John Wall

3 things Sixers fans should know about the Washington Wizards

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3 things Sixers fans should know about the Washington Wizards

The Wizards and 76ers are about to become rather chummy.

The two squads are poised for a home-and-home set beginning Tuesday in Philadelphia. Those of you paying attention to Washington this season are probably aware it’s been a rough ride through 40 games. The Wizards, a team with hopes of conference title contention when the season tipped, are 3.5 games out of a playoff spot.

The ceiling lowered following news John Wall required season-ending surgery for bone spurs in the back of his left heel.

Nobody told that to their other All-Star guard, Bradley Beal, or the other players. Washington improved to 3-2 in the last five games without Wall including Sunday’s stunning 116-98 win at Oklahoma City.

Some thoughts on what’s working and what to watch for during this two-game showdown.

1. They’re very different without John Wall offensively, but different doesn’t mean worse

Washington learned late in 2018 that Wall would miss the remainder of the campaign. Considering the Wizards’ struggles this season even with its five-time All-Star point guard, assuming the season would go kaput isn’t a major leap.

Hold that thought.

Similar to last season when the explosive, but ball-dominant Wall missed 41 games with injuries, the Wizards are finding a new path with a sharing-is-caring approach. In the five games since Wall’s last appearance, Washington leads the NBA in passes per game (331), one slot ahead of Philadelphia, while averaging 27 assists. On the season, the Wizards average 284.9 passes and 25.2 assists. The team’s offensive net rating, 108.3 on the season, jumped to 111.8 in the recent stretch.

Tomas Satoransky embodies the pass-first approach and cohesive vibe. The 6-foot-7 guard has 21 assists with only seven turnovers since replacing Wall in the starting lineup.

2. Otto Porter, super sub

Not every team brings their highest-paid player off the bench. The Wizards have done that in three games since Otto Porter returned from a knee injury that cost the small forward 10 games. There’s a good chance the status holds even as Porter rounds back into shape.

Among the NBA’s most efficient scorers and three-point threats over the previous two seasons, Porter labored through the early portion of the season along with his teammates. Among the primary issues were limited shot attempts and usage. A team player to a fault, Porter averages only 9.9 shots. His usage rate of 16.3 compares with Philadelphia’s supporting cast, namely Shake Milton (17.0) and Amir Johnson (16.4). That’s wild for a career 40 percent three-point shooter two years into a four-year, $106 million contract.

Playing with the second unit puts Porter in the focal point role. It’s also bringing out his aggressive side. Despite minutes restriction limiting him to fewer than 25 minutes in each of the last two games, Porter attempted 14 and 17 field goal attempts respectively. In 24 minutes against the Thunder, he had 20 points on 7 of 17 shooting (4 of 6 from beyond the arc) with six rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Following the win, Wizards coach Scott Brooks hinted at Porter remaining on the bench for now.

3. Boards battle

The Wizards remain dreadful on the glass this season. Their negative rebounding differential of 7.2 easily ranks as the league’s worst. The 76ers dominated the boards, 58-42, in the first head-to-head meeting this season, a rousing 123-98 romp.

Some blame goes to playing without center Dwight Howard (back surgery) for all but nine games, but mostly the effort inconsistency has plagued the team much of the season.

Here’s the thing: When they rebound, they win. Including the win in Oklahoma City, Washington is 9-0 this season when out-rebounding its opponent. With their lack of size, rebounding truly is a team effort for the Wizards. Seven players snagged at least five rebounds against the Thunder.

Winning the rebounding statistic isn’t necessary assuming they take advantage of opponents on the perimeter and in the open court. It just helps if they can keep the margin close. Just know if they flat out finish with more rebounds, they also are likely walking away with the win.

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Wall injury could help Wiz in short and long term

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Wall injury could help Wiz in short and long term

It was time. The bone spur in his left heel was just too painful and surgery was necessary, even if it ended his season. The season was going sideways, anyway.
 
Yes, the star point guard had just signed the richest contract in NBA history, over $150 million. But this is likely best for the long-term, for the individual and the organization. Plus, it might just help add the team’s next star in the draft.
 
