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The way the Eastern Conference is shaking out, the Wizards have a chance to make some noise come playoff time. The Celtics have lost three of the last four games. The constant adjustments due to trades and injuries may finally catch up to the Cavs. The Raptors are in first place, but always seem to struggle when it’s time for the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Wizards have won four of their last six games, including a double-overtime victory against the Celtics. Still, Washington has some housekeeping of its own to deal with. All-Star John Wall has been sidelined since January 25th, after undergoing knee surgery. The Wizards are 15-8 in his absence, and many are wondering if his isolation style of basketball is holding the team back.
How are the Wizards remaining relevant without the cornerstone of the franchise? Otto Porter Jr. is beginning to show the consistency that the organization has been looking for. He’s averaging 17.4 points and 6.9 rebounds a night since the All-Star break. Markieff Morris continues to dominate in the paint. But the biggest reason for the success in D.C. has been Bradley Beal. The shooting guard has embraced his new role as a facilitator.
Beal averages just 3.4 assists per game for his career. In John Wall’s absence, he is delivering 6.3 dimes a night. “Everybody eats,” says Beal. “That’s our motto when we move the ball.” The attitude is infectious. Everyone is making the extra pass.
Jodie Meeks hits the wide-open 3-pointer and we've got OT in Boston.pic.twitter.com/ei4aNpvibQ
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) March 15, 2018
Beal insists that the mantra is no knock on his injured teammate. But you can’t help but to notice that the Wizards are moving the ball more efficiently in Wall’s absence. Washington had 40 assists in a game against the Hawks, the most the team has had in a single game since 1992.
One member of the team, in particular, has noticed the difference in the style of play. Veteran center Marcin Gortat threw Wall under the bus with a subliminal tweet last month.
Unbelievable win tonight ! Great "team" victory!
— Marcin Gortat (@MGortat) February 2, 2018
Gortat and Wall have reportedly patched things up, but a serious question remains. Will John Wall adopt to the team’s new style of play when he returns? Best-case scenario, he will be available for a handful of regular season games prior to the playoffs. Wall will need to use that time to acclimate himself to what this team has become over the last two months.
We know that John Wall can get any shot he wants. There will be a time for that down the stretch in many close playoff games. But in order for this team to be successful, in all four quarters, he’s going to need to facilitate more often.
Physically, Wall may not have any choice but to facilitate when he returns to the floor. He is expected to have lost a step since suffering the injury, and it is unlikely that he will truly get back to 100 percent until the offseason.
In order for him to stay healthy through the postseason, Wall will need to minimize the contact and pounding that led to the left knee injury in the first place. That means more passing after the initial penetration, instead of looking to get all the way to the basket.
Wall has to figure out how to make this work. He signed a four-year, $170 million deal with the Wizards over the summer. Bradley Beal doesn’t become a free agent until 2021. The Wizards aren’t going to trade a 24-year-old Beal to build a team that’s more equipped to play John Wall’s style of basketball.
Both All-Stars can coexist on the floor together. Beal has made it clear that he’s excited about his teammate’s return. “We can’t wait to get John back,” he said after last week’s win against the Celtics. As long as everyone continues to eat in John Wall’s return, there will be a seat at the table for him in D.C.