The Crystal Ball is a weekly Monday feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..
This week’s games:
March 9th, at Charlotte Hornets
March 12th, vs. Memphis Grizzlies
March 14th, vs. Sacramento Kings
Lets go Wiz!
Monday, March 9th
AT the Charlotte Hornets
What to watch: Something else. These two teams have played twice this season. Both games have been agonizingly ugly. Both games have been masochistically infuriating. Both games have been won by the Hornets.
· The Hornets have scored 93 ppg against the Wizards, and shot 45%. Ugh.
· The Wizards have scored 87.5 ppg against the Hornets, and shot 41%. Aaaggh!
Expect more of the same. Watch at your own risk!
Key match-up: Caring vs. not caring.
The early betting line has “not caring” as a heavy favorite, by about 1,000,000. That may be too low. I was at the Heat game when the Wizards nearly blew a 35 point lead. The most depressing part wasn’t even that the game got close. The most depressing part was that everyone seemed to be pretty much resigned to the fact it might actually happen. As the lead was being whittled away, there wasn’t an aura of shock and awe and panic, but instead just a hollow stale feeling of #SoWizards.
When a team starts to play as poorly, uninspired, and purposeless as the Wizards have in recent weeks, keeping the hearts of your fans invested gets difficult. Does this game have major playoff implications? Well kind of, but not like the Bucks game. Is a major superstar like Steph or LeBron involved? That depends. I guess we could count “Gerald Henderson vs. the Wizards” as a superstar. Do I have any hopes of this game being entertaining, exciting, or promising for the future? No. No I don’t.
X-factor (s): Brian Roberts. Remember him?
The completely random Hornets point guard who torched the Wizards in Kemba Walker’s absence. Well, guess what! He’s the X-factor, because he’s now been X’d out of that role, in favor of Mo Williams. Mo Williams, of 52 point fame from earlier this season. Mo Williams, averaging 22 points and 9 assists, and shooting 42% from 3 since joining the Hornets at the trade deadline. Mo Williams, who is way better at NBA basketball than Brian Roberts.
Fun factor: I’ve got nothing.
Prediction: Hornets win in depressing fashion (Please note: In previous editions of the Crystal Ball previews, I have attempted to maintain a positive outlook and predict Wizard victories whenever I could find hope. That positive outlook is gone. Hope is gone. I expect the Wizards to lose every game. Even to the Knicks).
Thursday, March 12th
HOME vs. the Memphis Grizzlies
What to Watch: What to watch: The other team. The Memphis Grizzlies are 44-18. They have the third best record in the NBA. The most common, overstated phrase about the Memphis Grizzlies is that, “they are built to win in the playoffs.” So how exactly are the Grizzlies built?
· An excellent point guard, who can manage the game, pick his spots, finish at the rim, and distribute beautifully. Average shooter, not a great shooter.
· A shooting guard with a reliable jumper, who doesn’t do a ton of creating off the dribble. He spaces the floor well, goes to the right spots, and can’t be ignored as a catch and shoot 3 point threat, or a guy who will pump fake, step inside the line, and knock down the long two.
· A versatile small forward who can guard multiple positions, stretches the floor as a pretty good 3 point shooter, and can get off his own shot fairly consistently when called upon.
· A power forward who plays in the low post, can knock down a mid-range jumper (never anywhere near the three point line), but prefers to muscle and pound his way to buckets right at the rim.
· A center who plays the high post, hits cutters well, can consistently knock down mid-range jumpers, and can finish around the basket.
· A team that neglects the new NBA wave of three point shooting more than almost any other team in the NBA.
Hmmmmm. Wait a minute! Did I just describe Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol, and a team that ranks 29th out of 30 teams in 3 point shooting rate? Or was that John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene, and Marcin Gortat, and a Wizards team that ranks 27th in 3 point shooting rate?!
Now, before anyone goes crazy, please understand, I’m NOT SAYING THE WIZARDS SHOULD BE AS GOOD AS THE GRIZZLIES. Not at all.
Marc Gasol is possibly the best passing center in the NBA, and possibly the best defensive center in the NBA. Let me simplify that. Marc Gasol is possibly the best center in the NBA. He should be mentioned in this year’s MVP conversation far more often than he is. Zach Randolph is a far superior rebounder to Nene on both ends. Courtney Lee has Tony Allen to back him up off the bench. The Grizzlies rank 6th in defensive rating, per Basketball-reference.com, compared to the Wizards at 10th (this stat does not factor in which conference the team plays in, making the Grizzlies 6th place rank much more impressive, and the Wizards 10th rank much less impressive).
But the MODEL is the same. Building around two dominant interior players CAN work. Staying big when other teams go small CAN work. Running some kind of offense that isn’t based on three point shooting and doesn’t feature a stellar three point shooter, and does feature mid-range jumpers CAN work. Memphis is proof. Attn: Randy Wittman: Watch and learn.
Key matchup: Dave Joerger vs. Randy Wittman.
Uh oh. We all know, Randy Wittman vs. anyone is a losing proposition. Vs. Dave Joerger? Murder. Like I said, the personnel and model these two teams are built on is similar. Take a look at this:
· Total 2 point FG attempts: Memphis ranks 2nd most, the Wizards rank 3rd. (For perspective, Golden State ranks 23rd, the Rockets rank last).
