Live-Blogging Wizards/Pacers and Some NBA Musings

Sporting News
So once again I've been derelict in my duties to spread NBA love and knowledge around the land, but I'm back for another go at it.  Tonight, my adopted hometown squad, the once-and-future Bullets of Washington, owners of a somewhat dubious 3-1 record (based on the competition, not their play) take on the suddenly-woeful Pacers.  While the game doesn't exactly rate very highly on the Vengeance Scale after last year's Eastern Semifinal playoff series -- particularly when accounting for the current personnel deficiencies facing Indiana -- it does present the Wiz with (hi, Philly) another good opportunity to build chemistry against a lesser opponent.  Some thoughts going into the game:

I really like what I've seen from DC's offense so far this year.  Again, the caveat here is the competition they have played, but the point is still valid.  The offensive ecosystem simply looks healthy when I watch them play, and obviously so much of that is tied to the continued development of John Wall.  It would be straight-up homerism to claim that he's approaching superstar status, but he is definitely in the next tier of players below that lofty perch.  He came into the league with so many expectations, and he didn't meet them early on, but what I'm looking at right now is a top-20 player, a legitimate two-way true point guard that has moved beyond just being an athletic specimen.  The "he just slowed down" narrative is true to a degree, but it's more than that.  That "slowness" is a product of having a better understanding of what he's seeing on the court, particularly in the pick-and-roll and on defense.  He doesn't force the issue nearly as much; he just creates scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.  That his shooting has most definitely improved as well is just a bonus.

Wow, I didn't realize just how beat up the Pacers are right now.  They're like the Thunder of the East, except they were starting from a lower baseline of talent.  This is one of the worst starting lineups I've seen in a while that wasn't from Philadelphia.  Doug Collins made the point that the Wizards need to not play down to their competition, and I'm already seeing it a bit.  They aren't executing early on like they were against New York.  They look a touch complacent.  Fortunately, the Pacers don't have competent offensive players to make them pay for it.

Temple has been a nice 3-and-D fill-in for Beal thus far in the year.  More playing time, and more time with the starters, has brought the good parts out of his game.  The gravity that Wall's penetration and Nene's versatility create has left him with a lot of open looks, and to his credit, he's knocking them down.  That bodes well for his prospects as a strong rotation player down the line once Beal returns.  They'll need it if Martell Webster can't come back and contribute this year. 

The Pacers just took a 10-9 lead, mostly off scores from Donald Sloan.  This isn't concerning or anything; the Wizards obviously look like the better team.  I just need to throw a bone to the people who love to overreact about everything.  With that said, the Wiz need to tighten up a bit as the game goes on.  They look like they know they're better, which is always dangerous. 

Wall just threw up a little teardrop floater that I hadn't really seen before from him.  An interesting wrinkle if he can develop that shot.  It shows a maturity in his game that he's working on countermoves now to open up his to-the-basket game on later possessions. 

I don't know if the numbers back this up, but my concern with the Wiz right now is their 3-point defense.  Last night against NY and again tonight, I've noticed that they can be a bit behind on the rotations and the closeouts at the arc.  I don't know if that's a strategic decision in terms of packing the paint against pick-and-rolls (and the resulting ball rotations) or if it's just a matter of personnel (Nene and Gortat playing together limits the speed of the rotations), but it's a concern. 

I'm excited to see what Otto Porter can become, not just this year but over the next several.  He got labelled a bust last year, despite never being healthy and not being able to crack the rotation on the rare occasion when he was healthy.  I thought coming out of Georgetown that he had a chance to be a blue-chipper, and while that may have been a bit optimistic, I'm certain that there is a solid NBA player inside him, and with more opportunities, he's going to show serious improvement.  Having The Truth as a mentor sure doesn't hurt.  He's quick and rangy defensively, and his jumper looks mechanically sound and repeatable.  We're going to think about him differently by the time next season rolls around, trust me.


Other thoughts around the league:

--People are really antsy about Cleveland's struggles already.  It all goes back to what happened when the Big Three first got to Miami.  They went 9-8 to start that season in 2010, and we won't know what we have with this Cleveland team until at least that first 20-25 games this year.  I watched them play that night when they lost to NY, and I saw something familiar.  If you've ever played pickup basketball, there are days when you get put on a team with guys you've never played with prior to that day.  Invariably, the first game your team turns it over a bunch of times, throws passes that aren't on time and/or on target, and generally lacks chemistry.  That's what Cleveland looks like right now.

