After a rough stretch of games, the Wizards finally made it to the much needed All Star break. Whose stock is rising and whose is falling?
John Wall – As it’s been noted in some national media outlets, many believe that John Wall is a very good player but that he’s not a superstar. It always seems like the verdict is out on John and folks are hesitant to coin him as a top point guard in this league. Well that perception has changed as John received the most All Star votes from any guard in the Eastern Conference and is starting the All Star game tomorrow.
John is currently averaging 17.4 points, 10.1 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game. He was the only consistent player for this team over the past three weeks when this team endured an upsetting 4-7 record with most of their losses coming against upper echelon teams. Aside from John, there was not another player during this stretch that you knew would produce every single night.
The biggest change that I’ve noticed from last year to this year is his change in speed. Last year was considered a breakout year for him by many. However, it still seemed like he was playing at 100 MPH or was walking the ball up the court; no in between. That’s not the case this year. John now utilizes all five gears and is much wiser when it comes to pushing the ball in transition. He’ll receive the outlet just short of half court from (usually) Gortat or Nene and will push the ball if the team has numbers or will pull it back out and run a set if the team does not. He no longer tries to take defenses 1 on 3.
Aside from playing under control, John looks much more confident in his mid-range jumper and has incorporated a floater into his game. His field goal percentage is up from 43.3% to 46% from last year to this. His free throw shooting has dipped a little bit which is a tad concerning but right now he is the only Wizards’ player who relentlessly drives to the hole.
After seeing this team’s body of work this season (slumps, injuries, etc.) I am under the firm belief that come playoff time, John will have to strap this team on his back and this team will go as far as he goes.
Kris Humphries – Let’s clap it up for Ernie Grunfeld completing one of the most under the radar offseason acquisitions in the offseason. Kris has always played for bad teams or in a market that doesn’t get much attention aside from NBA heads. Aside from this year, the only time he played for a good team was in 2009-2010 when he was on the Mavericks but his minutes were limited as he only played in 25 games that season.
He isn’t putting up the best numbers of his career this year, but this is one of those instances where the eye test is greater than numbers. Kris is currently averaging 8.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game coming off the bench to spell Nene. As of late, Randy Wittman has opted to keep Kris in for the duration of the fourth instead of reinserting Marcin Gortat. Kris is the closest thing to a stretch 4 that this team has. Granted he can’t really create his own shot, he can knock down open 15-18 foot jumpers on a consistent basis evidenced by his 46.4% shooting percentage.
Kris has put together some of his best basketball during this team’s 3 week slump. Starting with the win at Denver, Kris has three double-doubles and five games with double digit rebounds; all coming off the bench. Recently, Kris likes to dunk on people too. Although he’s not the quickest, he is fearless around the rim and going back up for put back dunks. Humphries can continue to become a huge asset for this team especially if coach opts to play him over Gortat in the 4th quarter.
Paul Pierce: The All Star break could not have come sooner for Paul Pierce. Over the past month, Pierce has either shot a blistering 60%+ from the field in games, or around 20%; no in-between. This is no slump, this is 100% linked to his age. In the offseason, we brought in Pierce to take us to the next level come playoff time. The season started off very nicely for the veteran but this was masked by games against lower echelon teams and fresh legs for the 37 year old. The past month has been different. Pierce looks tired and it’s no coincidence that DeMar DeRozan, Markieff Morris, and DeMarre Carroll have had big games against Pierce over the past month.
He’s tired and can’t stay in front of his defender. He’s currently averaging 26.8 minutes per game, which is the fewest of his career. Even so, he has become a bit of a liability on defense. He sometimes has trouble staying in front of his player and often commits fouls because quite frankly, he’s too old to jump up for rebounds or recover onto his man. Once the playoffs roll around, he’s going to have to guard LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, or DeMarre Carroll. Either he has to do a better job individually on defense or the team needs to pick up their team defense collectively. Otherwise, expect the other team’s 3 to have a big game.
On the flip side, Pierce has shown his veteran leadership both on and off the court. No doubt he’s helped John elevate his game over the past year. That is invaluable, no doubt about it. When it comes down to it, we won’t know if acquiring Pierce and letting Trevor Ariza walk was a good move until playoff time rolls around. Until then, lets hope that Pierce gets his legs back under him and doesn’t alternate games shooting 60% and 20% from the field.
Andre Miller: Along with Paul Pierce, Andre Miller isn’t getting any younger and it’s showing. When the Wizards acquired Miller last season, they did so to have a veteran presence at point guard to spell John Wall. At the time, Eric Maynor and Garrett Temple shared the duties. The Maynor experiment did not work out in D.C. at all. Whatever he was doing in OKC the year before, he wasn’t doing half of that for the Wizards. Temple on the other hand is more of a shooting guard and is known for his lockdown defense. He was playing out of position until the Wizards acquired Miller.
Andre Miller was able to use his old man YMCA moves at the beginning of the season to dish out some nice assists and post up his defender but that has not been the case as of late. Coach Wittman has benched Miller in favor of Temple to get some sort of spark at the backup point guard position. Miller is an extreme liability on defense. Any point guard who is somewhat quick will blow by the professor. This hurts us in our transition defense as well as in pick-and-roll defense. It was a nice run for Miller but this team needs a small and speedy point guard to spell John Wall.
It has been rumored that the Wizards are looking at Jameer Nelson again, D.J. Augustin, or Kevin Martin in a trade. As much as the team loves the professor, it’s clear that his age is starting to become an issue. I was in the “wait and see” mindset before but it’s clear that this team needs an upgrade at the backup point guard position.
Hopefully this long All Star break will give the players time to recover and get their legs back under them. The schedule gets no easier over the last 28 games of the season. It’s not panic time just yet, but this team must improve if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.