The Wizards go nowhere without John Wall. Wall can only take them so far, however, and that’s where Bradley Beal comes in. With just that duo and a slew of role players alongside them, they’re a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
However, in today’s NBA, you need at least two genuine stars, ideally three, with a couple of high-end complementary pieces to even sniff the upper echelon of teams. Wall has been a genuine star for several years now, and Beal has finally crossed that threshold. Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat are fine pieces to have, but they’re more in the Shaun Livingston, Jordan Bell, Kyle Korver, Channing Frye mold.
If the Wizards are to ever reach the level that Golden State, Cleveland, Houston and San Antonio are at, they’ll need the Andre Iguodala, the Dwyane Wade, the Clint Capela, the Rudy Gay.
In Otto Porter, they could very well have that, but he’s got to be more consistent. He’s having a nice season — his 14.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks per game are all career bests — and he’s finding his role on the team as the third scorer who is expected to pick up the slack when Wall or Beal are out.
But there are games where he simply doesn’t make the impact expected of a third weapon, especially when Wall and/or Beal aren’t contributing at their expected levels. For example, five times this season, Porter has played at least 20 minutes and failed to score in double digits, and 12 times he’s failed to surpass 12 points.
Scoring isn’t everything, but he’s not much of a playmaker yet — he has just seven games in his career with five or more assists — and he’s a decent defender but not an elite one. The Wizards need him to be more assertive and look for his own offense, otherwise it’s left to Wall and Beal to shoulder the vast majority of the offensive load.
The Wizards are 11-6 when Porter scores at least 15 points this season, and three of those losses came against the Warriors, Cavaliers and Raptors, three of the top six teams in the NBA.
Incidentally, the Wizards are also 11-6 when Oubre scores 12 or more points. For comparison, Oubre only had 14 total games of 12 or more points entering the season, so that’s already an incredible step forward.
His numbers for the season show a similar leap: He’s averaging 11.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.5 blocks per game, all career highs. Consider that he averaged just 6.3 points per game on seven fewer minutes per game a year ago, and it’s obvious that he’s become a much bigger part of the Wizards’ success.
That’s all very positive. But there are still clear issues that must be worked out if Washington is going to take that next step.
Here is what Oubre contributed in a recent loss to the lowly Brooklyn Nets: 29 minutes, 13 points on 13 shots, 2 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls.
Here’s what he did in an early-season loss to the cellar-dwelling Phoenix Suns: 22 minutes, 8 points on 7 shots, 2 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls.
Here’s what his numbers looked like in a loss to the lottery-bound Utah Jazz earlier this month: 28 minutes, 11 points on 8 shots, 1 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 2 turnovers, 2 fouls.
Here’s his line from the October loss to the now 11-23 Lakers: 39 minutes, 9 points on 10 shots, 3 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 1 block, 1 turnover, 3 fouls.
Here’s what he put up two weeks later against the now 12-25 Mavericks: 26 minutes, 9 points on 11 shots, 7 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 1 block, 1 turnover, 1 foul.
I’m cherry-picking, sure, and Oubre certainly doesn’t deserve the lion’s share of the blame for Washington’s frustrating habit of losing to bad teams. Even Wall admits the team tends to go stat-hunting in those games.
But in total, in those five losses against teams with a combined 65-114 record, Oubre’s numbers are: 50 points on 49 shots, 15 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal, 3 blocks, 8 turnovers, 15 fouls. That’s … unsightly.
Again, those losses aren’t on Oubre, nor are they on Porter. The stars get the credit when things are going well and they get the blame when things are going poorly, so fingers will always be pointed first and foremost to Wall, then to Beal.
But while Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson were the stars behind Golden State’s first championship, Andre Iguodala was the Finals MVP. When the Miami Heat came back to stun the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, it was Ray Allen — not LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh — who hit the clutch game-tying 3.
When the Lakers beat the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals, it was a heads-up play by Ron Artest grabbing the offensive rebound (off Kobe Bryant’s miss) and tossing it up in time to seal the win. Artest also hit the clutch 3-pointer that helped put away the Boston Celtics in Game 7 the very next series.
And let’s not forget all the big moments by the Derek Fishers and Robert Horry’s of the world. And remember who hit the game-winner in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals for the Chicago Bulls? It wasn’t Michael Jordan, it was Steve Paxson.
The point is, it’s not just the stars who need to shine for a team to thrive. Wall and Beal have carried this team for years. Now it’s time for Porter and Oubre to carry their weight.