Lets be honest, entering this season not many people believed that the Washington Wizards would be a winning basketball team. Fans were excited though to watch John Wall brings his talents to Washington, D.C. and play against the leagues best point guards, believing that he too will reach their elite status.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder Wall faced Russell Westbrook (18 pts, 12 ast), a dynamic point guard who before the game Wizards Head Coach Flip Saunders called the “best all around point-guard in the NBA.” In a double-overtime thriller on January 28, Westbrook contained Wall to a pedestrian 13 points and 10 assists.
Although the Wizards have fared better at home this season, there most recent matchup was far less dramatic. Westbrook and the NBA's leading scorer Kevin Durant (28.1 PPG) applied pressure early on to gain a 23-point lead and put the game away by the end of the first-half. The Thunder held Washington to a lowly 37.8 percent from the field, including 0 of 9 from beyond the three-point line.
Westbrook had four steals and was largely responsible for Wall’s disappointing 7 assist, 6 turnover game. John was visibly dejected by the performance of he and his teammates both on the court and in the locker room after the game.
“They just outplayed us in the first quarter, they were getting whatever they wanted, any top of shots,” Wall said after the game. “We usually have strong play early on, but it seemed like they took the game away from us straight from the jump ball.”
A disoriented Wizards' defense was often caught out of position by Westbrook who continually pushed the ball up floor where he was able to get to the rim and find teammates like Durant (32 pints in 28 minutes) and Serge Ibaka (10 pts, 4 rebounds) for easy slams.
The assist of the night came on this lob from Russell to Durant in which it appears Westbrook puts the ball at the highest point possible, challenging the 6’9” forward to use every bit of his freakish 7”5” wingspan to catch and slam. This ladies and gentleman is why they call him the Durantula.
Westbrook found other teammates like Daequan Cook who shot 6 of 9 from three for 18 points, or James Harden (16 pts) who regularly made the Wizards pay at the basket with slam-dunks and free throws (3-4 FTM).
In reference to the matchup of the young point-guards, Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said after the game “They are as quick as two players in this league guarding each other. Neither one is an easy match-up for the other team, but before every game we focus on how we can stop their players, not a one-on-one matchup -- but I thought Russell was good.”
Good? Westbrook and company were great and just like Brooks said they didn’t try to take on anyone one on one. Solid team defense led by their point-guard didn’t allow the severely wounded Wizards frontcourt have any affect. Washington was turned into a jump shooting team where their sub-40 percent shooting percentage put the game out of reach early.
While John Wall’s ( 8.9 AST) numbers compare favorable to Russell Westbrook, who averaged 5.3 assists in 2008 as a rookie, especially when you consider that Westbrook had a scoring threat like Durant to play with. While no one doubts either players' talent, an aspect of their game that separates them is Westbrook's ability to provide a unifying presence to his teammates. Wall has to find a way to translate the desire and determination he possess to the rest of his locker room. It's a hefty load to place on any 20-years-old, but if Wall is the franchise player the Wizards believe he is he must take that next step.
To his credit John Wall has not let his frustrations affect his effort. He leaves it all on the court playing at a consistently high level whether they’re up by 5 or down by 30. He has been given role players to be lead contributors and it’s been every bit a disaster as their 16- 49 record suggests. But Wall refuses to accept youth as an excuse for any lack of effort; good news for the future of a young Washington Wizards team.
“We know people are hurt and that’s it’s a rebuilding process but we still shouldn’t not have no heart and not fight and not compete and not be into games. It’s an opportunity for people to step up so we’re not looking for any excuses it’s just us not playing hard and not competing and teams coming in here putting on a show and our crowd is cheering for them.”