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Remember when John Wall didn't get a single vote among GMs for best passers in the NBA?

Remember when John Wall didn't get a single vote among GMs for best passers in the NBA?

The praise being heaped on John Wall now that the Wizards are in the playoffs for the third time in four years is deserved. But it reeks of overcompensation in some circles.

Before the regular season began, a survey of the league’s 30 general managers ranked players in all sorts of categories, including best passers. The results of the survey suggested one of two things: 29 other GMs aren’t very smart or they didn’t actually vote, instead farming out the responsibility for their votes to someone else on their staff.

(Yes, this happens in polls that are far more serious than a preseason NBA poll. In USA TODAY’s coaches’ polls for college football and basketball, for instance, the actual coaches don’t always do the voting. A lot of assistants do it and sometimes they’re not even assistant coaches.)

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Chris Paul, LeBron James, Ricky Rubio, Rajon Rondo and even Ben Simmons, a rookie who’d never played an NBA game (and missed the entire season with injury) got votes. Wall somehow didn’t (his own GM, Ernie Grunfeld, wasn't allowed to vote for him).

Of course, he took exception to the survey, and for good reason. Wall was among the leaders in assists in 2015-16 when he averaged 10.2 and averaged a career-high 10.7 assists per game for second-best in the league this season. He didn't suddenly become a good passer. 

In Game 4 against the Celtics, he pulled off one of the sickest assists in the postseason to Marcin Gortat.
 
The omission is a bit embarrassing, but 29 other teams — not even the Sacramento Kings — aren't that clueless. Leaving Wall out among the top passers is like forgetting to vote for Steph Curry among shooters.

It's more of an indication of brand recognition, though you'd think NBA personnel would know better that to gloss over Wall in such a manner. He doesn't get the respect that his talent should demand. Wall and the Wizards might be able to change that for good if they get past Boston and into the conference finals for the first time in four decades.

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By the numbers: A beyond the box score stat each Wizards player can improve this season

By the numbers: A beyond the box score stat each Wizards player can improve this season

The Wizards kick off their 2018-19 season on Thursday against the Miami Heat, as they look for much better results than they got last year. The Wizards want to push for 50 wins and get past the second round of the playoffs and in order to do so, will need to improve in a variety of ways.

Here is a look at some stats that go beyond the box score that each Wizards rotation player could improve upon...

John Wall, PG, 1.8 contested threes per game

Bradley Beal is one of the best in the business at contesting three-pointers, at least when it comes to the frequency of closeouts. He was ninth in the NBA last season in the category with 4.1 per game and that was down from 4.4 the year before, when he placed fourth. Wall, on the other hand, has generally averaged less than half of Beal's output. 

Some of that can be explained by the fact Wall is usually guarding the primary ball-handler, while Beal is asked to defend a shooting guard and shooting guards generally shoot a lot of threes. But if Wall could improve in how many closeouts he gets on threes, the Wizards could become one of the best teams at defending the perimeter. They were already good last year at opponents three-point percentage, but could make strides in the amount of threes they allow. Last year they were 12th with 10.2 per game.

Bradley Beal, SG, 30% on pull-up threes

Beal's offensive maturation has been a joy to watch over the years and last season was the All-Star season breakthrough we all expected to arrive someday. But there is still room to grow and for a shooter as good as Beal, he could be better at pull-up threes. Many of the best scorers in the NBA have killer pull-up threes and last year Beal lagged behind, shooting just 30 percent on those plays. 

The good news is that he shot over 37 percent in each of the previous three years. If he gets back up there this season and works it back into his game that now includes an improved attack off the dribble, he will be incredibly hard to stop.

Otto Porter Jr., SF - 0.1 charges drawn per game

Porter does so many things well and is one of the more underrated players in the league. But no one in the Wizards' rotation took fewer charges than Porter. Now, that's easier said than done when LeBron James is barreling down the lane. But small forwards can be some of the most effective charge-takers on the floor because they often operate in the midrange and can step out of traffic to confront guards. Just look at Shane Battier's career.

