The more the Washington Wizards play without John Wall, the easier it is to forget his impact on the team.
“Everybody eats” has been the team slogan since Bradley Beal infamously announced it to the media following a big win without Wall. It’s the team concept that has kept the Wizards performing at a high level in Wall’s absence due to knee surgery. The trade deadlines have passed and the Wizards aren’t going to make any moves until the summer, but the next two to three months will be a window on what we can predict from this team going forward. Are they better with Wall or without him? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate.
Riley: I’ve been a big John Wall advocate since he entered the league in 2010, but perhaps his time in the District has come to an end. Offensively, the Wizards move the ball much better without him, meaning opponents can’t predict whose hands the offense is going through. I hate Wall’s buzzer-beating jumpers that almost never go in, and the sight or even thought of the ball in Wall’s hands with time ticking away makes me cringe. Plus I’m starting to think that the Dallas Mavericks’ J. J. Barea was right when he questioned Wall’s likability on the team. Maybe the team doesn’t really jive well with their franchise guy. Or maybe it’s just how it plays out in the media, but it’s something going on. If Washington can flip Wall for a blue-chip front court guy—any player in the Durant mold who can play multiple forward positions, or a legit center—and pick up a starting point guard, then they’ll win 60 games next year. If they can make another power move and flip Marcin Gortat and the one year remaining on his contract? Now you’re cooking.
Green: Wall doesn’t dominate the ball. He plays within the system the Wizards run and he creates points for everyone around him. His player usage rate (which determines who has the ball and how often) ranked close to 30th in the NBA at roughly 28 percent. Compare that to real ball-hog guards like James Harden, who leads the league at 36 percent, Russell Westbrook at 34 percent, LeBron James at 31 percent or Kyrie Irving at 30 percent and you can easily see the type of team player that Wall truly is.
It was around this same time last year that the Wizards hit their stride. They ran off several win streaks from late January through February last year, just like they are now. They would be on this same run if Wall was healthy. In fact, they would be even better with him because he offers something that no one else on the team can. Wall can not only create his own shot, but he’s literally a one-man fast-break in transition. We’ve all seen him grab a rebound and fly up court for a layup or dunk in less than two seconds. He does that at least two or three times a game. That’s easily an extra six to eight points per night that Washington is missing without Wall.
Riley: How much better would the Wizards be with Wall right now? Would they be a game or two better? That’s not moving the needle for this team. It’s about winning a title. It always is. With or without Wall, they’re a middling team that’s not yet ready to contend, and they may never be. The strength of this team is already on the wings with Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. as slashers. A healthy Wall gives them one of the best perimeter attacks. But even without him, as we’re seeing now, their perimeter attack is still good. Why not flip Wall’s contract and Gortat’s expiring contract for a power forward and a center. They would almost be a shoo-in next year for the Eastern Conference Finals with a more athletic center and a dominant power forward. Teams rarely get better when they deal away their most marketable player, but the Wizards actually could be if they land the right pieces in return.
Green: If you want to run a more equal opportunity offense, that’s fine. It’s about time that head coach Scott Brooks became creative on offense, because he normally stinks at offensive strategy. Just do it with Wall. Do it while keeping your best player. Do it while keeping that “dawg” on your team. Wall has that “dawg” in him—he simply wants to bully and embarrass his opponents when they rub him the wrong way. It’s the kind of attitude that will fuel you to drill a game-winning jumper against Boston in Game 6, then jump on the scoreboard table and yell “this my city!” as the Wizards’ faithful cheer you on. You won’t find that “dawg” in everybody. But Wall has it and he’s not worth letting go anytime soon.