Category Archives: Washington Wizards

John & Marcin & Earl & Bronson

 

On March 24th the hip hop world was blessed with two very different albums dropping. One was an insular and imaginative work, the other was boisterous and fun. Although the two artists seem diametrically opposed to, they’ve collaborated and have each other’s back. They make for an odd pair, but their independent gyroscopes can cross paths and still make sense. In a way, they remind me of a pair of players in Washington DC.

Earl Sweatshirt’s second album is titled I Don’t Do shit, I Don’t Go outside and is fundamental to understanding the way Earl considers his craft. After the initial boom of Earl’s running mates in Odd Future, he was whisked away from the group and the limelight by his mother and was in a boarding school in America Samoa. He was only 16 at the time, and once his mother discovered his abrasive raps and Odd Future videos that showed him doing any number of mom-fainting activities, he was gone from the group.

Since then, his albums have been creative, lurking pieces of double stacked wordplay over murky and weird beats. Where Earl’s early bars spit with ferocity at a high rate of turnover, the post-fame Earl went a little slower, but still wound up with a high level of vulnerability. Considering he also handles production duties for his album (half of the songs on Doris, and the entire second album were his productions) he takes what he does very seriously and very personally. Lyrically, Earl goes deep into what makes his life tick, as he watched his friends become household names while he was off the grid in Samoa.

John Wall rose to fame early with his tenure on a championship winning University of Kentucky Wildcats team. Selected Number 1 overall by the Washington Wizards, he was set on a team that occupied the basement for a number of years, despite a blip of popularity in the Gilbert Arenas era, the team was quickly flushed down again as the Arenas and his teammates wound up in controversies over guns and shoes full of excrement. Wall watched as his friends and teammates become the centerpieces and his team went through a fire sale, re-building sure, but seemingly miles away from where Wall was in Kentucky.

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But last year saw John Wall lead his Wizards to the furthest they’ve gotten in decades and his opportunity to surpass his fellow Wildcats and become one of the top faces of the league. Wall is also subject to his increasing sensitivity towards his gameplay. Not consistent with being a speedster who gets to the basket in an untouchable gear, Wall set assist records for himself throughout the season, getting his teammates more involved. He has a crew and wants them to be a part of his fame, but knows how much of it results on him being at the top of his game.

Wall’s approach to his game could be as literal as Earl’s album, I Don’t Do Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. As meticulous as you have to be to dredge up the lofi beats that Earl creates, you have to put in the hours to perfect the yo-yo/lasso dribble. Unlike some of the past stars of the Wizards, Wall doesn’t really find a need for the DC nightlife, choosing instead to keep a very low profile outside of a music video appearance. Wall’s attention to his game, and his game trying to incorporate his teammates is sometimes even to his detriment. Whereas some fans want Wall to be the next Allen Iverson, he continually looks for that extra pass or move, even if the rest of the team isn’t expecting it. Just watch for his dribble to the top of the key, jump to fake the defender and shift to find an open man move, and you’ll go crazy just wanting him to go to the basket. But John Wall’s nature has him never really calling out teammates or coaches in the media, he is the first to accept blame for his faults. He is the strongest of himself when he knows how he fits in the team, even if he is the leader. That doesn’t make it any easier for him, as that same kind of mindset is reflected in Earl Sweatshirt’s rhymes. Earl was easily the biggest talent out of the initial wave of Odd Future, but by being whisked away from that ascension, he missed out on the team effort of fame. Now he’s attempting to drift into his own, but there is a sense of melancholy throughout his new album that wouldn’t necessarily be fixed by his friends, but would be easier to swallow if they were on the same level.

On the other side of the March 24th coin was Action Bronson. An oversized Albanian from Queens, Bronson’s Mr. Wonderful was a major release on a major label and features his stream of conscious raps over a friendly-but-not-pop beat selection. Bronson’s MO is not to take himself too seriously, which is apparent in the frequent stop and start of opening track “Brand New Car”. That isn’t to say Bronson doesn’t take himself seriously, but he’s going to be braggadocios and silly in the same breath. He’s well aware of his talent and will let you know at the drop of a hat, complete with IROC-Z and fine dining references. Bronson sees the rap game, and his success in it, and leverages it into an online cooking show. He uses the vast resource of being on a Warner Brothers affiliate and uses it to score a Billy Joel sample, and relegates it to an opening track that is under three minutes. Regardless of what you think of Bronson and his chops, he is doing the whole thing the way he wants to.

