Wall Thrilled to Be in Playoff Hunt
John Wall doesn’t try to hide his excitement about the 2013-14 NBA season. As the Washington Wizards find themselves on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in Wall’s four-year NBA career, the 23-year-old is all smiles.
While the Wizards haven’t officially secured a playoff berth, they are currently in the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed at 34-31. They’re five and a half games up on the challengers for the eighth seed, and Hollinger’s NBA Playoff Odds give Washington a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs based on their simulations.
Wall realizes how close the Wizards are to achieving the goal he has set out to accomplish for the last few years, and he seems to be enjoying himself.
Shortly after the Wizards defeated the Orlando Magic in overtime on Friday night, Wall buzzes around the locker room like a hyper child. He jokes with nearby veteran Al Harrington about how much longer he’ll be in the NBA (Wall pleads for the 34-year-old to play several more years; Harrington laughs and says only if he gets to skip training camp every year). He talks trash about the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and reminisces on his dance moves that took the nation by storm while he was at Kentucky.
After winning 23 games as a rookie, 20 games as a sophomore and 29 games last year, Wall is ecstatic that the team is now competing every night and celebrating rather than sulking in the postgame locker room. When asked how much fun he is having this season, Wall lights up.
“We’re finally over 29 wins! It’s been fun,” Wall said with a smile. “But like I’ve been saying for awhile, we’re far from finalizing our playoff spot. We still have a long way to go. We still have 17 games left, I think, and if you lose 10 in a row or something like that, you could be out of the playoffs. So we’re trying to stay level-headed, we haven’t gotten locked in to a spot right now so we need to keep competing and fighting because there are a lot of great teams that are right behind us.”
Fans don’t realize how much of a toll losing takes on players, and Wall was clearly fed up with the team’s struggles in recent years. Wall, like most NBA players, grew up winning at every level. His teams were always on top or, at the very least, in contention and he was usually the best player on the floor. Going from being a perennial winner to losing 158 of 230 games over a three-year span is hard for an extremely competitive athlete.
It also leads to criticism and doubt. In recent years, Wall’s talent and leadership were questioned. Some wondered if he was a franchise player. When the Wizards decided to give Wall a maximum contract extension last summer, some critics felt that he wasn’t worth such a lucrative deal.
However, Wall responded by delivering his best season as a pro and his production has translated into success for the Wizards. He is averaging 19.6 points, 8.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals. When he runs the Wizards’ offense, he seems much more comfortable and he elevates the play of those around him. While he is still capable of outrunning everyone down the court for easy points in transition, the game has also slowed down for him, which has helped his decision-making and control. Wall leads the league in assists and ranks third in steals.
There’s no question that he’s one of the best up-and-coming point guards in the NBA, and he was named to his first All-Star team this season. Wall takes that honor very seriously, and has embraced everything that comes with that title.
“When you’re an All-Star, you have to step up and take on a bigger role,” Wall said. “That’s the situation I’m willing to accept and do and something I’ve been doing all year in being a leader. The one thing I think I proved and learned is that you don’t have to do it all by just scoring. You do it by doing different things, in playing better defense, getting your teammates involved and just having that energy that I have when I play well against those other point guards who do it on a consistent basis.”
Wall sensed that this could be a huge year for the Wizards after watching how well the team fared when he returned from injury toward the end of last season. Washington finished last year’s campaign on a strong note, beating a number of playoff squads and making people wonder how good they could’ve been had injuries not held them back.
“At the end of last year, we were fighting and we were in every game,” Wall said. “We had one of the best records in the NBA at the end of the year when everybody got healthy. So we knew what kind of team we could have this year, how good we could be. But the biggest thing for us now is just trying to get everyone healthy down the stretch to try to fight for a better playoff spot and then make a run there.”
Maturity is another area where Wall has made significant strides in recent years. Not only is he more of a vocal leader, he’s understanding what it takes for a team to be successful. Take the game against Orlando, for example. Wall struggled with his shot for much of the first half, at one point missing seven of his first eight attempts. However, he continued to impact the game, setting up plays for others, playing stifling defense, hustling up and down the court and then, late in the game, finally hitting a number of key buckets to lift the Wizards in overtime. He admits that he’s gotten much better about keeping his composure and continuing to affect a game even when things aren’t going smoothly for him.
“In the past, I probably wouldn’t have been hustling back. I would’ve been pouting and keeping my head down,” Wall admitted. “The one thing that we understand is that we have to play defense for 48 full minutes, because when we’re not hitting shots, that’s how we’re going to win games.”
Wall’s evolution into an elite point guard has certainly been the catalyst for Washington’s success, but the fact that the Wizards brought in a number of experienced veterans definitely helped the team on and off the court as well. Players like Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster, Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Drew Gooden have been in the league for a long time and understand what teams need to do in order to realize their full potential. They have given Wall an arsenal of weapons to work with on the court, but also been invaluable for him off the court.
“They’re great and having them around makes my life so much easier,” Wall said of Washington’s veterans. “I’m always talking to those guys. To have those guys trusting in me and believing me as a young point guard in this league, it means a lot. Without those guys, I don’t think I’d be who I am today. They’re the ones who have given me this confidence and trusted me with the basketball. They’ve helped me become who I am today.”
The veterans have been just as impressed by Wall this season. Ariza and Webster, who joined the Wizards last season, rave about their floor general.
“He makes this team go,” Ariza said. “We’re going to go as far as he takes us. He makes all of the plays and he’s becoming a really good leader here. He’s been unbelievable for this team.”
“He’s grown a lot,” Webster said. “He has a competitive nature, that’s just the way that he is. When you have that competitive nature, it’s easy to get things going. It takes very little to motivate him. He accepts the challenge each and every game. He knows all of the opponent’s plays in advance, he’s calling them out. He’s a general out there. He knows things that are going to happen before they even happen and that’s big. He’s talking to us as they’re bringing the ball up the court and letting us know what they’re going to be doing. That’s big. And offensively, he’s taken his game to another level. I love his confidence, and we’re going to need that in the postseason.”
In recent years, Wall would tell anyone who would listen that his primary goal was to lead Washington to the postseason. Now, it appears he’ll be able to cross that off of his to-do list and start focusing on making noise in the playoffs and turning the Wizards into a legitimate contender in the East. If Wall’s tremendous leap forward this season is an indication of what’s to come in the next few years, it’s certainly a realistic goal.
NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17
Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.
The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.
By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.
For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.
A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.
6. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)
Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.
This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.
Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.
Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.
Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.
The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.
In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.
After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.
Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.
Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.
Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.
Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.
At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.
The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.
Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.
As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.
After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.
No big deal.
That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.
Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.
Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.
The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.
James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.
Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.
What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.
On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.
LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.
NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?
The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?
At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work
The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?
Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.
All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:
Not Enough Touches
The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.
That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.
It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.
That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.
Russ Has To Be Russ
When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.
The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.
Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.
Where’d Offense Go?
The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.
There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.
Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.
It’s Not A Selfish Problem
The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.
Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.
But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.
All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.
It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.
That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.
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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return
Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.
The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.
Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.
“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”
The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.
Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.
Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.
To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played). Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.
“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.
“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”
Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.
The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.
Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.
“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”
In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.
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