The Crystal Ball is a weekly feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..
This week’s games:
HOME vs. San Antonio Spurs
AT Boston Celtics
AT Atlanta Hawks
Lets go Wiz!
Wednesday, November 4th
HOME vs. San Antonio Spurs
What to Watch: The new look Spurs. A transition is taking place in San Antonio that goes beyond just the integration of LaMarcus Aldridge. For years, Tony Parker was the engine, but Tony Parker is clearly not the same Tony Parker. Enter Kawhi Leonard, the new engine of the Spurs offense. He’s the new center of crunch time sets, the new taker of big shots, and basically the guy who has allowed the Spurs to turn from this:
Still, adding a 4-time All-Star, perennial 20-10 guy can change your look a little bit too. And early signs point to Aldridge fitting in smoothly sooner rather than later. In his first four games, Aldridge has had the following numbers:
Game 1: 11 pts, 5 rebs, 12 FGA, 4 FTA
Game 2: 10 pts, 11 rebs, 11 FGA, 0 FTA
Game 3: 24 pts, 14 rebs, 18 FGA, 10 FTA
Game 4: 19 pts, 6 rebs, 15 FGA, 4 FTA
I’d say he’s trending upward. Oh, and they also signed David West. And already have him playing the Tim Duncan screen setting role in one of the Spurs favorite plays (Look at Diaw blindly preparing to make the pass, and where Patty Mills is at the time. Simply Spursian). So there’s also that.
Key matchup: Kawhi Leonard vs. The World
Kawhi Leonard has silently taken it upon himself to destroy the rest of the basketball world. Here’s a little of what he did to Kevin Durant on opening night:
And remember this series clinching play against Russell Westbrook?
How bout this last season vs. the guy with the best handle in the NBA?
How about this Cameo in Toy Story?
Kawhi Leonard won’t win the MVP. His stats won’t be gaudy enough, nor will his personality (does he even have one??) be boisterous enough. Curry. LeBron. Wall. Harden. Durant. His competitors will all have better numbers when the season is over. But check their numbers against Kawhi. Check everyone’s numbers against Kawhi. Chances are, you’ll see a huge crater in the middle of an otherwise mountainous range of stats. So far he’s held KD to 6/17, Joe Johnson to 1/7, and Carmelo Anthony to 4/17. Remember when Bradley Beal said “Nobody can stop me. Plain and simple.” Well, we’re about to find out.
X-factor: “The best backcourt in the NBA.” Kawhi may be able to guard Bradley Beal. He may even be able to guard John Wall. But he can’t guard both. So, if the guy Kawhi is guarding can’t shake loose, it will be the responsibility of the other guy to take over. If Kawhi starts on Beal, John Wall has to take over. If Kawhi makes a switch, Bradley has to take his turn taking over. If you need a template, look back a week to the Spurs only loss of the season. Kawhi held Durant to 6/19 shooting, but Westbrook shot 12/23, and went for 33 points and 10 assists. Beating the Spurs isn’t going to take one of the best point guards in the league, or one of the best 2-guards in the league. It’s going to take both.
Fun factor: Playing the Spurs. The greatness of sports lies in the competition. Sure, the execution, the strategy, the skill, that’s all great. But at the core, what drives the passion of great players, and what captures the raw passion and emotion of the fans is the competition. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. And there is no better test of basketball competition than the San Antonio Spurs. Yes, this will only be the fourth game of an 82 game season, but it’s the first of just two match-ups vs. the Spurs, one of the most respected, revered, and ruthless teams in the NBA. If you don’t think the Wizards players are hyped for this one, you don’t know athletes. They are hyped. And you should be too.
Prediction: Kawhi Leonard will loudly, boisterously, almost profanely let Bradley Beal know that indeed, someone CAN stop him. Without saying a word. Spurs win in Spursian fashion. Wizards fans are left still waiting for their first home win.
Friday, November 6th
AT Boston Celtics
What to Watch: Pick-and-Roll ALL night long! Wall and Gortat. Wall and Nene. Isaiah Thomas and David Lee. Isaiah Thomas and Amir Johnson. Do you like basketball played like this??
