The Wizards were intent on putting forth a better defensive effort in Monday's game with the Phoenix Suns, and there was no better example than John Wall's play.
He was 6-for-24 from the field shooting and had a game-high 15 assists -- one more than Phoenix's entire starting five -- but it's the havoc he wreaked on the defensive end that made the difference in the 106-101 victory.
It was the ball pressure, blowing up screens, wise decisions of when to double the man with the ball and when not to and just hustle plays. Plus, I've sprinkled in a couple plays how he created offense with not just his speed but decision-making on when to push the issue despite what appeared to be a disadvantage.
Tomorrow, I'll get into Bradley Beal's career-high 42 points and how he had those come to fruition. This is about the tone Wall set to get the Wizards (4-9) on the right path:
-- 6:38-6:28: Wall misses a three short and hustles back to block Devin Booker to prevent the layup. The Suns have produced the most points in transition of any team in the NBA. They were outscored 25-6 on fast breaks because of plays such as this.
-- 5:38-5:28: Wall hustles back, finds ball, blows up screen-roll action between Alex Len and Eric Beldsoe, moves laterally to beat him to the spots and forces the ball out of the middle which is a staple of every NBA defense.
-- 5:03-4:55: Fake dribble handoff from Wall to Beal occupies two defenders – Bledsoe and Brandon Knight – who follow where they think the ball is headed. Wall gets a straight line to the basket, drawing Marquese Chriss and Len, and Wall lays it off between them to Marcin Gortat for a layup. DHOs allow the ballhandler going downhill, putting the defense at a disadvantage espeically if Wall is the attacker.
-- 4:06-3:55: Wall’s ball pressure on Bledsoe, using active hands and correctly shading him to the baseline which he uses as an extra defender. Bledsoe takes the bait and drives into the help as Gortat comes off Len to seal the penetration, allowing Wall to block the shot from his blindside. Good individual and team defense.
-- 3:10-2:54: Wall draws the defense by getting into the paint and then reverses field. Why? Knight had good position but also the lane is crowded. There's no room for a finish or passing lane. Gortat, however, makes an intelligent read to take a step out of the paint which brings his defender (Len) with him. Wall goes into fifth gear off the stop, gets to the rim this time but swings it to Oubre in the short corner. When Wall makes his drive, Beal lifts from the opposite corner to create a passing lane for when Wall gets the offensive rebound. It's an easy, wide-open look for the best three-point shooter on the team.
-- 7:35-7:25: This is 2-for-1. Wall takes an angle under Alan Williams’ screen to cut off any potential of Leandro Barbosa attacking the lane off the catch. Instead, Barbosa takes a long two-point shot that Wall makes an extra effort to contest (despite Williams moving backwards in an attempt to bump Wall, a practice NBA refs allow everywhere but call moving screens in other situations). After the miss, Wall pushes it and makes a simple cross-court pass to Marcus Thornton in rhythm stepping into an open three-point shot.
-- 1:41-1:30: Wall reads the dribble handoff and is careful to not get sucked into it and out of position. He also gets under screen, closes out Bledsoe and pressures the ball. When the pass gets to Chriss, Wall times his double-team perfectly. Rather than trying for it immediately, which would’ve opened up Bledsoe for the pass back for an open three, Wall waits for the rookie to turn his back to make his move on Markieff Morris. That’s when Wall sells out, diving to the floor for the steal.
-- 1:13-1:03: Wall creates something out of nothing, taking a missed jump shot from Bledsoe, luring the defense to sleep as if he’s going to slow it down, kicks it into overdrive as he gets into the paint. He doesn’t have numbers as Phoenix has four players back, but they’re not prepared. He drives by Bledsoe, into the chest of Len and delivers a wraparound to Morris for the dunk.
7:32-7:20: The Suns are about to run some high horns action and Chriss and Len run up to the high posts to give Booker his option of which screen to take. But Wall anticipates it first, pushes up a step to go over top of the screen. Len misses the long jumper. It's a "little" thing but it shows the IQ is there and these are the sort of results the Wizards can generate across the board with better reads, efforts, second efforts and third efforts.
This is the Wall who was NBA All-Defense two years ago. He missed a lot of shots, but his points will come just because of his activity. When the quarterback is willing to get his hands this dirty, the other four players on the court with him have no choice but to fall in line.