The Wall-Beal-Porter Era couldn’t live up its own expectations

From the moment John WallBradley Beal, and Otto Porter were put together on the Wizards, there was an expectation the core could reach the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2017, they got within 15 minutes of reaching it. They were leading Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with under 3 minutes left in the third quarter when everything fell apart. Washington’s bench crumbled, Kelly Olynyk caught fire, and the Wizards’ starters ran out of gas.

There were still reasons to be optimistic after that crushing loss. Wall and Beal had turned in their best seasons to date, and the front office made it clear that keeping the group together was a priority. The Wizards’ Big 3 was ready to carry the mantle as the most promising professional D.C. sports team and write their chapter in the D.C. sports history books. Little did we know the core would dissolve less than two years later having got no closer than they did on May 5, 2017.

Blame it on the injuries, a lack of leadership, missteps from the front office — the list goes on and on. But, rather than building on the momentum of Washington’s best season in 40 years, they took a major step back last season, followed by an even bigger step back this season. Things were so bad between the team’s underperformance and John Wall’s Achilles injury that the Wizards traded Otto Porter in a luxury-tax dodging move, just days after assuring him they’d keep him through the trade deadline.

With the Wall-Beal-Porter era now abruptly over, how will we look back at this five-year window once the dust settles? It’s tricky.

The Wizards burst onto the scene a year early. The upstart backcourt of Wall and Beal, together with proven veterans sprinkled in at key spots, slid into the 5-seed in 2014. After a surprising 4-1 series win over the heavily favored Chicago Bulls, they faced the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. Washington, a significant underdog was playing with house money. They already overachieved in winning a first-round series when many thought just making the playoffs would be a success. Their two victories against the Pacers were the cherry on top of a pleasantly surprising season.

The team’s bright future lured free agent Paul Pierce to D.C. on a one-year deal that summer. His arrival gave the team a legitimacy it had lacked. Their first-round sweep of the Raptors in 2015 followed with a back-and-forth series against the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks solidified the Wizards as a team that would be a factor in the Eastern Conference for years to come.

The NBA was on notice — Washington was a legitimate threat in the East. However, in the Wizards’ minds, they already viewed themselves as part of the club. They were confident things would have ended differently if John Wall didn’t break his wrist in that series, and the team spent the rest of the summer trying to tell everyone about it before they could prove it. It was the summer Wall and Beal talked about being the “best backcourt in the NBA.” The Wizards were no longer the overlooked underdogs, they were the team that had to go out and back up their boasting to the league.

With Paul Pierce gone, the Wizards brought in Jared Dudley to be a positive locker room presence even though Wall and Beal felt they were ready to lead. Inconsistencies, infighting, and injuries marred the 2015-16 season and provided a dose of reality for a team that thought it had arrived.

After changing their coaching staff, and overcoming a 2-8 start to the 2016-17 season, it looked like Washington was back on its way to reasserting itself as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender. They won 49 games, John Wall turned in an All-NBA season, and Bradley Beal had a legitimate case to make the All-Star game that year.

Even after the tough Game 7 loss to Boston, the Wizards looked like they were turning a corner. They let their play do the talking (for the most part) and played with an edge they lacked the season before. That is, until after Washington was bounced from the playoffs, when Bradley Beal said “Cleveland didn’t want to see us.”

Once again, the Wizards grew tired of being the underdog and went back to trying to prove they could be more than what they had shown — the underlying theme of the era.

The Wizards coasted through the 2017-18 season losing countless games to losing teams, only to come back with wins against some of the league’s best. It was a season filled with repetitive quotes like “We didn’t bring enough energy”, “We took this team for granted”, and “Guys were stat-hunting.” Washington ended up with the 8-seed and date with the Toronto Raptors. After losing the series 4-2, Markieff Morris said: “Sometimes the better teams don’t win.”

They still didn’t learn.