Expect to see a lot of that. Both teams will play with the floor spread, with point guards that thrive in the pick-and-roll, both attacking the rim, hitting the roll man, or finding open teammates elsewhere. Clog the lane with help? Wall will kick it to Otto or Kris Humphries for open threes, and Thomas will kick to Olynyk or Jae Crowder for open threes. I’m guessing you haven’t watched a lot of Celtics basketball in the last 18 months. Not many people outside of Boston have. Breaking news: They don’t suck, and last years playoff appearance was no fluke. Prepare yourself for a fun (and close) game.
Key matchup: John Wall vs. Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas is the main reason why this game will be both fun and close. If you’re not familiar with THIS Isaiah Thomas, here’s a quick, eye-opening preview:
Go ahead…watch it a few more times, I don’t blame you. Done? That little dude is averaging 22 points and 6 assists per game. Don’t let his coming off the bench fool you. He’s the Celtics best scorer, best play-maker, and best closer. He may start the game on the bench, but he certainly won’t finish there…unless John Wall has something to say about it.
One of the things we love most about John Wall is his defense, and the way he embraces the challenge of guarding the best guards in the league. Normally that means names like “Curry,” “Paul,” or “Kyrie.” But Thomas is dangerous, and can’t be overlooked. However, judging by John’s intensity the first few games, I don’t think he’s overlooking anyone.
X-factor: Marcus Smart. Smart’s game and his personality can both be volatile. He plays with an intensity that can be either reckless to his team, or wreak havoc on his opponents. His shooting does the same. He’s the kind of guy who will shoot 30% from three-point range by going 3/3 one night, and 0/7 the next. In the Celtics one win this year, Smart hit 3/6 threes. In their two losses, he shot 2/10. As his career progresses, he’ll eventually find consistency in his game, and learn to pace himself without losing his intense edge. For now, he’s an X-factor. If Smart starts the game hitting a few threes, and getting a few steals, prepare yourself for a long frustrating night. If he starts the game with a few bricks, and a few quick dumb fouls, then kick back and relax. We got this!
Fun factor(s): John Wall Blocks. As of my writing this sentence, John Wall is averaging 2.7 blocks per game, 8th in the league. Isaiah Thomas is 5’9″ Good times!
Prediction: Wall puts the clamps on Thomas and finally has his breakout assist game we’re all waiting for!
Saturday, November 7th
AT Atlanta Hawks
What to Watch: Ball movement, on both ends. The Wizards have a way of moving the ball, that tends to start with Wall, and end with a Wall assist. The Hawks have a way of moving the ball that seems to never end, until it ends with a bucket. Both ways work. Through the first week of the season, the Wizards and Hawks rank 10th and 11th respectively in passes per game as a team, and you can expect those rankings to rise as the season goes on. As a Wizards fan, every game is one to look forward to. As a basketball fan, this one should give a little something extra.
Key matchup: Ballers vs. Balance.
The Wizards have the two most explosive players in this game in Wall and Beal. They are the only guys in this game averaging 20+ points, and two of the three Wizards averaging in double figures (Ramon Sessions being the other). The Hawks do not have a single 20 point scorer, but feature 5 players scoring in double figures. This is no surprise. Balance is what the Hawks do, and they do it better than almost anyone else. The winner of this clash of styles will win the game.
X-factor: Kyle Korver. Remember what I said about 5 Hawks averaging double digits. Kyle Korver is NOT currently one of them. He is currently shooting just 29 percent.
Fun factor(s): New look Hawks! Like the Bucks, the Hawks did some nice new stuff with their logo this season:
The two-color scheme gives them a throwback feel, and the “Pac-Man” style Hawk is simply (and simplistically) awesome. Even the use of the language “Basketball Club” gives the feel of team professionalism, legitimacy, and an almost European swagger to match their style of play. I like the new look for anyone. I LOVE it for Atlanta.
Prediction: Ballers beat balance. Bullets beat Birds.