As the Washington Wizards rack up one victory after another with John Wall watching from the sidelines in a suit, the topic du jour in NBA circles has become whether the Wizards are, in fact, better off without their five-time all-star point guard.
Just don’t tell that to Kevin Durant.
“Yeah, that’s from a bunch of people that don’t understand basketball,” Durant said after his Golden State Warriors held their shoot-around at Capital One Arena on Wednesday morning before facing the streaking Wizards. “Just make sure you guys know what really goes on.
“If you say you don’t need one of the best point guards in the league on your team, I don’t know if you should be in this league as a front office exec. You definitely need a guy like that.”
To at least present the other side of the argument, the primary thing that has changed about the Wizards since Wall underwent knee surgery — a stretch in which they have gone 10-3 — is that the team is moving the ball a lot more. After averaging 23.2 assists per game (tied for 10th in the NBA) before Wall went down, the Wizards are leading the NBA with 30.2 assists per game in the 13 games Wall has missed. They have gone from making 281.7 passes per game before his absence (per Second Spectrum data via NBA.com), which ranked 27th in the league, to making 310.2 passes per game without him, which ranks 10th.
Durant recognized that, and praised the Wizards — and several players individually — for how they have performed without Wall. But, in doing so, he also brought up the best rebuttal to the argument that they are better without Wall: While a team can succeed during the regular season without a star, a seven-game playoff series brings an entirely new level of scrutiny.
“First off, you need John Wall if you’re going to get where you want to get to,” Durant said. “But in the regular season it’s a different dynamic. In the playoffs, you’re going to need your superstars. But in the regular season, game to game, it’s harder for teams to scout you.
“The Wizards are doing such a great job moving the basketball even better. In the playoffs, that’s going to bog down,” Durant said. “But you’ve got guys like [Tomas] Satoransky who is playing great basketball, in my opinion. Obviously you know what Brad Beal can do. … [Kelly] Oubre is shooting the ball well, [Markieff] Morris, they all are playing great ball.
“They’re just all rallying around John, actually, and making sure the team is in great hands once he comes back. You can tell they’re family over here. You can tell they love playing with each other, and they’re just playing with a lot of energy, especially with their star player out.”
We’ll just set that last part aside, given some of the public back-and-forths (most notably between Wall and Marcin Gortat) that have spilled out of the Wizards locker room over the past month. But it is hard to argue that the Wizards have had far more success than just about anyone would have predicted when Wall went down.
And for those on either side of the argument over whether Washington would be better off without Wall, the next few weeks will serve as a fascinating test case, as the Wizards are four games into a stretch that will see them play 15 out of 17 games — including 13 in a row — against teams that are in playoff position.
Durant was also happy to give credit to someone else for Washington’s success without Wall: his old coach, Scott Brooks. Durant referenced the 2013 NBA playoffs, when the Thunder lost Russell Westbrook for the postseason in its opening game, as proof of Brooks’s ability to rally a team after it has lost a star.
“To see how they are playing without him, it shows they have a lot of pride,” Durant said of the Wizards. “I know Coach Brooks. When I was playing for him we were in the same situation. The way he coached the team throughout that time showed we had a lot of pride, and you can see that in this team.”