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Marcin Gortat, the 8th year Center from Poland and current Washington Wizard also has no reason to not brag about his performance. After signing a five-year $60 million contract in the offseason, he’s viewed as a key piece to the Wizards performance. However, head coach Randy Wittman has pulled him from a number of fourth quarter appearances over the likes of Kevin Seraphin, DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries. Gortat has not been quiet about these moves and has expressed his frustration without being too aggressive towards the decisions. Gortat enjoys basketball, but enjoys his life just as much. Follow his Instagram and he’s showing off his collection of cars. Follow him on twitter and he interacts with fans and, in the offseason, tried to court other players to join him in DC. He uses his position as being the most famous Polish player in the NBA to ride tanks back in his native country.

Gortat has the size and skills of a center, but he rarely posts up with enough consistency for those plays to be called. Gortat at his best is in transition, or coming off the pick-and-roll, but either way, Gortat’s power is in his ability to move and improvise, even if the call is made for him. Like Action, he doesn’t work great in a set parameter of “This play is about this set” or “This song follows one topic”. The big men have strength in their self-centeredness because the drive to make it about them is the one power they have. Marcin Gortat is a 6’11” Center with mediocre hands from an area not known for producing basketball talent. Action Bronson is a hefty white guy with a beard down to his chest who sounded a lot like Ghostface Killah when he first started. But they both drove themselves into an upper echelon of work that transformed what their parameters of perception would take them. Gortat could have been a serviceable backup behind any number of talented big men (and was for a while) and Action could have turned into a posse guy, appearances here and there, second or third fiddle to a rapper with a better look.

After almost two entire seasons together, the differences were apparent after the Wizards defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 106-93. When asked about the success of Gorat’s 23 point & 14 rebound night, he put it simply “They were passing me the ball.” When John Wall was asked about that comment he laughed and explained that most of the offensive half court calls were for “post-ups, a lot of our plays are for two-guards and a lot of plays are for me.”

Whereas Wall broke down the science of the offensive system, and also slyly called out Wittman for his lack of inventive play calling, Gortat’s explanation was simple: Get him the ball. Where Gortat looks for success he sees himself, where Wall looks for success he sees the system in front of him. They make for a great pair (anyone who has seen their pick-and-rolls can attest to this) and although their personal styles clash, the combination of the two is a solid one-two hit in the airways.

To the Basket: Jeff Teague and John Wall

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Photo credit: Keith Allison

In my Q&A with Seth Partnow about John Wall, Seth said John Wall should model his game after a more talented Jeff Teague. I looked into this further to determine what is it about Teague that Wall should go after.

First their usage rates are comparable (via Nylon Calculus)

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And in many ways Wall is a superior ball handler in every category. So it’s not that he’s lacking a skill set necessarily, but what is Teague doing on the court that Wall isn’t?

A quick look at Teague’s efficiency on the offensive end (also via Nylon Calculus)

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In typical pick and roll point guard fashion, Teague spends a lot of energy inside the paint, even if his shooting below the circle, but above the basket is below the average, he’s still pushing his ability to get in there and draw fouls

Here’s Wall’s efficiency-

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Wall’s range within the paint is very limited. Unless he is getting directly to the basket he is not taking a shot. It looks as though he’s taking a PnR high on the floor, but instead of using his speed to jet him to the basket he is pulling up to just above the foul line. This means he is fouled much less, but it also means his threat to slash to the hoop is far less. If he’s not directly in front of the basket, Wall isn’t shooting it from inside the paint, so let him take his jumpers, because that’s one less foul the opposition is spending on him.

This is verified by Wall’s Heat map (via basketball reference)

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That’s a huge chunk of space in between the jumper at the elbow and the section front of the hoop. And again, being able to save on fouls and physical play on a smaller and faster guard, who will have a greater chance to keep a pure shooter off the line and they won’t get nickle-and-dimed in garbage time.

