There are lots of different ways to say that the Wizards appear finally ready to be judged. As crazy as it sounds, it doesn’t feel too early to say that they may also need to be reconsidered, most notably by those who had the opinion that John Wall’s stock was dropping while he was on the shelf.
Yeah, it sounds like out of place optimism, but that’s what happens when Wall leads the Wizards to a convincing 93-83 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Three thoughts:
So that’s what the Wizards starting lineup looks like. It finally came to be in the fourth quarter when Wizards coach Randy Wittman put Wall back in for the final six minutes. At that point he was finally on the floor not only with Bradley Beal but also Nene. Trevor Ariza was the lockout wing defender. Kevin Seraphin was at center. By then the game appeared to be in hand, but this was the group that had been anticipated to start the year together. It’s easy to wonder how they would’ve fared. They could’ve been as bad as the Wizards were anyway, especially considering the improvement that Beal has only started to show consistently in the last couple of weeks.
But it didn’t feel that way on Saturday night as the Wizards cruised into the final buzzer.
“We had control of that game the whole time,” Martell Webster said. “Even when they brought the game back, I felt like we were very much in control. That time when we lost the lead, that’s when John got back, and he was really kind of testing the waters. He found himself getting a little bit comfortable toward the end of the second half and then coming in and playing big minutes, big minutes. He felt comfortable. He looked comfortable out there, but then of course, as soon as he gets into tip top game shape, it’s going to change everything.”
Wittman appeared to get the rhythm right with Wall, getting him appropriate minutes in the first three quarters that allowed him to shake off the nerves, find his feet and his confidence. By the end of the fourth quarter, someone who stumbled upon the game might’ve been surprised to learn how long Wall had been out.
“It’s exciting because it’s a lot of times [the fans] have been in the game with us,” Wall said. “But we don’t close out in the end of get a turnover or we can’t score down the stretch and that’s tough. That’s my job to come in and make it easy, get us open shots. We make ‘em, we make ‘em, if not, we don’t. We can live with a loss like that.”
The Hawks win was about Wall. It makes Wizards win on Monday against Oklahoma City even more of a statement game. What remains most interesting about Wall’s return to the court is that it really has come just as the Wizards are showing signs of turning the corner. Now, some of that has to do with Jordan Crawford, both when he’s on the court and not (see below). But consider the following that was already taking place independent of Wall’s return:
*Beal has transformed into a legitimate rookie of the year candidate.
*A.J. Price hasn’t skipped a beat in his return after 15 games out with a broken hand. The light was coming on for him at point guard before the injury. He’s played even better in the two games since he’s come back, finding guys in their spots and picking his own when Washington needs him to. He spearheaded the second quarter comeback and started the Wizards off strong in the third against Atlanta.
*Similar to Price, Ariza was on the way to finding his role before his calf strain. He’s made an immediate difference in his return, as if he hadn’t missed 17 games.
*Webster has used defense to inspire his offense. His mix of 3-pointers and driving attempts at the rim was key to getting the Wizards off to a good start against the Hawks. He guarded Kevin Durant and turned in one of his best performances of the year against the Thunder.
*Emeka Okafor has turned into a double-double machine.
*Nene, when he plays, continues to be an important presence whose minutes have steadily increased.
“It wasn’t anything planned or nothing like that,” Price said. “[It’s] very fortunate that everybody is coming in. We still have a lot of the season left. We understand that fully, so we’re just going to take it one game at a time and see what we can do.”
There are some interesting dynamics among the Wizards’ forgotten crew. As healthy as Washington appears with Wall back in the fold, they played without Crawford against the Hawks – and his name didn’t come up once in the postgame. For as much as Crawford put the Wizards on his back for the first part of the season, the rise of Bradley Beal and the return of Wall could expose that Crawford has a chance of becoming surplus to the team’s needs.
“Who else gon’ shoot?” was Crawford’s mantra at the beginning of the season, and that was very much the case. The Wizards now have options, and Crawford is likely to return to a backup shooting guard role once he’s back from a sore left ankle. Even then, it could be that he’ll be expected to share some of the second unit scoring responsibilities, particularly if Ariza replaces Webster in the starting lineup. Which leads to Crawford becoming an asset that could be traded. How quickly roles can change.
Meanwhile, Jan Vesely’s awful five fouls in four minutes with zero points and two rebounds were overshadowed by the Wizards’ solid team showing. Why he plays while Chris Singleton remains utterly ignored is baffling. Vesely’s personal foul total (65) made a big jump back toward his point total for the season (68).