The 2018-19 campaign has been a season from hell. The exciting underdog team from 2014 is a distant memory, and the front office is in panic mode hoping that they can clean up past mistakes and salvage their future with Wall in a walking boot and Porter in a Bulls uniform. The team that once dreamed of going toe-to-toe with LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals is now patting themselves on the back after two straight wins against lottery-bound teams to keep their flimsy playoff hopes alive.

This trio will go down as a core that collectively never fulfilled its potential. There are many reasons this big three never made it past the second round of the playoffs, including injuries. But ultimately, it was delusion from both the team and the front office that contributed most to Washington’s shortcomings. They convinced themselves they were close and didn‘t need to make major changes, when the reality is, they were much further away.

Back in 2013, things looked so bright for the future. But now, as the era ends, the only thing that seems clear is that there will be a murky path ahead for the next era of Wizards basketball.

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Wizards run out of gas, fall to Pacers 105-89

Seven Pacers players score in double-figures led by Myles Turner with 18 points as Indiana downed a tired Washington squad, 105-89 on Sunday.

Only four Wizards players cracked double-figures in the game, led by Markieff Morris with 16 off the bench, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough as this one had ‘schedule loss’ written all over it after their thrilling triple overtime win over the Suns on Saturday evening.

The Wizards played about as well as one would hope to start this game. Even though the Wizards turned the ball over six times in the opening period and shot just 8-for-18 from the field, they found themselves down just two points one quarter.

After a John Wall turnover, it looked like the Pacers might open the floodgates up in this one as the ball found it’s way to Bojan Bogdanovic in the corner for a three-pointer giving Indiana a 44-32 lead. But Washington had an answer. Back-to-back threes from Morris and Jeff Green trimmed the Pacers lead to six and the Wizards were able to get as close as three after Thomas Bryant converted an and-one opportunity.

Indiana would counter with a 7-0 run of their own to take a 53-43 lead into halftime.

You usually don’t see fatigue in teams on the second half of a back-to-back until the second half — and that was the case for Washington. After hanging around, the Pacers ripped off a 16-1 extended run to open the game up 76-57 in the third quarter.

The deficit would be too much to overcome as Scott Brooks emptied the bench for the entire fourth quarter to close this one out as Washington was held to a season-low 89 points in the loss.

Takeaways

Wizards fall apart in the third quarter

The Wizards did a good job hanging around in this one during the first half, which was really all you could ask for from a team playing the second half of a back-to-back in less than 24 hours. Once the adrenaline wore off and the dead legs kicked in, Washington’s chance of sneaking away with a victory went out the window.

Washington was only able to muster 18 points in the third quarter as they were outscored 31-18 in the period.

However, the highlight of the period came on a basket that didn’t count. Bradley Beal stole the ball from a Pacers player, passed it off to Trevor Ariza who found a streaking Green for a monstrous dunk over Victor Oladipo.

This basket was waived off due to an offensive foul, but that doesn’t take away from how spectacular this dunk was.

Turnovers haunt the Wizards

The Wizards were in the giving spirit as they coughed the ball up 22 times, equaling the number they gave up the night before. John Wall was the main culprit with seven turnovers on the evening, including six in the first half.

No turnover is good, however, the ones the Wizards committed tonight would rank lowest on the totem pole. Too many times, guys would try to thread the needle after driving into a crowded lane or they’d turn it over attempting to save a loose ball heading out of bounds only to lead to transition opportunities for the Pacers.

The first half would have been a whole lot closer however the Wizards committed 13 turnovers leading to 20 Indiana points. Nine second-half turnovers added insult to injury as you aren’t going to win many games when committing 22 turnovers.

Washington gets nothing from their backcourt

Bradley Beal played over 50 minutes last night and you could tell. He looked gassed from the get-go and as a result, was only able to muster up seven points on 2-for-11 shooting in just 23 minutes of action.

John Wall on the other hand, was playing like a guy on the second half of a back-to-back, except he didn’t play last night due to flu-like symptoms that seemed to still be affecting his play. His numbers were equally as bad as he also only scored seven points and turned the ball over seven times.

