With 23.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, John Wall strode to the free-throw line and calmly knocked down a pair of freebies—his 10th and 11th of the night. As the second one ripped through the nylon, he set a new career high in points, having torched the overmatched Orlando Magic backcourt for 52 points, four rebounds, eight assists and three steals.
He'd shot a stellar 18-of-31 from the field and 5-of-8 from downtown, while his four turnovers were reasonable given how frequently he controlled the rock.
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This was against a nondescript Magic outfit that was finishing a five-game trip away from the Sunshine State. It came in front of Wall's hometown faithful at the Verizon Center. Surely, he could help steer the struggling Washington Wizards back on track.
Except Washington lost, 124-116.
The proceedings weren't even as close as that final margin might indicate. The Wizards were badly outplayed, failing to slow down Elfrid Payton or any other member of the Orlando bench. They barely bothered to contest shots at times, looking far too disinterested for a squad that's now won just seven games in 20 attempts.
After Wall and Bradley Beal, who finished with 19 points, Washington's leading scorer was Markieff Morris, who dropped 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting. As a whole, the non-Wall members of the roster mustered just 64 points on 26-of-62 shooting (41.9 percent), and the point guard provided assists on eight of those buckets.
Yet again, he couldn't get any support.
Wall is averaging 24.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 2.1 steals on the season. He's shooting 45.9 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from downtown and 82.3 percent at the charity stripe—all career high-water marks.
He should be leading a playoff squad, especially because the pieces—on paper, at least—seem to fit around him: Beal should be a solid complementary scorer. Otto Porter is blossoming into an all-around stud who still has time to do the little things, and Morris spaces the floor. Marcin Gortat is even an ideal pick-and-roll partner.
But nothing is working for a team that entered this contest ranked 20th in league offensive rating and 19th in defensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.com. Almost everyone has disappointed, as you can see from this data provided by NBA Math:
Wall has been fantastic on offense and about average on defense, leaving Porter as the lone player contributing positively on both ends (the blue dot). Beal, Gortat, Morris and Ian Mahinmi are the only others with positive scores on either side (the red dots), and the first two have still essentially negated their strengths with their weaknesses.
Everyone else (the gray dots) has been a below-average presence everywhere, leaving these Wizards with precious little depth or chemistry.
So, how do you fix this?
It's tough to imagine the Wizards parting with their core, despite the potential chemistry issues in the backcourt. But as they continue to slip down the standings, we might start hearing rumblings about the team blowing things up by shipping Wall away to start over and land a higher pick in the stacked 2017 NBA draft.
They're going to have to come to grips with whether they want to trade John Wall or not, and what they can get for him. If I'm running Washington, I would trade John Wall right now. I would just move him for picks and do a complete tankapalooza and try to rebuild and put myself in a much better spot. I think it's going to take years to put a decent team around [him], and I think the fact that Kevin Durant didn't even want to meet with them should've been a come-to-Jesus moment for that team, and apparently it wasn't.
The other option, of course, is to try to improve around the Wall-Beal-Porter core.
But even if the Wizards can identify a specific area that A) needs improvement, B) can actually be improved and C) features potential help on the trade market, they have to make a compelling offer.
Washington doesn't have any outstanding first-round debts, but it would be foolish to trade away a top-30 selection with the team's current efforts looking so futile. So would dealing a youngster such as Kelly Oubre or Tomas Satoransky make enough of a difference?
Probably not, which puts the Wizards in a pickle.
If a 52-point outburst by Wall in the middle of a career year isn't enough to take down a non-contender at home, it's tough to foresee the current roster making any significant noise in the Eastern Conference. And with no easy solutions available, it could be a long year.
Are the Orlando Magic Good?
We honestly have no idea.
The Magic moved to 10-12 on the season with their defeat of the Wizards, giving them the same record as the struggling Atlanta Hawks. They're on the fringe of playoff contention in the weaker East, even if they've flown under the radar after starting the year by stumbling to an 0-3 start.
The record is solid for a young team that's clearly improving as its myriad new pieces coalesce. And the defense, even if it couldn't slow Wall, has been suffocating during recent outings. Since Nov. 14, it had allowed just 96.7 points per 100 possessions, which would beat out the Los Angeles Clippers for the league's best season-long mark by a rather wide margin.
But the offense has been stagnant all the while, earning a putrid 97.7 rating during the same stretch. That would rather easily be the NBA's worst season-long mark.
Orlando still hasn't toppled many dominant units either. Its 10 victories featured mostly bottom-feeding squads, with the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons serving as the lone exceptions. Beating a Washington outfit operating without much chemistry didn't help change that narrative.
The offense, however, (finally) looked serviceable in that one.
Seven of the nine players who logged minutes scored at least 10 points, highlighted by Payton's 25-point, nine-assist explosion off the bench. The young point guard was a pestilent defensive presence, but, for once, it was his offensive acumen that took center stage as he dropped in all three of his attempts from deep and finished nicely around the hoop.