Now here’s Teague’s Heat Map

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Teague’s threat takes over a bulk of size in the middle of the paint, increasing his chances to get fouled. Teague took 376 Free Throw attempts last year, kicking in 318 of them for a 84.6% average. John Wall on the other hand took 394 attempts but made only 317 of them. But Wall’s Free Throw Attempt Rate was only 29.5%, Teague’s 36.2%. Teague had more options for attempts, but knocked down only one more FT than Wall did.

So taking Seth’s advice, John Wall needs to become a better slasher, get to the hoop and create more options on the inside.

Irrational Fan Week: Baltimore Doesn’t Deserve Basketball

bbclarge  Sorry Charm City, but if you don’t show up to watch, you can’t get a team.

It’s just simple math. On October 20th, the Baltimore Arena hosted the 2nd annual Baltimore Basketball Classic. An attempt to bridge the gap that grew in the basketball community when the Bullets left Baltimore for DC in 1973. The BBC showcases a pre-season Wizards game in the former home of the Bullets. The in-arena announcers bring up former Bullets players and attempt to arouse interest in basketball in the city.

The first year, 2013, was a huge success. The Wizards played against the New York Knicks and hometown guy Carmelo Anthony. The arena was sold out and so ill equipped to deal with a crowd at that size that simply getting into the arena caused me to miss the first quarter entirely. Even though the game was a pre-season game and the stakes were low it was englightning to see such energy for basketball in the city that hasn’t hosted a major team in 40 years.

In the next year, I spent a lot of time blogging about the ability for Baltimore to sustain a team. I used my first hand experience from that pre-season game to prove that yes, Baltimore fans would show up for an NBA caliber team. Give the lack of possibility for expansion and even if the league did add teams, Baltimore would be low on that list, the possibility of a D League team would satiate the masses. I wrote numerous blog posts for various sites about it, I had nice conversations with other Baltimore sports bloggers about the possibilities of it happening. We talked about the lack of arena to host the team, the lack of interest that seemed to be coming from the Mayors office about a team and the cagey nature of Ted Leonsis in revealing just what the Wizards D League plans were. I tried, and failed, to start hashtag campaigns to get a groundswell behind the idea that a D League team would thrive in Charm City.

Then on October 20th 2014, I went back to the Baltimore Arena for the 2nd BBC game. This time it was against the New Orleans Pelicans and the rising star of Anthony Davis. I made sure we got there early so we wouldn’t miss any time getting into the building. When we got off the bus, there were no lines with most of the attention centered around a small group of men there to protest, for some reason.

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We were rushed into the arena and went up to the cheap seats I had purchased. There was no one on the 300 level. We pulled up into our relatively battered seats when an usher came up to us and asked to see our tickets. He immediately replaced them with ones that were practically on the floor. This was exciting for an upgrade, but as the minutes ticked down to tip off it was obvious why this happened.

They didn’t sell out. They didn’t even come close to selling out. The entire 300 level was moved down to the floor, because otherwise nobody would have been sitting that close to the game. The biggest cluster of fans appeared to be a group from an elementary school that was more excited to see G Wiz than the players on the floor.

Yes, it was true, John Wall and Paul Pierce were scratched from the lineup at the last minute. That may have contributed to the lack of attendance, but still, if you don’t show up, you don’t get a team. Teams will sit players, teams will sit stars, injuries will happen, guys need a rest. But the fans are still counted on to show up.

The drop in attendance was staggering and took me back. After a year of using empirical evidence to say “No, you’re wrong, the city can support basketball” I was proven wrong.

If tomorrow, Ted Leonsis and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake come out and say that a D League team will be here, I’ll be one of the first to buy a t-shirt, get tickets, start peddling my writing skills to sites to cover D League stuff about them. I love this city and I love basketball, but the two of them not loving each other breaks my heart.

Last Nights Number: Wizards vs Toronto Raptors

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36.1%

And finally, a game where the Wizards missed the shooting of Bradley Beal. Total FG% was 36.1 as the Raptors demolished them 103-84. That was literally it, they just couldn’t shoot. Only three Wizards in double digits, and most of that was done in garbage time. Hot shooting Garrett Temple came back to earth with three points, Nene with 7, Pierce and Gortat tied with 8. The three-point percentage was even worse at 15.8%. But Kris Humphries got 11 points, the team had 5 blocks, but the less said about last night the better.