The Wizards aren’t going to be competitive in games when these guys only combine for 14 points.

Wizards vs. Lakers Final Score: Washington blows out Los Angeles 128-110 behind a monster 40-point game from John Wall

Things usually don’t end well when LeBron James steps foot in Capital One Arena. But Washington limited James to just 13 points and flipped the script as they ran the Lakers off the court, 128-110 on Sunday evening.

John Wall led the way for Washington with a season-high 40 points for a shorthanded Wizards team playing without Otto Porter Jr. for the third straight game and the newest member of the Wizards, Trevor Ariza, who had to sit this one out while this weekend’s trade waits to be approved.

Bradley Beal scored 25 points, the eighth straight time he’s eclipsed the 20-point mark and Jeff Green and Sam Dekker added 20 a piece for a Wizards squad that teased us for a night, showing us what this team could look like when it is clicking on all cylinders.

Washington stormed out in this one on a 24-8 run over the first five minutes of the game forcing Luke Walton to burn two early timeouts. The Wizards were on fire as they connected on their first five field goals and 12 of their first 17. But after nine brilliant minutes of basketball, the Wizards were a bit too loosey-goosey to close the quarter as the Lakers used a 13-5 run to cut the Wizards lead to 10, 33-23 after one quarter.

Things really opened up for Washington in the second quarter as they were able to push the pace. The Wizards used to pride themselves on getting out in transition but that hasn’t been the case this season. Tonight, the Wizards looked like their old selves as they relentlessly pushed the ball, especially on live ball Laker turnovers which allowed them to take control of the game midway through the second quarter.

With just seconds remaining in the first half, Wall hit an arcing jumper over Tyson Chandler to give the Wizards a 71-51 lead going into halftime.

Washington’s lead ballooned to 27 points at one point in the second half and the Wizards barely had to break a sweat as the Lakers never came within striking distance. Capital One Arena was filled with many purple and gold uniforms hoping to see a big game from James but they were silenced as Wall that stole the show.

Takeaways

2016-2017 John Wall shows up tonight

John Wall turned in by far his best performance of the season with 40 points, 14 assists, and 6 rebounds, with most his damage coming in the first half. Wall came out like a man on a mission early on as he pushed the ball in transition and fearlessly attacked the rim, very reminiscent of the 2016-2017 version of John Wall who made an All-NBA team.

The biggest difference from Wall tonight came on the defensive end and that set the tone for the rest of the team. Wall was much more energetic both on the perimeter and when LeBron tried backing him down in the post? He didn’t back down from the challenge.

Wall snagged three steals and had two emphatic blocks making everyone wonder, where is this defensive effort on a nightly basis?

Offensively, Wall was equally as impressive too. Tonight was one of those nights where guys had to keep their heads on a swivel because if you were open, John Wall was finding you.

Here, he threw a between the legs pass in transition for Sam Dekker who did the rest:

And here, he easily penetrated the paint to find Thomas Bryant for an easy dunk:

Take a bow, John.

An outstanding first half sets the tone for the night

On the heels of a trade, shipping Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers out to Phoenix just one day ago, it was unclear how the Wizards would come out to start this game. However, all of those questions would be put to rest early on in arguably the Wizards best half of the season.

Washington stormed out of the gate for a double-digit lead just minutes into the ballgame. The Wizards connected on their first five field goals and 12-of-17 overall and if they would have been able to knock down some of their open three-pointers, the first half could have been even more lopsided.

Washington came out with an energy and sense of urgency that we’ve seldom seen this season. Guys were active defensively evidenced as they logged eight steals in the first half and turned 14 Lakers turnovers into 17 first-half points.

The Wizards dropped 71 points and were up 20 at halftime which begs the question, why can’t Washington bring this kind of energy in, heck, 75 percent of their games?