They don't know all the spots yet where guys want the ball, and that's before we get into the questionable shot selection of Irving and Waiters.  It applies to defense too, but I am a bit concerned that the defensive side of the ball may not be quite as fixable.  The raw material for good perimeter defense is there, but protecting the paint may be another matter.

When the Kevin Love trade happened (or even before, since anybody paying attention knew it was a foregone conclusion), I trumpeted the fact that Love is a superior player to LeBron's former big man running mate, Chris Bosh.  Watching Love now co-exist in the LeBron ecosystem, I have one concern about that statement.  Love is not an atrocious defender -- he's relatively attentive, he positions fairly well one-on-one, obviously he's a monster rebounder -- but he isn't in the same league as Bosh on that end.  The narrative of Bosh being "soft" is completely ridiculous if you actually watch him play defense.  His combination of strength, quickness, athleticism, and anticipation allows him to blow up pick-and-rolls away from the hoop, guard centers one-on-one, and protect the rim from the weak side.  Love just doesn't have that kind of versatility in his skill set, regardless of effort level.  Whether David Blatt will figure out how to "hide" that weakness over the course of the season (and playoff series, where teams will know how to exploit it) is something to monitor for sure. 

--I'm not sure if anyone is paying attention, but Anthony Davis is going full supernova in New Orleans.  It's nice when occasionally the narrative lines up with what's happening on the court, and that's the case with the Brow.  He and Asik are combining to be a defensive force in the paint (saw that one coming), and his offense is growing by leaps and bounds (that too).  He can face up and either shoot the midrange jumper or drive to the basket (shades of early Tim Duncan), his post up game is showing signs, and he's still a monster at the rim.  I just mentioned him, but it does feel like we're seeing a more athletic (and slightly more raw) version of Duncan, which, um, holy shit.  They don't have the perfect roster around him yet, of course, but this is a guy that can be the best player on a title team in a few years, no question.  I love watching guys take the leap into superstardom, and that's what this year is for Davis.  Look out below.

--What's the prognosis on the "special" rookie class so far?  Wiggins is what we thought he was to this point -- a solid defender with superhuman athleticism who isn't even close to fully realized as a basketball player, especially on offense.  He has more raw materials than you could ever ask for, so it's hard to imagine him not turning into at least a borderline All-Star. 

Jabari Parker has likewise been just as inefficient as one would expect coming into the year.  He looks like he's actually healthy and relatively committed to his conditioning, which is different than what I saw at Duke last year.  The offensive polish has been hit or miss, again as you'd expect, but I was impressed by his defensive effort in the game last week against the Wizards.  I still think offensively he's a SF (and a PF in small-ball lineups, kind of like Carmelo), but I don't know if he will be able to guard quick 3's at the other end.  I feel like he'll be an All-Star, but it's unclear if he's a superstar, which is what the Bucks need him to be.

The only other rooks I've seen play that haven't looked overmatched have been Marcus Smart and Doug McBuckets.  That's a good trait to have early on in your career, and it usually bodes well for the future, as long as it doesn't mean that you're topping out as an average guy.  I worry that McDermott's middling athleticism may ultimately limit his ceiling, whereas Smart is only limited by how much he can improve his awful jump shot.  Everything else about him screams star potential. 

The other rookies that bear watching, once they either get healthy or are able to crack their respective rotations: Julius Randle (RIP rookie season), James Young (a future 3-and-D guy if he stays focused), Nik Stauskas (the rich man's JJ Redick), TJ Warren (will need the right offensive ecosystem for his in-between game to thrive), Adreian Payne (will end up like a tougher Channing Frye), and Cleanthony Early (my second round sleeper - just looks like a prototype NBA wing).

--Just started watching the Clippers/Warriors game.  My only observation so far is that I love the defensive versatility of the Warriors.  This is an elite defensive team.  When they have Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston in the lineup, they can switch virtually every pick and still have rim protection (in the form of Bogut or Ezeli).  They look very rangy and very active on that end.  If they can piece together a top-10 offense (which should be manageable with good ball movement), then we have a contender on our hands. 


