Every summer NBA franchises make decisions that positively or negatively effect their future. This is the latest in a series of articles detailing transitional teams. I.E., teams that have had notable offseasons, and thus, are must-watch television during the 2016-17 season. For our last article on this subject, regarding the Philadelphia 76ers, click here.
Last week Wizards point guard John Wall noted that he, and recently re-signed max player Bradley Beal, have a “tendency to dislike each other on the court.” This, like most other statements by teams’ various stars, resulted in an uproar. And rightfully so. Wall has been the franchise’s cornerstone player, and as of this summer, the Wizards view Beal the same way.
Consequently when you see statements like Wall recently made, or when he said, “I [Wall] want it all to be on me. At the same time I want him [Beal] to be right there with me. He’s my sidekick. I’m A. He’s A-1. He’s right there,” the problem appears clear. Just like the Cavs with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the Suns with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, the Magic with Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, and others in recent memory, Washington fears that its “backcourt of the future” may be near the end of their present.
Moreover, when you see stats like Kevin O’Connor has pointed out, these fears are not merely conjecture:
In fact, the problem is even worse than that. Out of the Wizards’ thirteen lineups with a positive net rating last season, John Wall and Bradley Beal only costarred in four of them, and only once in the top-five.
The fact of the matter is John Wall and Bradley Beal did not play well together during the 2015-16 season. This is not due to their skill-sets, in fact, if the NBA was played on paper then Wall and Beal would be perfect partners. In other words, Wall and Beal should be D.C.’s Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. John Wall is an elite driver, passer, playmaker, and defensive player who struggles with his outside shooting. Bradley Beal is a top-tier shooter, average playmaker, and slightly below-average defensive player. The two players should be able to mask each other’s weaknesses while emphasizing their strengths. Beal’s ability to spread the floor let’s Wall drive-and-dish with ease whereas the latter’s speed provides open shots for the former.
Yet, the partnership has not worked out like this. Beal is noticeably worse while playing with Wall than without him. Per NBA Wowy, Bradley Beal averaged a true shooting percentage 3.5% worse and scored .05 points per possession less while playing with John Wall. Yet, all is not lost.
There are two reasons why this drama should not necessarily mean the end of the Wizards’ 2016-17 season: first, Scott Brooks’ experience with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should benefit Washington’s basketball team; and second, next year’s free agency has solutions that would aid the Wizards’ current dilemma.
Let’s look back at when Scott Brooks was hired by the Thunder. Brooks was named the Thunder’s interim head coach during Westbrook’s rookie season after PJ Carlesimo got fired. Brooks was later named official head coach later that season, took Oklahoma City to the playoffs the following season, and increased the Thunder’s win percentage every season until his last two, injury-raddled years. A big reason for this is that Brooks took Westbrook and Durant – two players who struggled to play well together early – and made them into complimentary superstars.
The hope in D.C. is that Brooks can do the same with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Even Zach Lowe, lower on the Brooks hiring than many, acknowledges that the coach has a way of motivating his players to work together. In fact, this is a key reason why he was hired in the first place. Ernie Grunfeld believes that, in order for the Wizards to succeed, John Wall and Bradley Beal must be able to compliment each other. Logically, if this does not happen, a partial rebuild will be necessary. And frankly, if Brooks can figure out, even slightly, the Wall/Beal dynamic then the Wizards should be in a position to make the playoffs.
The dilemma present here is that Wall and Beal are not nearly as good of players as Westbrook and Durant. Thus, in order to succeed, Brooks will need other players in Washington to equally improve in their roles. Thankfully for Wizards’ fans, the second reason for optimism also helps out here: 2017 NBA Free Agency.
Blake Griffin would be the ideal target for the Wizards. As Kevin O’Connor notes in an earlier article Blake Griffin is the ideal point forward in today’s NBA. This would work well to provide a threatening intermediary between Wall and Beal, a go-to scoring option in the post, and an ideal screen-setter for both players. But, even without Blake, the Wizards have other options such as Serge Ibaka, Andre Iguodala, Zach Randolph, J.J. Redick, Kyle Korver, and Nerlens Noel who all provide traits – whether it is interior passing, elite interior scoring, outside shooting, or a combination of each – that would allow them to aid the on-court friction between Beal and Wall.
Frankly, the Wizards have three seasons to make this partnership work. At that point, if still unsuccessful, John Wall will leave in free agency. If the Wall-Beal team is brutally unsuccessful this season, and the Wizards miss the playoffs, expect Washington to trade Wall and/or Beal without even waiting for the 2017 free agency. If there is an improvement this season, though, and the Wizards do make the playoffs but are eliminated shortly thereafter, Grunfeld is more than likely to keep both players. And obviously, if the Wizards find a way to make and advance in the playoffs, not only are Wall and Beal safe, but Washington will have entered the Blake Griffin sweepstakes. As frustrating as it is to admit, NBA fans will need to wait and see to determine the future of the John Wall/Bradley Beal partnership.