With the intense NBA offseason cooling down, there is time for reflection on what the Washington Wizards accomplished and a chance to look at the road ahead. For the next couple of weeks, CSNwashington.com Insider J. Michael and Wizards correspondent Ben Standig will examine various issues and answer questions as the Wizards move toward the 2015-16 campaign.
If Wall and Beal play this coming regular season at the level they performed during the postseason, are they the best backcourt in the league?
J. Michael: Of course, but this is a big “if” and I’m not a big fan of hypotheticals. Though the playoffs are a bigger stage – and the Wall-Beal combo was the best backcourt in the first two rounds -- being the best overall is about the long game and not a small snapshot in time. Wall and Beal were dominant for 10 games. The other 82? Wall was spectacular until late January, when his sore ankles started to slow him down. Beal has yet to play a full season or make it without that stress injury in his lower right leg. His third season was sub-par considering the expectations.
The NBA’s best is Steph Curry and Klay Thompson until proven otherwise. There are no “ifs.” They’ve done it for an entire season and did well enough in the postseason to help the Golden State Warriors to a championship. That’ll be difficult to top because it will always be the tiebreaker in a conversation about where Wall and Beal stack up. But can they be as good? Yes.
Ben Standig: No. No, no. No. Nope. No...But, yeah, maybe.
The Golden State duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson hold the best backcourt distinction and not just because they won an NBA and World Championship over the last year. Riley's father is a ball handling savant, the best deep shooter on the planet and arguably number one in league history. Mychal Thompson's 6-foot-7 son set an NBA record this season with 37 points in one quarter and defends at a high level. They're the Gold-en standard.
Whether people realize it or not, they tend to put more weight into the regular season than the playoffs when discussing best of the best. Everyone who has ever argued for Tom Brady over Peyton Manning or dared question the greatness of LeBron James knows what I'm saying. That's the portion of the overall season that we live with longer. Individual performances perhaps standout more because legends and storylines have six months with which to bloom -- six months every year, that is. The playoffs are often viewed as a snapshot. If a new narrative emerges, harder to wrap head around how this could be. Plus, in the playoffs, individual buzz is also competing far more with the overall idea of team plus emotion of a do or die nature.
In the context of the regular season, there is no debate. Curry and Thompson trump Wall and Beal and every backcourt in the NBA. End of discussion. That's the perception anyone asked this question would answer. If we designed an experiment where one group only watched the playoffs, the Warriors tandem might still win, but the gap is much, much closer. That's because for the last two years, Beal played his best basketball when lights were brightest while Thompson went the other way.
Beal averaged 16.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists during the regular season over the last two seasons. In the playoffs during that span, 21.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. The 40% 3-point shooter during the regular season is a just tad lower (38.9%) during the playoffs.
Thompson's scoring average dipped two and three points respectively in each of the last two seasons. He sank over 40% of his 3-pointers in each of of his four NBA seasons. He didn't crack 39% over the last two postseasons.
It's not just stats, but also that Eye of the Tiger. Beal stepped up his game in the playoff series against the Hawks when Wall fractured his wrist. Sure, Thompson made all nine of his 3-point attempts during that 37-point quarter, he went 8 for 28 over the last four games of the NBA Finals. The debate over whether Curry or Andre Iguodola should have been named MVP overshadowed the fact that the Iguodola was no less than their second-best player in the finals. Thompson held that distinction during the regular season. Nobody thought so during much of June.
Part of the reason Beal's game showed improvement during the playoffs stemmed from the fact that his regular season was underwhelming. Thompson set his bar high. Both teams played 82 regular season games, but Thompson and the Warriors played two more playoff rounds than Beal and the Wizards this season. The lengthy wing's production helped make that so. Maybe Beal and Wall get the deer-in-headlights look in their first NBA Finals.
Because Curry trumps all guards in the NBA until further notice, Thompson is an All-Star and the Warriors are reigning NBA champions, Golden State keeps the best backcourt title without discussion. However, if, as has been the case for the last two years, Beal does his best work on the biggest stage next season, Wall remains an assist machine and Thompson performs under his level of expectations, perhaps the discussion changes.