Sam Dekker turns in his best performance in a Wizards uniform

He’s only played in four games for Washington, but tonight, Dekker showed that he has the potential to be a rotation player for this team. Dekker, who saw more minutes due to the absence of Porter, Ariza, and Kelly Oubre Jr., but also got more playing time as Markieff Morris caught an elbow in the first half to the head and missed the remainder of the game.

Dekker scored 20 points on an efficient 10-15 shooting to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Most thought the trade for Dekker was just a cash-saving move and that he’d rarely see the floor. This game might have folks thinking a little bit differently.

Celtics at Wizards Final Score: Irving scores 38 in overtime thriller, drops Washington 130-125

Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 38 points with none bigger than a deep three-pointer in overtime with just seconds remaining to put the Celtics up for good as Boston drops Washington, 130-125.

In what turned out to be a vintage John Wall game, Wall flirted with a triple-double as he dropped 34 points to go along with 13 assists and 6 rebounds. Kelly Oubre continued his hot December with 20 points off the bench while Bradley Beal and Jeff Green added 22 a piece but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome Boston’s late-game execution down the stretch.

After getting outscored 38-22 in the third quarter and trailing 84-77, it looked like Washington was toast. But that’s when John Wall and the Wizards woke up. Washington opened the fourth quarter on an 8-0 run to regain the lead 85-84 in the blink of an eye. Wall re-entered the game and asserted himself right away with a lob to Thomas Bryant for the dunk bringing a buzz to Capital One Arena.

And that’s when the point guard duel began. John Wall and Kyrie Irving have had many epic battles in the past and the only difference this time was that Irving was wearing a Celtics jersey. Whenever Irving and the Celtics scored, Wall answered with a bucket of his own. Wall was relentless in attacking the rim in the fourth quarter as he got to the hole with ease.

With just 13 seconds remaining and the Wizards looking dead in the water, Bradley Beal went to the free-throw line. He made the first free-throw to cut the lead to two, 113-111. He missed his second free-throw but miraculously, it bounced right to him as he laid it in for a layup to tie the ballgame at 113 as we’d be heading to overtime.

The Celtics out-hustled the Wizards on the offensive glass to start the overtime period resulting in easy putback attempts and regaining the lead, 118-114. But just like in regulation, Wall continued to attack the hole and finish.

There was a scary sequence for Wall when he drove through the lane and got tangled up with Irving resulting in him landing awkwardly. After a quick breather, Wall would re-enter the game.

With the Wizards up 123-122, Wall crowded Irving on the wing but Kyrie pulled up for a three as Boston regained the lead, 125-123. Next time down with the game tied at 125, Kyrie would splash in a three from Montgomery County for the dagger putting Boston up for good.

Boston wins an overtime thriller, 130-125.

Rockets at Wizards Final Score: Wizards overcome 54 points from Harden, beat Rockets 135-131 in overtime thriller

John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 68 points tonight in a vintage House of Guards game as Washington was able to overcome 54 points from James Harden and beat Houston in an overtime thriller, 135-131.

Washington’s bench combined for 45 points led by Markieff Morris with 22 points and 10 rebounds as Washington wins their second straight game over a Western Conference foe.

Houston, and more specifically, Eric Gordon came out smoking hot to start this one. The Rockets started the game 10-14 from the field including knocking down all six three-point attempts as Houston raced out to an early 27-10 lead forcing Scott Brooks to burn two early timeouts. For the third time this season, Washington surrendered 40+ points in the first quarter and it felt like this one had the makings of a blowout.

Things changed for Washington in the second quarter when they inserted their reserve unit and started pushing the ball. Some tic-tac-toe passing from Wall to Beal to Morris ended up in a dunk late in the second quarter as the Wizards used a 12-2 run to regain the lead 67-65 into the break.

James Harden put on a shooting clinic in the third quarter. First, it was step back three-pointers, then knocking down threes even while getting fouled; and if the Wizards crowded him? He’d drive right by for the layup. Harden scored 21 points in the period as the Rockets regained the lead 98-94 entering the fourth quarter.

