People are expecting big things from the Washington Wizards this year. After last year's playoff run, fans are hoping for a repeat performance, believing that John Wall and Bradley Beal can lead the team to even greater heights now that they have some playoff experience under their belts. And it's not just fans who are excited; NBA pundits are high on the Wizards as well, with ESPN ranking them as their third choice for East Champs in their Summer Forecast. With a talented young backcourt, depth in the frontcourt, and a battle-tested leader in Paul Pierce, the Wizards seem poised to make some noise in the playoffs this year. They just need to do one thing; score.
The Wizards scoring numbers dipped across the board last year come playoff time. The team averaged 90.4 PPG with a 43.2 FG%, shooting 33.5% from beyond the arc. Compare that to their regular season numbers of 100.7 PPG, 45.9 FG% and 38% from three, and its clear that the team couldn't replicate their regular season shooting success. While their dominant 4-1 series victory over the Bulls was impressive, it wasn't due to their offense; it owed more to the Wizard's strong defense and the fact that the Bulls had to rely on Mike Dunleavy to be their primary scorer. Their scoring woes continued against the Pacers, as they put up point totals of 82, 63, 92 and 80 in their four losses.
The Pacers were an excellent defensive team last year, so some scoring struggles were to be expected. But it's the way they struggled that was so disheartening. The team settled for way too many long jumpers and failed to play with the same patience and maturity they demonstrated against the Bulls. John Wall had a poor offensive series, averaging 14.2 points while shooting a putrid 19% from three. And most importantly, nobody was able to step up and become the consistent scoring presence they needed.
The Wizards need someone who can step up and become a dominant scorer in the playoffs. Looking at the roster, their options are limited. Marcin Gortat and Nene were solid in the playoffs and had some good offensive flashes, with Nene working his midrange game and Gortat dropping 31 on the Pacers in Game 5. But they aren't meant to be 20 PPG low-post scorers. Their biggest value on offense comes from their ability to set screens. Paul Pierce can still shoot and has proven he can make clutch shots. But he's 36 and should be back playing small forward, so its unreasonable to expect him to do more than replicate Trevor Ariza's 13-14 points per game. While the bench is deeper, the Wizards don't have a Jamal Crawford type who can come of the bench and score 15-20 points every night.
It looks like its down to Wall and Beal, and Beal seems the better option of the two. While Wall showed some real improvement as a shooter last year, his growth stagnated in the playoffs, where he was unable to hit his jumper consistently, especially in late-game situations. By using Roy Hibbert as a rim protector and shutting down Wall's passing lanes, the Pacers left him unable to attack, and Wall's shooting struggles hamstrung the Wizards offense.
Beal is the only Wizard who showed real scoring improvement in the playoffs. While his shooting numbers stayed about the same, he showed he can carry a heavier load without it hurting his efficiency, and he showed improvement as a secondary ball handler and passer. He's arguably the Wizards' most well-rounded offensive option at this point. He's a better jump shooter than Wall, he can knock down the open three point opportunities that Wall's driving creates, and he's getting better at attacking the basket. As he continues to develop he can become a consistent 20 PPG scorer, with the potential to do even more in the playoffs.
The Wizards don't need Wall to be a dominant scorer in the playoffs, but Beal can and should fill that role. If Wall's shooting continues to improve, he can keep defenses honest while serving primarily as a facilitator, attacking the basket and creating easy scoring opportunities for others thanks to his slash and kick prowess. Beal meanwhile, can handle even more of an offensive load, thanks to his ability to shoot, attack the basket and run the pick-and-roll. Wall and Beal seem to compliment each other well both on and off the court, and they seem like they would take on different roles if it resulted in greater team success.
*All stats courtesy of NBA.com
Who do you think should be the Wizards' go-to guy in the playoffs? Drop a comment and get the conversation started!
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