A New Hope in Washington

            On November 6, 2012, Barack Obama was reelected as President of the United States.  Obama returned to Washington under the slogan, “Forward,” a direction the local Wizards certainly did not appear to be moving.  Before the season, the Wizards, presumably adding veteran players in an attempt to reach the playoffs, dealt Rashard Lewis and a 2nd round draft pick for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor.  Despite this salary intensive attempt to make the playoffs, through January 11th, the Wizards were a depressing 5-28 and, just to make the experience even more enjoyable for their fans, scored at a league-worst 93.1 points per 100 possessions (per nba.com).  Despite the record, the Wizard’s most disheartening situation was the state of their young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.  Prior to the season, Wall developed a stress fracture in his knee, and was scheduled to miss much of the beginning of the season.  Though Wall had flashed promise in his first two seasons in the league, popular opinion (expressed in this Yahoo! Ball Don’t Lie article http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball-dont-lie/john-wall-returns-practice-impresses-011655092–nba.html) was that Wall needed to take a drastic step forward in the 2012-2013 season to establish himself as the franchise block the Wizards thought they had drafted.  Instead of coming into the new season showing off an improved jumper, or better ball control, Wall was not even able to practice, let alone play. While will was stuck off the court, Beal was struggling on it.  In 32 games played prior without John Wall, Beal shot 32.3 percent from 3, 38.9% on 2 point field goal attempts, and had a true shooting percentage of only 46.8% (per nbawowy.com).   Though he was promoted in college as an aggressive guard with an incredible shooting stroke, Beal struggled to get to the rim, attempting only 17.95 of his shots from 0-3 feet and 25.0% from 10-15 feet, and converted on a less than impressive 32.3% on the three point attempts that accounted for 34.1% of his field goal attempts, and though the Wizards struggled regardless of whether Beal was playing or not, they were outscored by 1.1 more points per 100 possessions with Beal on the court compared to off.  Beal, like Wall before him, had shown potential, but struggled to consistently convert the promise into production.

            In a January 12th contests against the Atlanta Hawks, John Wall, once the lord and savior of the eternally damned Wizards (in this case original sin is drafting Jan Vesely) began his 3rd season, ready to rise again.  And while the Wizards have not yet ascended to the heavenly height of above average, they have managed a promising level of decency since Wall’s return.  Spurred by an impressive defense and slightly improved but still bad offense, Washington has won 12 of its 20 games since Wall’s return, good for a .600 winning percentage that would place them 4th in the Eastern Conference if sustained for a full season.  However, in this lost season it  is the improved performance by Wall and Beal that bring hope for a better future in Washington.  Though Wall, only shooting a 48.3% true shooting percentage, still has yet to approach his potential as scorer, he has developed an ability to create offensive opportunities for his teammates.  Wall has assisted on a career high 44.3% of his teammates field goals while he is on the court, up 7.4 percent from last year, and his team scores 4.3 points per 100 possessions more while he is on the court than off.  Though the Wizards 101.3 offensive rating with Wall on the court would place them at a mere 26th in the league per basketball-reference.com, many of the lineups Wall is most featured in are much better offensively, including the oft-used starting lineup of Wall – Beal – Webster – Okafor –Nene which scores 105.5 points per 100 possessions and allows an impressively low 82.2.

            Wall’s emergence as an effective, though often frustrated, floor general has best reflected itself in Bradley Beal’s performance over the last 2 months.  Since Wall’s return, Bradley Beal’s true shooting percentage has jumped to 57.4, prompted by Beal’s incredible 3-point shooting efficiency.  Over the last 20 games, Beal has made 46.9% of his 3-point attempts, including 12 of 18 from the left corner 3, and 9 of 18 from the right.  John Wall’s ability to force defenses to help by beating primary defenders off isolation in the pick and role have opened up many opportunities for Beal, who has not failed to take advantage.  Though Beal never receives the ball on this possession, this play displays how Wall creates space and opportunity for Beal.

            As Wall drives right off the pick and roll, Jan Vesely’s man steps across the lane to contain the penetration, leaving Beal’s man forced to guard two people on the left side of the court.  Wall beats the hedging big man and misses the semi contested layup over the help defender.  As this happened, Beal’s man committed to Vesely at the rim, leaving Beal open in the left corner, from which he has been nearly automatic since Wall returned.  Though he did not do it on this possession, Wall has displayed the ability to consistently convert the pass to the corner 3, which would allow Beal to shoot, or attack the close out by the defender who began the possession guarding him.

            This synergy between the talents of the Wizard’s dynamic young guards has led to many wins over the last two months, and brings hope that, with a few even-slightly prudent decisions by Wizard’s management, these wins are just the beginning.

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