Late in the fourth quarter, James Harden did his dance, stepped back for three and knocked down yet another three-pointer and got fouled giving him 50 points on the night as Houston took a 121-117 lead looking to bury the Wizards. But Washington wouldn’t go away. Big three-pointers from Morris and Beal allowed the Wizards to retake the lead and Porter could have put the nail in the coffin as he had a wide-open three with the Wizards up one but it rimmed out.

John Wall would get stripped on the final play of regulation and after five ties and five lead changes in the quarter alone, we’d be going to overtime.

Washington locked down defensively in the overtime period as Houston didn’t score their first basket until the 1:35 mark of the period. After a few tough shots from John Wall, Otto Porter picked off James Harden and threw a touchdown pass to Beal for the dunk icing the game.

Washington overcomes Harden’s 54 points to beat Houston, 135-131 in overtime.

The Wizards can get stops when they want to

It feels very weird to write this as Washington surrendered 131 points tonight but there were stretches where the Wizards played some very sound defense, specifically, towards the end of the fourth quarter and in the overtime periods.

Bradley Beal did a terrific job limiting Harden’s damage, as everyone in the arena knew that he’d try to take over late. Beal crowded Harden forcing him to take some very tough shots (some he made but you just have to tip your cap in that instance).

In the overtime period, Washington was able to hold Houston to just one point until the 1:35 mark with many key stops and forcing some opportune turnovers.

This is what makes the Wizards so frustrating. They were able to play outstanding defense for 3-4 minute stretches tonight and really forced Houston to work for their shots. But then, there were plenty of moments where it was clear that defense was the last thing on their minds. If Washington could lock in defensively for the entire 48 minutes, as they’ve shown glimpses that they are capable of doing, they’d be a very good basketball team. Instead, they find themselves surrendering 120+ points per night and with an 8-12 record.

The bench has proven to be a huge motivator for Markieff Morris

Just four games ago, Markieff Morris was relegated to the bench for his subpar play. Since the lineup shakeup from Brooks, the Wizards have gone 3-1 and it seems to have lit a fire under Morris as he’s playing his best basketball over the season culminating tonight with a 22-point and 10 rebound performance on 8-12 shooting including going 3-4 from three-point range.

Even though Morris came off the bench tonight, he outplayed Kelly Oubre, the guy who replaced him in the starting lineup by 21 minutes. Morris was on the floor in crunch time including the end of regulation and the entire overtime period, when it mattered most.

The reason Morris has been so frustrating for Wizards fans is that he’s capable of nights like this but far too often turns in clunkers of a performance. The irony here is if he continues to play this well off the bench, will Brooks reinsert him back into the starting lineup or keep things put?

The solution to Scott Brooks’ bench lineups

Death, taxes, and all-bench lineups.

Ever since Scott Brooks took over at the helm as the Wizards’ head coach, it’s been clear that he prefers using a long bench, and playing them together to build cohesion. Whether it was sticking with 2016’s historically bad bench, the ‘not terrible but still not good’ reserve unit of 2017, or this year’s up-and-down reserves—he doesn’t deviate much from his pattern of subbing all of the starters to get a breather in the late first quarter and early second quarter.

We’re less than one-fifth of the way through the season, but many of the bench’s problematic issues have flared up, even though this was supposed to be Washington’s deepest team under Brooks’ watch. With streaky players like Jeff GreenAustin Rivers, and Kelly Oubre Jr. coming off the pine, there have been nights where one of them explodes and carries the team for a stretch, but there have been just as many nights where the bench squanders a lead before the starters can down a cup of water.

Brooks has made one tweak to the rotation that fans have been clamoring for years – bringing in Oubre as the first sub at the six-minute mark for Otto Porter and letting Porter start the second and fourth quarters with the reserves.

