The Wizards are a confounding team, on the surface at least. They beat the good teams — see the defeat of the Celtics on Christmas Day — but then turn around and lose to the much less good teams, such as when they immediately lost to the Hawks.
John Wall has a theory.
“We talk about it. We say when we play these teams that are not above .500 or not one of the great teams, we go out there playing for stats,” Wall said, according to The Washington Post. “It’s simple as that. We can see it. I think we all can see it when we play.”
And Bradley Beal offered his own, similar, advice.
“Sometimes we do one-pass shots, no-pass shots. Two or three passes on one side of the floor versus moving on both sides of the floor. Teams are going to load up on me and John. That’s something that we should know by now. We got to do a better job of creating, putting the ball on the floor and moving it.”
For what it’s worth, Wall is averaging just 8.9 assists per game, the lowest he’s averaged since 2013-14. Part of that is Wall struggling with his health this season (he’s playing just 33 minutes per game, the second-lowest of his career) and not having the same energy he had last season; though he had offseason surgery in both knees prior to last season, he quickly rounded into health and put together a career year.
But it’s also just been an objectively worse season from Wall than we’ve seen in several years. He’s shooting just .412 from the field, the lowest since his rookie season, and his rebounds (3.9 per game) and steals (1.0) are at career lows.
When Wall struggles, the rest of the team struggles. This has always been true, and even though Beal, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre have all made strides to become more independent players, Wall remains the heartbeat of the team.
It seems counterintuitive to say Wall’s stats would be down but also he’s chasing stats, and to an extent it is. But much of his stat-chasing has been sprinting headfirst to the rim in hopes of drawing contact, then throwing up a wild shot at the rim. When he doesn’t get the call, he then complains to the ref instead of getting back on defense.
Alternatively, Wall has spent a good chunk of possessions looking for the highlight-reel crossover that ends in a stepback jumper. While he’s got a decent stepback jumper, that’s not what Wall’s game is predicated upon, and he will never be as effective at that as he is at his patented drive-and-kick game.
His best assets are his speed and passing ability. He’s got good ball-handling skills, but he’s no Kyrie Irving or Steph Curry.
Beal, on the other hand, wants to be recognized as more than just a catch-and-shoot guy, and that’s a good thing. But he’s chasing his own offense far too much, and though he’s gotten much better at creating for himself, he’s still more Klay Thompson than Kobe Bryant — meaning he’s better when he doesn’t spend 15 seconds in isolation offense.
Ultimately, however, the Wizards just need to, well, care. They’ve played this season much like a LeBron James-led team starts most seasons: They struggle to put things together early, even though they’re often the superior team in losses. The difference is LeBron James-led teams have LeBron James, and the Wizards don’t.
And the Wizards haven’t accomplished anything yet. Last year was the best season the Wizards have had in nearly four decades, and it wasn’t even a 50-win season, nor did it lead to a title, or a conference title, or even a loss in the conference finals.
So sure, stat-chasing is something they need to worry about. But putting their heads down and ignoring what else is going on around the league and how much respect they are or are not getting is a good start to getting things on the right track.