Next game is tonight at the Indiana Pacers, who they had to take to overtime to beat on Wednesday.

Guard Profile of John Wall: Q&A with Seth Partnow

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (either by your choice or your cult leader’s choice) you will have noticed that there are a lot of Hot Takes about what kind of point guard John Wall should be. But what kind of stats are out there to determine that?
Seth Partnow blew the doors off how we can look at point guards with his take at Nylon Calculus and then doubled down over at The Cauldron with his examination of how Wall is trying to be Chris Paul and how that is not working. Seth was very kind to answer a few questions about the what kind of PG Wall is and can be.

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Wall’s Shot:Assist Chance was 1:01, squarely in the middle of the pack. Even though his assists blossomed last year, do you think he needs to be more aggressive in his decision making?

Seth Partnow: “Aggressive” is a tough one. Do I think he needs to be more assertive in using his quickness to attack the feet of big men in the pick and roll? Yes. On the other hand, he’s not exactly shy about high degree of difficulty passes so I don’t want to offer a blanket statement beyond that if “aggressive” = “not shooting so many 18 footers off the dribble” I’m all for it.

On the Driving versus Probing section, Wall’s Drive percentage was 7.7%, on the lower end of the drive, and leaning him more towards a prober. What are the benefits and deficits of being a probing guard?

SP: In general, probing guards are lower turnover because driving gets you into traffic and charges and all that good stuff. On the other hand, driving gets you layups, free throws and assist chances. Wall already has the turnovers, so he’s getting little of the benefits from probing and all the downside, so why not attack?

Wall’s on-ball TOP% was top five in the league and his assits were a career high last season, but his Shot:Assist Chance seems low for the amount that the ball is in his hand. Should be be quicker to let the ball go?

SP: He doesn’t strike me as a guy who pounds the ball over much – in fact as I said in the article, a little MORE patience in terms of keeping his dribble alive and making a play would serve him well. I think with a guy like Pierce in the fold this year, that TOP will naturally drop, as it will the more Nene (an excellent facilitator from the post) can stay on the floor and healthy.

Wall’s 3PA/36 was 3.77, which makes his spacing look like roughly in the middle. Is it possible that his spacing is like that based on the way the offense runs? Last season he had two spot up shooters on the wings and one big that wasn’t mobile all the time.

SP: At least last year, Wall was a perfectly fine catch and shoot 3 point shooter. He’s never going to be Steph Curry, but giving his potential as a penetrator, that’s ok. Especially for a guy who can do as much with the ball as Wall, floor spacing is less important than for a more sedentary player.

In your Cauldron piece, you said he shouldn’t model himself after Chris Paul’s game. Who do you think he SHOULD model his game after?

SP: Westbrook isn’t quite right, because that’s maybe going to far the other direction, maybe Derrick Rose or a bigger, more durable TJ Ford. A more talented Jeff Teague?

Thanks to Seth for answering these questions. He is a MUST FOLLOW on twitter. Seriously, beware if you don’t.

Podcast Ep 14: Roxy Wittman

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The podcast is back on track! I go into what looks interesting for the Wizards, surprise early stats and talk the winners and losers of Rookie Extension contracts. The tarot cards come out for game previews and Randy Wittman gets advice from an old weirdo.

Did you know you could subscribe to the pod on Itunes? And leave us a cool review? Well now you do!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/elevatordoorss-podcast/id918840835

Last Nights Number: Wizards vs Indiana Pacers

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Photo credit: nba.com

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The Wizards had a good first half, but their bench unit collapsed again with no one off the pine scoring in double figures. The Pacers were able to swing back into the game on Donald Sloan’s 31 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. Roy Hibbert was in playoff form with 2 points and 9 rebounds.

John Wall matched Sloan with 31 points and 10 assists, knocking his 4th double-double of the season in the books. Otto Porter struggled in shooting again, going 1 for 5 in 22 minutes ending with only 3 points. Garrett Temple continued to shine with 16 pts, 4 assists and 7 rebounds.

The Wizards move up to 4-1, next game at Toronto on Friday November 7th.