The Charlotte Hornets have shown some verve recently — winning three straight games, including two against Eastern Conference playoff teams. The Hornets are just three games back of the eighth seed in the East, which entails no lottery pick, and a first round beatdown courtesy of LeBron and the Cavs (although Boston is just one game back). Charlotte should consider the option of a backdoor tank, and gun for a top 10 pick. But with Michael Jordan, Steve Clifford and Kemba Walker running the show, that’s unlikely to happen.
However, FiveThirtyEight gives Charlotte only a five percent chance of getting to the playoffs; if they do in fact go fishing at the end of the regular season, here’s the first of a new series we’re trotting out: Breaking Buzz. We’ll use this space to highlight another NC-related team/player to keep in eye on in the post season. First up: Raleigh’s own John Wall.
All season long, we’ve marveled at Russell Westbrook’s feats of athleticism — and rightfully so. Russ is on his on planet as an athlete, but if you’re looking for the closest facsimile in the NBA, it’s Wall. It’s incredibly rare that a point guard is capable of something like this. Wall blows past the entire Philadelphia defense, and yams it lefty reverse.
This is the kind of skill set you need to become just the fourth player in NBA history, for his career, to average 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds. The other three players, you ask? Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and another NC product — the Point God, Chris Paul. Not bad company, right?
After battling injuries all last season — as the Zard slogged to 41 , and finished 20th in offensive efficiency — Wall is back with a vengeance in 2016-17. He’s flown around the court, and while he is not the one-man wrecking crew that Westbrook is, Wall is still a marvel to watch. His ability to change directions with the ball, pivoting on a dime, is unlike any other player in the NBA. Wall looks like a high-performance sports car — flipping gears, and blowing by obstacles with ease. See ya, Shump.
Slice and dice
Scott Brooks has implemented an offense that puts and emphasis on floor spacing and open movement. For the most part, Washington avoids one-on-one tic-tac-toe with Wall and Beal; this team wants to play off one another. Wall, however, is the primary instigator for the action when on the floor.
According to the league’s tracking data, Washington runs about 18 percent of its possessions (No. 10 in the NBA) through a pick-and-roll ball handler — which is usually Wall. Wall has used 711 possessions as a PNR ball handler — No. 4 in the NBA. Opponents want to duck under those screens in an effort to make sure Wall doesn’t have an obvious line to the hoop. However, he’s ripped nets at an impressive rate in this action: 46.1 percent shooting. This is just a tick under Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry. For the record, Beal is No. 1 in the NBA in FG% on pick-and-rolls; the former Florida Gator has connected on a sizzling 51.4 percent of his attempts.
When the Wizards punt on pick-and-roll and space the floor around Wall’s solo forays to the basket, he’s been damn good, too. He’s one of just six players to average at least 11 drives per game. Wall has connected on 52 percent of his field goals off drives this season, which is tied for 11th most in the NBA. That’s a number above long-armed freaks like Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That’s Wall putting his aforementioned athleticism to practical use.
Marcin Gortat, the Polish Hammer, is his primary pick-and-roll dance partner, and there’s good reason why Gortat leads the NBA with 6.5 screen assists per game. Look at Wall beautifully snake back after going around Gortat’s screen.
The Wizards are just 21st in the NBA in three-point attempts (24.6 per game). However, the team sits at No. 7 in the league in accuracy from deep; Washington has connected on 37.2 percent of its triples.
Wall will never be mistaken for a marksman. After raining a career-high 115 three-balls in 2015-16, Wall is shooting just 31.4 percent from distance; less than 20 percent of his field goal attempts come from beyond the arc. The All-Star is even a perplexing 4-of-22 (18.2 percent) on those juicy corner threes.
Despite being a below-average shooter from deep, Wall is hands down the most important component of this top 10 three-point shooting offense. It probably shouldn’t come as much surprise, but three of Wall’s teammates in Washington’s deeply top-heavy rotation are all experiencing their best seasons a three-point shooters. Chief Keef Morris (34.9 percent) and Otto Porter (44.5 percent) are both shooting career-highs from deep. Porter is second in the NBA in three-point percentage — behind only Kyle Korver. Otto Freaking Porter! (By the way, get ready for him to land a max contract this summer in RFA.)
Of course, Brad Beal must be mentioned, too. He’s shooting 40.5 percent on triples this season, which is just a few percentage points of his career-best. However, the volume has grown. Nearly 43 percent of Beal’s field goal attempts are of the three-point variety; he’s launched 7.3 bombs per game.
Beal and Wall’s relationship has been icy at times in Washington’s House of Guards, but the two-guard has found a home running off pindowns Scott Brook brought with him from OKC’s old playbook. Here he is running off a double staggered screen for an easy three against the Thunder:
Beal and Porter both shoot 42-plus percent on three-pointers following a pass from Wall, according to NBA.com. No one, with the exception of maybe James Harden, is better at finding three-pointer shooters in the corners than Wall. Well, according to NBA Savant: Beal (43.2 percent), Porter (41.1 percent) and Morris (46.7 percent) have all ripped nets from the corner this season.
A date is May with the Cavs?
The Wizards are 43-28, and sit in third place in the East. They have a chance to win 50-plus games for the first time since the Washington Bullets won 54 back in 1979. Even with the additions of Brandon Jennings and Bojan Bogdanovic, the bench is still a mess. The Zards score fewer than one point per possession when Wall sits.
Regardless, Washington is damn good, and Wall-Beal have been monsters. This team could easily find itself in the Eastern Conference Finals.