The Wiz sleepwalked through a large portion of the first half but now seem to be figuring out that they are involved in an actual NBA game.  It's halftime now, and they lead by 5 after a solid run to close the half and a buzzer-beating fadeaway by Pierce, who has otherwise looked his age.  I sense a run coming in the third quarter, not because of any coaching magic that Wittman will perform at halftime, but just because they know that they're in a dogfight now and the Pacers aren't going to roll over.  Talent wins out over time, and we should hit that point somewhere in the 3rd quarter. 

Early in the 4th, and the Wizards' offense has stalled out.  The Pacers are always going to play aggressive defense, regardless of personnel, but the shots just don't seem to be going down at the rate they were against the Knicks last night.  It's unclear what makes this team seem to play worse (or at best, the same) at home vs. on the road.  It was the same story last year, and it doesn't make much sense.  It's pretty obvious that the DC home crowd isn't exactly a huge boon, but that isn't the only factor at play. 

It's been interesting over the last couple nights watching the second unit for DC running the plays through Kevin Seraphin.  It doesn't seem like a sustainable way to get buckets over the long term, but it's got to be good for his confidence that the team believes in him to create offense.  Once they can consistently pair him with Porter, Professor Miller, and Temple, it could be a decent unit. 

Tied at 77 with four minutes to play.  Copeland and Sloan just won't stop making shots they shouldn't.  This game just serves to remind how even when you're down to your second and third string players, we're still talking about the elite of the elite. It's cliché, but these guys really do love to compete.  And just like that, Copeland commits an absolutely unconscionable turnover to complete a 4-0 run by the Wizards to create a new cushion. 

**An aside: the Cavs have allowed 59 points at the half to UTAH.  Their defense is turning into a legitimate problem, even if patience is the order of the day.  History has not been kind to elite offensive teams that can't cobble together at least an above-average defense.  I've always said that in a game where you're expected to score, the stops are what matter.  Let's see if co-coaches Blatt and James can get the other Cavs to embrace that end of the floor, and if they have the raw materials to make it matter. 

Jesus, Wiz, finish them off already.  They've seriously lacked offensive execution in this game.  It's looked lackadaisical at times, like a team that knew they SHOULD win.  I really hoped for a better effort. 

Wow, Sloan ties it at 84 with six seconds left.  And for the record, yes, I just turned over from ESPN to the local broadcast, hoping to hear Steve Buckhantz drop a trademark "DAGGER!!!" call at the buzzer.  We shall see in a moment.

Non-dagger.  Pierce bricks one at the buzzer.  To OT, which still favors the Wiz, but really, WTF guys. 

Wow, The Truth just stuffed one on the drive And-1.  It's amazing how former superstars can still summon those plays every so often (Vince Carter does it now and again too), they just don't have it in them every night anymore.  It must be frustrating to be those guys sometimes. 

Wall is taking over.  Up to 30 pts and 10 assists now with a personal 6-0 run.  It's remarkable to see the change in his game and the way he continues to evolve.  A bright, bright future. 

The downside of having Pierce's experience is that Wall defers to him a bit too much down the stretch.  Wall is the guy that creates that healthy offensive ecosystem for the team, and letting Pierce take over the ball at the end tends to disrupt the flow that Wall engenders throughout the game.  Bill Simmons used to call it Boston's "Clogged Toilet Offense," and I guess it's more of a function of the respect that Pierce has as a player than the inability to come up with a better alternative.  I just think you should continue to do what works.  Running the offense through Wall consistently creates better looks for the team than does running isos for Pierce. 

Wall hits one of two FTs to put the Wiz up 2 with 12 seconds left in OT.  Now is when that inattentiveness to the 3-pt line could prove disastrous.  Watch out for Copeland to throw up something crazy. 

What the crap, Hibbert took a three for what would be the winner.  No dice, Wizards win, somehow, some way, 96-94. 

It wasn't pretty (AT ALL), but I liked the way Wall took over and made it his game towards the end (besides deferring a bit too much on late regulation possessions to Pierce).  If they can up the defensive effort at the 3-point line and get back to the ball movement that they had working before tonight, things are looking just fine.  And then they'll get a ready-to-ball Bradley Beal back as well.  Then it's really GAME ON. 

Wizards Party.