Oh, you thought I was talking about John Wall?
 
My bad. I was actually talking about Mike Conley, who underwent season-ending surgery last January to smooth a bone spur in his left heel. This appears to be a similar injury to the one that Wall is dealing with at the moment.
 
As one person close to the situation described the injury to NBC Sports, Wall has a “spur stuck in his Achilles and it won’t calm down. Probably need to look at the big picture.”
 
For frustrated Washington Wizards fans, that big picture may look a lot like the current Memphis Grizzlies. Conley’s season-ending surgery in late January eventually led to the No. overall 4 pick and Jaren Jackson Jr., who looks every bit like the future star of a rejuvenated Grizzlies franchise.
 
The Wizards still have their 2019 first-round pick, which, at the moment, might be the team’s most valuable asset. According to Tankathon.com, the Wizards have a 37.2 percent chance of landing a top-four pick.
 
The 2019 draft will be the first with the NBA’s reformed draft lottery odds. Under the new rules, the teams with the three worst records have an equal 14 percent chance of receiving the No. 1 pick. The team with the fourth-worst record has a 12.5 percent chance, an almost negligible difference of odds. In years past, the NBA drew ping-pong balls for the top-three picks. Now, it’s four.
 
The big question is whether the organization shifts into rebuilding mode. And that decision is going to be a difficult one now that the Wizards have already traded 26-year-old Austin Rivers and 23-year-old Kelly Oubre Jr. for veteran Trevor Ariza. That’s a win-now move, not a rebuilding move. If they want to go the youth movement and jockey for draft positioning, letting Rivers and Oubre play through their mistakes would’ve been an easy shift.
 
However, they may not have to shift at all. The Wizards have been playing like a lottery team over the last month or so, going 2-8 over their last 10 games. Even before Wall’s season-ending diagnosis, the Wizards were battered and bruised. Dwight Howard might be months from returning. Markieff Morris and Otto Porter both sat out Friday’s game with minor injuries. To make matters worse, Sam Dekker turned his ankle and left the game as well.
 
No doubt that the Wall news is a tough pill to swallow for the Wizards faithful, but this might be a blessing in disguise. Yes, fans might look at his average annual salary of $42.5 million through 2022-23 and cringe even more. But that max extension is precisely why you might opt for surgery now.
 
Does having bone spurs in your heel that grind into your Achilles tendon sound like something you want to aggravate by playing another 50 or so games? No. This is the smart course of action because of that enormous investment that the Wizards made in Wall. After surgery and a full summer of rehab, Conley is playing some of the best ball of his career, averaging 20.3 points and tying a career high with 6.5 assists in Year 3 of a five-year max extension.
 
Also, the Wizards don’t have to throw in the towel just yet. If last season is any indication, they might be able to turn things around. When Wall went out in late January, the Wizards uncorked a five-game win streak and ended up going 15-12 in the 27 games he missed.
 
We also might see a different Otto Porter now that Wall is sidelined. In the 121 minutes that Porter has played without Wall this season, he has played like the star they envisioned, averaging 19.6 points, 8.3 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from deep, per NBA.com tracking. Those numbers shrink to 13.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 47 percent shooting with Wall on the floor. Last season, a similar trend followed: Porter’s numbers ballooned without Wall across the board.
 
Wall’s backup, Tomas Satoransky, could see a big boost as well after his breakout performance during Wall’s absence last season. Though he didn’t wow anybody in the disappointing loss to Chicago on Friday, the 27-year-old big combo guard can be a change of pace for the team. Though he’s not a natural pick-and-roll point guard, he can be creative in transition and run with Bradley Beal.
 
Beal might also be able to turn this adversity into an opportunity. The 25-year-old has watched his assist rate grow for the fourth straight season and that should only continue in Wall’s absence. The Wizards have actually been plus-23 in 341 minutes this season when Beal plays without Wall. Beal’s assist rate jumps from 4.1 per 36 minutes with Wall to 6.1 assists per 36 minutes without him. (When they’ve shared the court this season, they’ve been minus-110 in 977 minutes, per NBA.com tracking. Yikes.)
 
