When the Washington Wizards learned that point guard John Wall would be out an estimated six weeks after an arthroscopic knee procedure, the team approached coach Scott Brooks with a goal. With nine games remaining before the All-Star break, Wizards players wanted to avoid a letdown with Wall sidelined.
In the wake of Wall’s injury, the Wizards rattled off a five-game win streak and have gone 7-2 heading into the break. The streak included wins over the East-leading Raptors, the Thunder and East playoff contender the Pacers. The only losses were to the Celtics, second in the East, and the 76ers.
“I didn’t want to lose right before the break,” said Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal after Wednesday’s 118-113 win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. “We had told coach we were going to get as many as [we could]. We had nine games before the break and we’re 7-2 in those games. I didn’t want to be 6-3. We already felt like we should have won the two that we lost.”
Wizards wing Tomas Satoransky, who has played extremely well in Wall’s absence, echoed Beal’s comments.
“We’re going to have to keep it going right after the break, but we did our goal,” said Satoransky. “That was for the last nine games to play [at a] good level, sharing the ball … playing aggressive defense, going to the [fast] break, passing the ball.”
While the Wizards reached their goal of finishing strong ahead of the break, Wall has apparently not enjoyed his time on the bench. ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Wall had a meeting with center Marcin Gortat to discuss a tweet that Wall apparently felt was intended as a slight to him.
Unbelievable win tonight ! Great "team" victory!
— Marcin Gortat?? (@MGortat) February 2, 2018
With Washington in need of production as Wall recovers, Satoransky has been able to step up. Prior to the injury, Satoransky averaged 4.8 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists in just over 16 minutes per game. Since January 26, Satoransky is averaging 11.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and a phenomenal 5.9 assists in just over 28 minutes. His microscopic 1.6 turnovers give him the 16th-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA among players averaging at least 20 minutes during that stretch.
The on/off numbers paint the picture of Satoransky’s transformation even more dramatically. Prior to Wall’s injury, the Wizards were outscored by 1.8 points per 100 possessions with Satoransky on court, the team’s third-worst net rating (minimum 400 minutes). Since losing Wall, the Wizards are a team-best +13.7 per 100 in Satoransky’s 253 minutes.
Satoransky isn’t the only Wizards player to make a crazy jump in net rating over the same stretch of games. Gortat went from a +1.5 net rating to +13.3 while Otto Porter (+4.7, +12.1), Markieff Morris (-1.2, +9.9) and Beal (+3.2, +8) saw appreciable bumps as well.
While Satoransky has been phenomenal at setting up his teammates, it’s past time for Beal to be recognized for the complete player he is. While Beal’s scoring output has actually dropped from 24 points per game to 21.8 since the loss of Wall, he’s increased his assists from 3.8 to 6.4. Among 51 players with at least 200 possessions as a pick and roll ball handler this season, Beal ranks 14th with .93 points per possession. Wall ranks 49th with .72.
That’s not to say the Wizards are better without Wall. It would be difficult to credibly argue that Washington can reach its full potential unless Wall is able to fully contribute by the playoffs. Perhaps the Wizards should take a step back and appreciate that, by necessity, the team has taken a huge step forward in ball movement. Without Wall to serve as the team’s playmaking crutch, Washington has found playmaking in unexpected places.
This can only help the Wizards in the long run. For Brooks, that extra playmaking gear is the essence of good basketball. Wall is not made less when his teammates experience a level of success in his absence.
“We’re playing good but we’ve still got a lot of improvement ahead of us,” said Brooks after the Knicks game. “We’ve got to play some tough games coming up. We’ve got to just play together and stick together and keep playing for each other.”
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