Flip Saunders knows John Wall pretty well. So when Wall opened up the Wizards' night against the Wolves with 5 points and 6 assists in the first six minutes, you have to believe that deep down inside, Flip knew the game was basically over already.
Saunders was Wall's first NBA coach, back in 2010 when Wall was just an excitable kid out of Kentucky and Saunders was trying figure out the impossible: how to get past Gilbert Arenas going Hell on Wheels on his locker room, leaving him with a team built around the infamous trio of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, and Nick Young (pre-Swaggy) He latched onto Wall, both because Wall showed potential to be very very good, and also just for his own sanity, and Wall didn't disappoint, averaging 16 points and 8 assists as a rookie.
Saunders has a way with point guards. He got Stephon Marbury's career going. He got John Wall's career going. He got Rubio to show some very positive improvement before dem ankles, and he's hoping to get the same out of Zach LaVine now.
So it has to be a little rough for him to watch Fliprotegee Randy Wittman guiding the Wizards to a fantastic start to the year...fueled by borderline-MVP play from Wall...while the Wolves struggle to keep pace with the Lakers and Knicks because Rubio is in a suit and tie. Of all the worst-case possibilities, a no-point-guard scenario has to be about the worst on Saunders' list. He's a point guard coach. He runs a point guard's offense. Having a team run by a rookie who played basically no point guard in college...backed up by a small forward who's handling mishaps are the stuff of NBA legend...is his endless staircase.
The game summary for this one is really simple: John Wall is too good. That's it, that's all there is too it. John Wall is too fast, too sharp, too smart, too.....good. The Wolves don't have much of a defense to begin with, but give a guy with Wall's speed and precision...who's finally learned how to control it...a free run and it's over. Game's done; go home.
Wall scored 21 and tied his career high in assists with 17. He is now the sole league leader in both assists/game and assist% (he had been in a tie with Rondo before tonight) With everyone caught up in Steph Curry's shooting and Derrick Rose's comeback, John Wall is flying way under the radar, and undeservedly so. John Wall leads the league in assists. Let me say that again: John Wall leads the entire NBA in assists. That includes Rondo and Chris Paul.
Granted, tonight the Wolves made his job extra easy. Our defense was a comedic tragedy tonight, regularly losing Gortat right under the basket (how do you lose a 7'1" man who's standing literally right under the hoop? More than once???) and declined to close out on their shooters, particularly Rasual Butler (who I'm ecstatic for, FYI. He never should have been left out of the league) Googles gets made about Wittman following in the steps of Flip's notoriously midrange playbook, and well.....tonight's shot chart is not going to make you #3Gate-rs happy.
It's a question we chase over and over here on Hoopus because the truth is, the answer is simple. Even Witt seemingly has adjusted for his personnel. He's got one of the best passing point guards in Optimus Dime, and has had the rest of the roster filled out with a great roll man in Gortat and 3pt shooters in Beal, Pierce, Porter, Butler, etc. At a certain point, you have to just accept what is and plan accordingly.
Every team except New York runs some subset of the pick and roll. The floor is built for it. The rules are conducive to it. A point guard with vision, paired with a mobile big, with the rest of the floor spaced out by shooters waiting for kickouts. There's really not a reason to make it more complicated than that, and the Wizards were a case study in it tonight. John Wall made running an NBA level offense look like junior high JV stuff. Without Rubio, the Wolves simply don't have an answer for that.
1. After a miserable first half, Thad Young came out in the third quarter and nearly torched the Verizon Center to the ground. 19 points on a perfect 9-9 from the field. He's been really struggling to find the range since returning from his mother passing (understandably so) This was the kind of game that reminds you why Flip fought so hard to have him included in the summer's big trade.
2. Shabazz scored 21 points in 28 minutes, bringing his double-digit scoring streak up to 7 games. Without a real point guard to dictate the offense, Bazz's low post left hook is about the only consistent scoring the Wolves can get right now. He's not dependent on a setup to get points. He practically hustles his way into them. He should be playing more, but if he's playing hurt...
3. Jeff Adrien is too good for garbage minutes, He needs to be on the floor a LOT more. Adrien is giving the Wolves low post defense, rebounding and toughness they need but aren't getting from Gorgui right now.
4. I love Ronny, so I feel guilty advocating this, but if he's done for the year, the Wolves need to waive him and either lock up Adrien for the rest of the season, or find a point guard to hold the fort down. Ideally, they move Chase or Corey and do both.
5. Andre Miller. I love you, man