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The Great Wall: Dissecting John’s Best Playoff Game Ever

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I already wrote about John Wall’s MVP credentials. That was a week ago. Then J Wall went and put a 26-17 on the Raptors. In the playoffs. On the road. In a hostile environment. In a series where his team had already seized the singular precious first road game teams often settle for.

So what do we say about a guy who just showed that he’s ready to take his game to new heights? What do we say about a guy who just showed signs of turning into 2010 Playoff Rondo? (Paul Pierce can tell you first-hand how amazing that was).

Nothing. No hyperbole. No fawning. No attempt at a linguistic masterpiece to match the performance of Johnny Rembrandt. None of that. Just a raw, nuts and bolts breakdown of how John Wall went into Asteroid strike mode and turned Toronto into Chicxulub Crater, part deux.

SCREEN AND ROLL

Screen and roll is the central set of every great point guard and offense in the NBA. The beauty of the screen and roll is the variety, and John Wall is one of the best at utilizing and demonstrating every aspect of it’s beauty. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, the beauty is in the eyes of the creator.

The Wing Screen and Roll

The Wizards run the wing screen and roll with two basic sets. First, the big sets the screen on the wing, for Wall to drive into the lane, with shooters in both corners. In other words, there are three guys on the side of the floor where the screen is being set. This is the set that led to one of the ultimate #OptimusDimes.

Nene comes to set the screen on Lou Williams, then slips it and goes to the basket. And poor, poor Lou Williams. Watch him just lose himself in John Wall’s eyes. Wall keeps his vision on the shooter in the corner, and sells the pass to the point that Lou actually turns his head and takes a little hop in that direction. Got’em! Wall zips the pass to Nene for the easy #NeneSlam.

Now, watch a similar set. This time, Gortat sets the screen closer to the middle of the floor. Toronto plays it much better, but the defender falls. Even then, Patrick Patterson is in fairly good position, IF Wall made an obvious pass. But watch Wall. Instead of telegraphing the pass, he steps back like he’s about to shoot a jumper. This action causes everyone a moment of hesitation as they brace for the jumper, even Gortat. Gortat’s hands drops, expecting the jumper, before he gets them up just in time to catch the laser from Wall.

The second set the Wizards like with the wing pick and roll is with the screen side cleared. This set works especially well with a proper stretch four (Paul Pierce), so that the defense can’t sag off of shooters and drop into the lane.

Above, you see Pierce, Beal, and Porter all around the perimeter on the left side of the floor. Wall gets the screen from Nene on the right, and again, watch Wall’s eyes. As he gets into the lane, he keeps his eyes firmly locked on Otto Porter in the opposite corner. James Johnson (red hair) can’t drop down to cut-off Wall at risk of leaving Pierce. This leaves Jonas Valanciunas to cut off Wall, and Wall finds Nene for the easy two.

This time, the Wizards run the set with both Nene and Gortat on the floor. Again, Wall uses his eyes to create the pass. In this case, Tyler Hansbrough drops off Gortat to follow Wall into the lane. Wall keeps his attention on attacking, and then drops the little overhand dish to Gortat. Watch Hansbrough. He actually leaps like he’s prepared to challenge a shot attempt, before realizing mid-air that he’s helpless to make a play.

Here’s that set again, getting just a little midrange jumper for Seraphin. Even on this basic play, Wall gives the impression he’s shooting the pull-up jumper (and may have without Lowry’s challenge). This action holds Serpahin’s defender for an extra split-second, enough to keep the shot open and easy. #KSLife

The High Screen

The high screen is set at the top of the key, often beyond the three point line, with shooters in both corners. Wall has the option to go either direction, and with the screen set well beyond the three point line, Wall gets a head start and extra space to attack the defense as he sees fit.

Here, Gooden sets the screen way beyond the arc. Wall leans toward Gooden like he’s going to use the screen, then crosses over hard and reverses direction, blowing past Lou Williams. Then watch Wall’s eyes. He knows exactly where his teammates are, but he keeps his vision forward, until the moment he fires a perfect pass to far corner.