But before we draw any real conclusions, we need to confirm this wasn't just a one-off performance against a down-in-the-dumps organization.
New York Knicks Keep Winning
With their 114-103 road victory over the Miami Heat, the New York Knicks reached three games above .500 for the first time since 2012-13, when they finished 54-28 before losing to the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs.
Things are different these days.
Just take a look at how Tuesday's starting five compared to the 2012-13 unit's most common lineup:
|Different Starting 5s|
|Position||2012-13 Knicks (Most Common)||2016-17 Knicks|
|PG||Raymond Felton||Derrick Rose|
|SG||Jason Kidd||Courtney Lee|
|SF||Ronnie Brewer||Carmelo Anthony|
|PF||Carmelo Anthony||Kristaps Porzingis|
|C||Tyson Chandler||Joakim Noah|
Carmelo Anthony is still there, and he did his part with 35 points on 13-of-27 shooting.
But he's surrounded by a plethora of new additions who are only just starting to jell.
Kristaps Porzingis kept doing unicorn things with 14 points, 12 rebounds and a block. Joakim Noah recorded a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) of his own. Derrick Rose showed flashes of quality play, and the bench thrived behind the inspired efforts of Kyle O'Quinn and Lance Thomas.
New York entered the night ranked 18th in Basketball-Reference.com's simple rating system, which looks solely at average point differential and strength of schedule—the ninth-best mark in the East. It is also clearly moving in the right direction, extending its winning streak to four games and emerging successfully from seven of their last nine contests.
Don't look now, but these Knicks could be playoff contenders.
Look Out for the Detroit Pistons
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Detroit Pistons' 102-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls was their ability to score even while Reggie Jackson struggled.
The point guard, who played for only the second time this season, made just two of his nine shots from the field and finished with seven points, three rebounds and seven assists. But even the threat of him finding his stroke kept the Chicago defense on its heels and opened up opportunities for other Pistons.
Detroit capitalized on the Bulls' perimeter-shooting woes (2-of-15) and made life tough on the interior. Then, it made everything work on offense by letting its guards probe and kick to shooters. Tobias Harris (22 points), Andre Drummond (15), Marcus Morris (13) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (12) were the leading scorers, but it was the distribution that made everything work.
We can overlook Ish Smith's 2-of-11 performance from the field because he paired 10 dimes with a goose egg in the turnover column. This was the Pistons' first game with both floor generals healthy, and it was clear how beneficial the contrast in their styles could be—Jackson's athleticism and Smith's ability to feed the ball into small spaces while darting toward the rim kept the Chicago defense uneasy at all times.
During the seven games prior to this contest, Detroit outscored the opposition by a gaudy 11.7 points per 100 possessions. The offense was clicking, kept elite by the balance of contributions even while Jackson finished rehabbing his left knee.
Now, this team could be even deadlier as it learns how to reincorporate its starting 1-guard. The fact it's already 12-11 should terrify the rest of the East (except the Cleveland Cavaliers) and prove it's a contender for home-court advantage during the first round.
Kawhi Leonard Is Ridiculous
Scoring 31 points is tough, but that's exactly what Kawhi Leonard did against the Minnesota Timberwolves while spurring his team to a 105-91 victory. But it's even more impressive that Leonard did so while taking just 15 shots from the field.
The San Antonio Spurs' MVP candidate knocked down 11 of his 15 looks during live action, added two triples in three tries and hit seven of his eight free-throw attempts. And just for good measure, he threw in four dimes while coughing the ball up just once.
He joined Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Jonas Valanciunas as one of only six players to go for at least 30 points on no more than 15 shots this season, but it's the passing and control of the rock that made his outing even more unique.
Isaiah Thomas and Kyle Lowry were the lone players to join that exclusive club last year while recording at least four assists and one or fewer turnovers. In 2014-15, only Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol earned entry. You have to go back even further to find the last small forward who accomplished the feat: Jeff Green in 2013.
We already knew Leonard was having a special offensive season, becoming the Spurs' unquestioned featured option. Just add this to his lengthy list of accomplishments.
Rudy Gobert: Sharpshooter
During his rookie season in 2013-14, Rudy Gobert took just one shot from beyond 10 feet. He didn't hit his target. As a sophomore, he went 0-of-10 from at least 10 feet, and his longest make came from eight. He improved in 2015-16, knocking down two of his eight attempts in the aforementioned area and setting a new career best by connecting from 18 feet.
While scoring a career-high 22 points, he went 6-of-8 from the field and 10-of-11 from the charity stripe. But not every shot came from right around the basket; he found pay dirt from 10 feet out during the third quarter:
Now, his heatmap for the year looks a bit different, per NBA Math:
NBA Math @NBA_Math
Rudy Gobert's updated heat map for this season. https://t.co/xEi06tZT7u2016-12-7 04:07:22
Following this performance, Gobert is 1-of-2 from at least 10 feet in 2016-17, which means he's on pace to take seven relevant attempts and make four of them. Basically, we're entering a new era for Gobert's offense.
Prepare yourself, NBA.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.