· 3 point shooting rate (percentage of shots taken that are 3’s): Memphis ranks 29th. Wizards rank 27th.
So philosophically, we see two teams that actually play inside the arc. Defensively, the Wizards actually compare favorably to the Grizzlies. The Wizards actually are virtually dead even with Memphis, or better, in opponent FG%, opponent 3FG%, and defensive rebounding percentage. Memphis tops the league in points allowed per game (95.1), but this is due to playing the 26th slowest pace in the NBA (compared to the Wizards 18th).
So, where do we see Memphis suddenly have a leap?
· Memphis ranks 6th in turnover percentage. The Wizards rank 23rd.
· Memphis ranks 7th in opponent turnover percentage. The Wizards rank 17th.
· Memphis ranks 7th in free throws per field goal attempt. The Wizards rank 23rd.
· Memphis ranks 4th in opponent free throws per field goal attempt. The Wizards rank 20th.
What are some of the most important mantras in coaching? Take care of the basketball. Get your hands in the passing lanes. Defend without fouling. Get to the foul line. Memphis puts a check by every one of those boxes. Memphis takes care of the basketball. Yes, Memphis takes a lot of 2 point FGs, but they don’t settle for jumpers, but get to the foul line at a high rate instead. On defense, they finish possessions without fouling, and force turnovers.
Unfortunately, coaching is not just about mantras. If it were, we could all be Greg Popovich. Coaching is about conveying those principles effectively to your players, and seeing the results in the execution and effort on the floor. Dave Joerger is getting that done, night in and night out. Randy Wittman is not.
X-factor: Tony Allen. Tony Allen is not good at basketball. For his career, he averages 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, shoots 25% from 3 and regularly misses easy layups. The problem is, Tony Allen is really good at basketball. He plays relentless defense, cuts hard to the basket, doesn’t try to shoot 3s, and plays relentless defense some more. This guy is going to be hounding Wall and Beal like they have not been hounded all season. The Wizards turnover epidemic has been well chronicled. Tony Allen is going to be anything but a cure.
Fun factor(s): Adjusting the settings on your TV. Modern TVs have all kinds of color adjustments you can make. I would recommend messing with the color settings in every conceivable fashion until you manage to make the Grizzlies look like the Wizards on your TV. Then, adjust the aspect ratio until you can longer see the portion of the scoreboard that says “WSH” and “MEM.” Then sit back and enjoy the game and marvel at how amazing the Wizards are playing and how much John Wall is using his left hand!
Prediction: Wizards dominate their way to a blow-out victory (obviously, I’ll be adjusting my TV).
Saturday, March 14th
HOME vs. the Sacramento Kings
What to Watch: The new (and improved?) Sacramento Kings! George Karl took over after the All-Star break, and so far the results (3 wins, 6 losses) have but anything but royal. The Kings have improved their scoring, making a big jump from 100.0 ppg before Karl, to 104.1 in the 9 games since. However, they are now allowing 107.0 ppg under Karl, compared to 102.5 before his takeover.
These numbers are not surprising. Karl has always been a coach to play up tempo, push the pace non-stop, and his teams have never been known for their stellar defense. If the Kings play the way they’re being coached, they are going to be trying to force an up and down game, even after made baskets, and even with Andre Miller in the game. John Wall should be able to take over this game against an inferior opponent, but the Wizards should beat the Sixers and Timberwolves, so who knows anymore? However, at least from a style standpoint, this should be a fun game to watch.
Key matchup: Wizards vs. God’s plan.
Boogie Cousins has been killing people all year long. He killed people with two different coaches before the All-Star break, and has continued under George Karl. He’s averaging 24-12-3. He’s hit buzzer beating game winners with divine intervention.
The only thing that has stopped DeMarcus Cousins this year is viral meningitis. How you gonna stop God’’ plan?
Well, it will take a group effort. The full roster of Wizards bigs will need to try to push Demarcus off his spots, and rebound the FIRST miss. Cousins is not deterred by his shot being blocked or altered. He’ll simply grab his own miss and drop it right back in the bucket. On the perimeter, the Wizards must harass the entry passers. If Cousins gets the ball where he wants it, when he wants it, it’s a wrap.
X-factor: Rudy Gay.
When Rudy Gay plays well, so do the Kings. When Rudy Gay plays poorly, so do the Kings.
· In Wins: 24.4 ppg, 51% FG, 43% 3FG
· In Losses: 18.8 ppg, 42% FG, 33% 3FG
Important Rudy Gay factor: Gay thrives when he gets in a rhythm. It’s of paramount importance that the Wizards don’t give up early lay-ups or dunks to Rudy, or allow him to get to the line. Keep him on the perimeter, force him into a few bad shots, and he’ll likely be off all night. Allow him to throw one down early, and everything he throws up will start going down later.
Fun factor: The return of the Professor! What else would this be?! You already know all the thrills of watching Uncle Dre turn the NBA into the YMCA. Take this game as an opportunity to watch him all over again. And after he outplays Ramon Sessions (it’s inevitable), enjoy making comments starting with, “Man, if we still had Andre Miller…” knowing that you’ll never have the chance to be proven wrong. Welcome back Professor Miller!
Prediction: I mean, how you gonna stop God’s plan?