It’s hard to think about much of anything in the wake of the tragedy that occurred at the Boston Marathon today, but I’m going to do my best here to help do what sports is mostly intended for and distract you (and myself) from today’s evens. My thoughts and well wishes to those affected by the tragedy today, and my gratitude to the law enforcement officials and first responders working to restore normalcy in a shaken city. If you are outside of Boston and unable to help directly, I suggest donating to the American Red Cross if you are financially able.
With that in mind, let’s look at tonight’s matchup, between the 47-33 Brooklyn Nets and the 29-51 Washington Wizards.
The Wizards’ poor record is a bit of a misnomer. Without star point guard and first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft John Wall, the Wizards started the season a porous 4-28, including a 12-game losing streak to start the season. With Wall in the lineup, the Wizards are no pushover, and have been a much more respectable 24-23 — a record that, if extended over a full season, would place them as the seventh or eighth seed in the East.
What’s different with Wall on the court? Everything they do offensively. While their defense is essentially the same — they allow 100.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall off the floor and 100.2 with him on, a negligible difference — the offense undergoes a complete transformation. They’re a full eight points per 100 possessions better offensively with Wall on the court than off (102.5 per 100 with him on, 94.5 with him off). To contextualize, that’s the difference between being the 17th-best offense in the league and the worst by over three points per 100 possessions.
On the season, Wall has averaged 20.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, shooting 44.7% from the field in 47 games. His PER of 21.0 ranks him sixth among all point guards.
Wall can’t — and hasn’t — done it purely alone. Emeka Okafor is a double-double machine. Nene is expected to miss the season, but is one of the league’s best centers. The Wizards will be without rookie guard Bradley Beal, who’d been on fire since Wall returned, averaging 15 points per game on 46.8% shooting (46.6% from three-point range). But the difference starts with Wall as the team’s fulcrum.
The team plays at a much faster pace — an average of 97 possessions per 48 minutes, four more than with him off the floor. As a whole, the team shoots better — from the field (45.9% to 41.7%), from 3 (40.7% to 34%), and they take more shots at the free throw line (24.4 per 48 minutes to 19.0). Jared Dubin of HoopChalk did a great post on how the Wizards’ shot selection as a team has changed since Wall’s return. Despite one Wall criticism — that he’s a bit loose with his decision-making and commits a high number of turnovers — the team turns the ball over less with him as the floor general.
Of course, the Nets have their own star point guard — Deron Williams — but Williams will sit, along with every other starter from Sunday afternoon’s game. So if you’re looking for reasons to watch, you may have to settle for “good basketball from Washington’s point guard.”
(Also, for Toko Shengelia. And for Andray Blatche’s inevitable 20 field goal attempts. And for Reggie’s bench celebrations. Actually, there might be a lot to root for tonight.)