The question is whether they want to try to eke into the playoffs at all. The worst-case scenario would be just missing the playoffs and sitting outside of the top 10 in next year’s draft. That’s a very real possibility considering that the Wizards have only 26-percent odds to make the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight tracking and just 1.3-percent odds, per Basketball-Reference.com’s simulations.
 
It might be prudent to see Wall and Howard’s injuries and admit that it’s time to build for next season. Let promising 21-year-old Thomas Bryant bang in the post against the NBA’s best. See what you have in 19-year-old Troy Brown Jr. -- the team’s next “Jr.” swingman waiting in the wings. Give Dekker and Ron Baker every chance to prove they belong in the league.
 
Memphis was 17-31 when Conley announced his season-ending bone spur surgery last season. They handed the keys to Marc Gasol and the kids. They lost 29 of the last 34 games of the season and ended up with maybe the most promising big man of the 2018 class in Jackson Jr.
 
Can the Wizards make the same gamble? With the draft lottery flattening out for the top-four picks this year, this might be just the time to find Wall and Beal’s next running mate.

Sixers 123, Wizards 98: A 2nd straight blowout win

Sixers 123, Wizards 98: A 2nd straight blowout win

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The Sixers could get used to not having every single win be a nail-baiter.

They earned a second straight blowout victory Friday night, 123-98, over the Washington Wizards. The Sixers led by as many as 35 points. 

With the win, the Sixers are 16-8, 12-1 at the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve won seven of their last eight games. 

• As was the case in Wednesday’s win over the Knicks, the Sixers’ defense was very good. 

Washington relies on Bradley Beal and John Wall to produce much of its offense out of isolation sets, and those two didn't do much damage. Beal and Wall combined for 30 points on 10 for 28 shooting.

• The Sixers matched Jimmy Butler up against Beal, as expected, and JJ Redick on Wall, which was more of a surprise. 

Redick did well in his first stint on Wall, playing solid positional defense and funneling the All-Star guard into help. Wall missed his first four shots of the game. 

• The Wizards announced Friday that Dwight Howard will have back surgery and be reevaluated in two to three months.

With Howard sidelined, Thomas Bryant and Ian Mahinmi split the minutes at center for Washington.

Joel Embiid had 16 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, dominating Bryant and Mahinmi inside. Embiid was a team-best plus-30. 

Head coach Brett Brown had the luxury of removing Embiid late in the third quarter and playing the big man a season-low 22 minutes. 

• The Sixers’ energy and effort was simply better than the Wizards’ from the opening tip. To put it frankly, Washington looked like a team that is fielding offers for just about everyone on the roster, as reports indicate. 

The Sixers grabbed the first 10 offensive rebounds of the game. 

A play early in the second quarter was emblematic of the Wizards’ early effort. T.J. McConnell lost the ball driving into the paint and a couple Wizards players halfheartedly pursued it. Butler picked it up and tossed it to Wilson Chandler, who nailed a wide-open three-pointer.

• Ben Simmons attempted only eight total shots, but he made them count. He hit all five field goals and all three of his free throws.

When Furkan Korkmaz threw this lob it looked like there was no way Simmons could reach it, but Simmons soared above the rim for the finish. 

Simmons had 13 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. He won’t be happy about his six turnovers. 

• In the middle of the second period, the Sixers had a lapse as the Wizards cut the deficit to single digits after a string of Sixers’ turnovers that allowed Wall to build a head of steam in transition, where he thrives. 

Butler had two important baskets that helped the Sixers’ stagnant offense during that period. Finding Butler and letting him create his own shot is a nice run-stopping option the Sixers had been lacking. 

Butler had 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes. 

• Shake Milton, the No. 54 pick in this year’s draft, made his NBA debut in the fourth quarter. He didn’t waste much time before notching his first NBA points, burying a three-pointer from the right wing on his first possession. 

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