The Kelly Oubre experience is already in full effect. He has the tools to go off for a big game as he did against Blazers, Warriors, and Kings; but he still makes many of the same mistakes that haunted him during his rookie and sophomore seasons. A lot of that is on Oubre, but the coaching staff needs to take some of the blame here because they haven’t catered to his strengths by playing him alongside four other players with unclear roles.

Plugging him in with the starters off the bench does wonders for both parties. It allows Oubre to be the fourth or fifth option, where he gets less defensive attention and can take more advantage of his biggest strength, his athleticism. All he has to do alongside Wall is run the floor and bring energy. In return, Wall gets another person to run with in transition and someone who can lighten his load on the defensive end.

Otto Porter would also be a beneficiary should Brooks continue to go with this approach. Porter has been in and out of Brooks’ doghouse this season, but giving him the green light with the reserves could be a way for both sides to get what they want. Whether you’re in the ‘Otto isn’t aggressive enough’ group or on the ‘Wizards coaching staff doesn’t run enough plays for Porter’ side of the fence, here’s an opportunity to change both narratives as he’d be the focal point of that unit, not to mention, probably the best player on the floor at that time.

This has the makings of a win-win for both guys as Oubre would be put in a better position to succeed, and Porter could continue to be an outstanding third option while also having a shot to be an alpha for the bench unit.

We’ve seen Brooks coach up close and personal for two years full seasons and some change now and it’s clear that some habits die hard with him. There isn’t really a downside to utilizing this rotation more as this current iteration of the all-bench unit has had a rocky start to the year. And the upside? It might generate more confidence in two of the more up-and-down players on this roster, which would be a huge boost for the team.

Orlando at Washington Final Score: Wizards clamp down late defensively, beat Magic 117-109

John Wall led the way with 25 points and Bradley Beal notched 21 as Washington exacts revenge on Monday night taking down Orlando, 117-109. Jeff Green was outstanding once again with 18 points on 6-7 shooting and Dwight Howard added 17 points against his former team for a Washington squad that’s won consecutive games for the first this season.

In one of the more odd things you’ll ever see, this game was tied at the end of the first quarter (30-30), halftime (55-55), and third quarter (83-83).

Terrance Ross hit rough back-to-back shots to start the fourth quarter and this had all the makings of him getting his jersey retired in the #WizardsKiller hall of fame. Excellent defensive effort coupled with Jeff Green’s stellar play in the fourth quarter (10 points) opened up a comfortable lead for Washington.

With under two minutes remaining, John Wall put this game on ice as he blocked Evan Fournier’s three-point attempt only to get fouled and head down the other way for free-throws.

Washington wins, 117-109 starting this five-game homestand off on the right foot.

John Wall turns in a vintage John Wall game

Wall logged his third double-double of the season with 25 points, 10 assists, and just two turnovers. Wall was able to get out in transition and attacked the hole with many of his points coming in the painted area. He was much more selective with his three-point shooting only taking three attempts (knocked down two) as he bullied the smaller D.J. Augustin.

Most importantly, Wall was engaged on the defensive end, specifically in the second half and it kick-started the Wizards.

Jeff Green turns in another outstanding performance  

Jeff Green was a near perfect 6-7 from the field for 18 points with his lone miss coming on a heave as the shot clock was winding down. Green provided a spark off the bench that Washington has desperately been looking for to start this season.

He was knocking down his threes, was very effective as the roll man with Wall in the pick-and-roll and had many timely buckets evidenced by his 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Jeff Green turned in a classic Jeff Green game only now, he’s in a Wizards uniform. Who would have thought?

Looks like Brooks has found something with the Wall-Beal-Oubre-Morris-Green lineup

For the second straight game, Brooks closed with Wall-Beal-Oubre-Morris-Green on the floor. Otto Porter and Dwight Howard didn’t play a second in the fourth quarter as it looks like Brooks might be onto something with a different iteration of small ball lineup.

This is definitely something to keep an eye out for, especially if you’re Otto Porter.