Did you see Greivis Vasquez? He’s actually in position to contest the pass, if only Wall had shown any sign it was coming. Instead, Vasquez is occupying himself trying to box out for the shot at the rim he expects. Patrick Patterson is similarly fooled, beginning his close out too late. #DC3

TRANSITION:

John Wall’s attacks in transition can basically be separated into three results. Wall attacks the rim. Wall sets up a teammate for a three. Wall sets up a teammate for a lay-up. All of them fall within the broader category of #QuickAintFair.

Here, the Raptors actually play fairly decent transition defense, and Wall and Beal beat them anyway. Watch Beal. He is initially headed to his spot on the wing where Wall has constantly found him open for transition threes all season long. Normally, Wall keeps this dribble as he gets into the lane, draws defenders, then kicks to Beal. But in this case, Vasquez is in good position, and Patrick Patterson is hustling back in time to provide additional help. No problem. Wall gives the ball up early, leading Beal toward the basket to attack. Beal does the rest.

Here, John Wall does something extremely unusual for John Wall: He passes up the wide open shooter in the corner. Wall attacks two defenders, and finishes at the rim.

Personally, I find this refreshing. I’m all for Wall’s playmaking, but I like him taking that two instead of setting up the open three. It shows he’s in attack mode, playoff mode, and superstar mode.

DEFENSE

Tayshaun Prince. LeBron James. John Wall. That’s the torch being passed for “King of the demoralizing chase down block.” When are the Raptors going to learn that John Wall aint nothing to F$%& with!?!

Seriously, this block from game one wasn’t enough?!

They needed another lesson?

The key to Wall’s blocks at the rim is his impeccable anticipation and timing. His ability to read the game and his understanding of timing and angles as plays unfold translates to his defense as well as his offense. On these plays, Wall can anticipate the offensive players footwork and release, and then uses this gift to end lives.

Other times, Wall’s defense is more orthodox, and equally effective. Wall is one of the elite defenders in the NBA. He uses his tremendous athleticism to hound defenders, and explode into passing lanes. However, he doesn’t do it at the expense of the teams defensive scheme, like Russell Westbrook does on a regular basis.

Here, Wall pounces on a loose ball, and turns it into easy points.

FREE THROWS

This is huge. If this is going to be part of Wall’s regular arsenal in the playoffs, look out Toronto. And Atlanta. And Cleveland. Wall took eleven free throws last night, after averaging just 4.6 attempts per game during the regular season.

If Wall begins to draw, and embellish contact, to the tune of seven or eight free throw attempts per game, look out. Free throws are often a reflection of aggressive, relentless, attacking. The more we see of Wall standing at the charity stripe, the richer all of us become.

WIZARDRY

Sometimes, superstars are just superstars. You don’t put up 26-17 in the playoffs without just doing some SMH kinda stuff. There is simply no defense for this:

I mean, c’mon. Pierce sets the high screen, and DeRozan hedges effectively, forcing Wall to take a step back. Wall turns the corner anyway. Vasquez steps up, and cuts off Wall’s preferred line of attack. No worry. Wall puts a naked Vasquez on spin cycle while leaving his lingerie scattered across the floor. The Jonas brother steps up as the last line of defense. Wall wraps a gorgeous pass around him to an open Gortat for an easy two. That kinda stuff leaves us all jealous. That’s not offense. That’s magic.

And this? This is just water.

And when your guy is rolling like that, you just clear out and watch the show. That’s exactly what the Wizards do here:

Average John Wall is a great player. But when John Wall is isolating at the top of the key, and putting three point daggers in already dead dinosaurs, that’s deadly.

Hawks can’t survive that. Bulls can’t survive that. Kings can’t even survive that.

What else do we say, after the 26-17 game he just threw down?

There’s hope. And with John Wall playing like THAT, that hope is limitless. And rejuvenating and returning limitless hope to DC? That is true Wizardry.

we are Hoop District

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