Markieff Morris, PF, 1.5 screen assists per game

Morris didn't have a ton of opportunities to rack up screen assists last season as he was often playing alongside Marcin Gortat, who was especially good at setting screens and played a central part of the pick-and-roll. But Morris may play some more at the five spot this year in small-ball sets and executing good screens will be one of the biggest determinants of his success.

Dwight Howard, C, 0.5 fastbreak points per game

This one isn't going to be easy for the big man, who will likely be starting many of the Wizards' fastbreaks by rebounding the ball and dishing it out immediately to Wall or another guard. But Howard could get so many of his points this season simply by hustling up the floor in transition. Since he may have to sacrifice some of the post-up opportunities he enjoyed in Charlotte, fastbreak dunks could help him compensate. He just has to keep up with Wall. Sounds easy, right?

Kelly Oubre Jr., SF, 2.7 deflections per game

This number for Oubre is actually pretty good. He was tied for 24th in the NBA in the category and for a guy who doesn't play super-heavy minutes, that's not bad at all. It's just that Oubre has the potential to be one of the very best players in the game at deflecting passes. He has the wingspan, the quickness, and the instincts to wreak havoc like few players can. This is also one of the stats that GMs will notice when they determine how much to offer him next summer. If he finishes, say, top-five in the NBA, that will be a major selling point.

Ian Mahinmi, C, 15.6 defensive rebound percentage

Mahinmi had the best offensive rebound percentage on the Wizards last year, but was fourth on the defensive end. The Wizards want to be better defensively and play with more pace and Mahinmi will be a big key to accomplishing those goals for the bench. They need to get the ball off the rim and out to Austin Rivers and Tomas Satoransky as soon as possible.

Austin Rivers, SG, 36.3 percent on catch-and-shoot threes

Rivers' 64.2 free throw percentage is his biggest area to improve this season, but since the point of this article is to go beyond the box score, let's go with his catch-and-shoot three-point percentage. Rivers was decent last year and has been better in the past, but his ability to space the floor and fire it away quickly off a pass is going to be important for the Wizards' second unit this season. Last year, Rivers was better at hitting threes off the dribble, but will need to knock down shots on catch-and-shoot plays to reach his ceiling playing alongside Satoransky.

Tomas Satoransky, PG, 0.0 percent on pull-up threes

What was true for Rivers is the opposite for Satoransky and to an extreme degree. Despite leading the NBA with a 52.2 percentage on catch-and-shoot threes, he literally did not make a single attempt from three off the dribble. 

Don't believe that? Check his NBA.com splits page. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 and has a high release point. He is also getting more and more comfortable creating off the dribble. The next step for him as a shooter is to diversify how and where he shoots from on the floor. 

Jeff Green, PF, 1.0 deflections per game

Green was one of the best players on the Cavaliers last season at contesting shots, but ranked 12th on the team in deflections. He has the size and athleticism to get in passing lanes, despite playing much of the time around the rim.

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Scott Brooks reiterates patience with rookie Troy Brown Jr.

Scott Brooks reiterates patience with rookie Troy Brown Jr.

When the Wizards initially drafted Troy Brown Jr. this summer, the anticipation was that his versatility would be valuable long-term, but his talent was still raw.

Scott Brooks reminded everyone Wednesday that nothing's changed, and Brown will get plenty of opportunities to grow his game both in the G-League with the Go-Go, and up a level with the Wizards.

This is the right approach by the team, and the best situation with the young rookie who just turned 19 back on July 28th (he was born in 1999 by the way, in case you want to feel old). 

Sure, at the time he was drafted, the team lacked depth, and fans may not have wanted to see a player so young and raw when there were plenty of needs to fill.

Once Jeff Green and Austin Rivers were added to the roster though, it made Brown's development a process that can be moved along at a slower pace.

Brown showed plenty of flashes that show his skill set brings promise, but now, he can take the time to work on them, without the pressure of high expectations and a larger role right off the bat.

The NBA is all about finding players that can do a variety of things now, and Brown, with the right amount of patience, can bring just that to the Wizards in the future. 

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