John Wall led the Wizards to a franchise-best shooting night. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
With point guard John Wall at the controls of a penetrate-and-pitch offense, second-year shooter Bradley Beal poised to take a leap, veteran wing Martell Webster re-signed to space the floor, small forward Trevor Ariza coming off a career-best deep shooting season and stretch-four Al Harrington added to provide small-ball punch, it made sense that the Washington Wizards would fire a lot of 3-pointers this season. (Especially considering the injury issues surrounding power forward Nene, Emeka Okafor's injury and subsequent trade for Marcin Gortat, and the continued disappointment of young bigs Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely, Trevor Booker and the injured Chris Singleton.)
Through three games, the Wiz were averaging the league's third-most 3-ball attempts per game (27) and were connecting at a better-than-average 38.3 percent clip (12th in the league), but didn't have a whole lot to show for it; they were 0-3 entering Wednesday's game with the Philadelphia 76ers, who'd already beaten the Wiz once this season thanks in part to some profanity-inducing defensive lapses, and speculation was running rampant that with another loss to the expected cellar-dwellers from Philly, head coach Randy Wittman could earn the dubious distinction of the first pink-slipped coach of the NBA season.
Luckily for Wittman, Wall and company found a nice way to change the topic of conversation — by doubling down from deep and burying the Sixers beneath a barrage of buckets. Behold:
Beal started the scoring with a catch-and-shoot triple just 16 seconds into the game, but the long-range floodgates really opened up about midway through the first quarter. Ariza, Beal, Harrington and Webster all hit from deep over the final six minutes of an opening frame that saw the Wizards hang 39 points on a Sixers defense that couldn't handle Gortat down low (10 points on 5 for 6 shooting in the first) or short-circuit Wall's facilitation (five assists without a turnover in the first, three of which led to open 3-pointers while the other two created a layup and a dunk).
Washington went 6 for 8 from deep in the opening quarter, and though the accuracy dipped a bit over the final three stanzas, the pace and attack kept up, resulting in a 116-102 win that got the Wiz in the W column for the first time this season. The victory also set a new franchise record for made long balls, as Washington went 18 for 33 from 3-point range. (The previous best of 17 came in a 126-120 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2008.)
By far the most surprising aspect of the Wizards' long-range onslaught is that Wall led the charge not only with his penetration and passing, but also by actually knocking down shots himself. After making just 12 3-pointers in 49 games last season, and only three in 66 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, Wall (24 points to lead seven Wizards in double figures, plus nine assists and strong defense on rookie counterpart Michael Carter-Williams) found his stroke to the tune of five makes in eight tries on Wednesday. The performance raised his career 3-point shooting percentage by nearly a point and a half, from 24.4 percent before to 25.8 percent after, all by itself.
And these weren't awkward, ill-advised heaves that just happened to find the bottom of the net — the Sixers' aggressive, gambling defense often made the historically sound bet that leaving Wall alone from deep to pack the paint and cut off driving lanes wouldn't come back to bite them. This time, though, it did, as the recently maxed-out triggerman confidently caught and shot. From Michael Lee of the Washington Post:
“It starts with me,” Wall said. “I’m the catalyst of giving us a lot of energy on both ends of the court.” [...]
“That’s what our team is capable of. I get into the paint and we got a good post-up game with Nene, and Gortat and Kevin and those guys coming off the bench,” Wall said. “My job is to get into the paint. A lot of times, the defense collapses. We was able to knock down shots. That’s the main thing with our team, when we’re executing and knocking down shots, that’s an advantage for us.” [...]
“Some games they are going to fall, some games they’re not. They was doubling the post off me and I just had to be confident to be able to knock them down.”
Nothing in Wall's past suggests we should expect him to keep hitting at a 42.1 percent clip from deep, of course. But with Nene (10 points, five rebounds, two assists, two blocks, sound interior defense) back on the court to organize things, Gortat (19 and 12) capable of beating poor defenders down low and the floor-spacing weapons at his disposal, he doesn't have to.
He, does, however need to be that catalyst, put pressure on the opposition from the second the ball touches his hands in the backcourt, and force defenders to pay attention to him so that he can keep his fellow Wizards fed. If he does that, and the defense stretches out in response, the Wizards offense — perhaps the worst in the league without Wall and right in the middle of the pack with him last year — can make opponents (especially ones expected to wind up vying for the No. 1 overall pick) pay dearly.
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