stretch without him they were 11th and 6th now.

  10/17-11/25 W/ Wall 11/26-12/12 W/O Wall 12/12-1/26 W/ Wall 1/27-3/17 W/O Wall For the Season
Passes Made (League Ranking) 273.3 (28th) 309.8   (11th) 277.9 (25th) 314.5 (6th) 292.0 (20th)

This is not a shot at Wall, he’s a great distributor averaging 9.3 assists this season but the issue is that his habit to hold until the ball doesn’t allow the other players to make his job easier. In a three-point loss to the Utah Jazz in January, Wall had a possession where he dribbled for 15 seconds and took a shot with no one touching the ball. Then he came off a pick-and-roll and threw a looping pass to the corner that allowed the defense to recover to the corner and force a turnover. Wall scored on the third clip, but look at little movement there is from the Wizards on the weakside. Finally, watch how little he moves when Beal comes off a double staggered pindown, he’s never a threat once he passed the ball.

Wall’s movement hasn’t gone unnoticed, Zach Lowe pointed it out in his piece for ESPN with a stat that states Wall “has spent 76.57 percent of the floor time either standing still or walking” (Zach Lowe’s 2018 NBA All-Start starters and reserves). The lack of ball and player movement when Wall suits up for the Wizards is a problem for them.

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 3.43.37 PMSince Wall has been out the ball has moved effortlessly, in this play against the Indiana Pacers from Saturday night, there were four passes, the ball went from side to side, a few cuts were made and Satoransky got an open three.

Later in the game, they had a possession with six passes and again the ball goes from side to side, two backdoor cuts, and as the shot clock ticked down they found a good look off a hand-off.

Hopefully, you are seeing the point being made here, but just in case watch another six pass possession again the ball went side to side, it was filled with multiple cuts and ended with a dunk to hammer the point home. The Wizards are just better when they move the ball.

In the four possessions with John Wall, there were five total passes; in the three clips of the Wizards offense without Wall, there were 16 passes in total. The Toronto Raptors changed the way they played from last season to this one, they’ve incorporated more ball movement using the passes made metric they were 27th in 2016-17 with 273.4 (Wizards finished 29th) and this season they are 16th with 299.7 passes made a game. Also if you haven’t noticed the Raptors are sitting on top of the Eastern Conference.

If Wall comes back healthy, he could have a much larger impact on the Wizards if he commits himself to keeping the ball moving on the offensive end and playing with more energy. Tony Parker made a career of giving up the ball and getting it back in spots where he could attack and facilitate the offense, Wall could do that better than Parker and take the Wizards to new heights. Or they continue down the track of mediocrity, which they have been strolling on for the past few years, playing just good enough basketball but not great. Wall’s injury has allowed them to find an identity that can be even stronger if Wall embraces it and could make the Wizards the team no one wants to face in the playoffs.

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