For most of the 2017-18 season, the Washington Wizards’ success has primarily depended on their All-Star point guard John Wall. The numbers back this up; Washington has a 4.9 net rating when Wall is on the court. That figure drops to -1.4 when Wall goes to the bench. Simply put, Washington looks like a legit playoff team when Wall is on the floor and they devolve into a below average squad when he sits. So when Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Wall underwent knee surgery and would miss up to two months, many D.C. fans understandably worried about the team’s immediate future.
The team temporarily assuaged those concerns with a 102-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that comfortably beat the Wizards less than a week ago on national television. Despite the impressive home victory, Washington still has plenty of reasons to lose sleep over the Wall injury.
Wizards in trouble?
Even when Wall was healthy, the Wizards played inconsistently. Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System--a metric that determines the quality of a team using their record, margin of victory, and strength of schedule (zero is average)--places Washington at 0.95, fourth-best in the Eastern Conference and 10th in the NBA. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) sees the Wiz in the same light, ranking them ninth in the league based on their metrics.
Those rankings along with their 28-22 record masks Washington’s tendency to play up or down to their competition. As of Wednesday, the Wizards are 16-11 against teams over .500 but just 12-11 versus teams who are under. This season, they boast some impressive victories over the likes of the Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets. They also have embarrassing losses to bottom-feeders like the Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, and Dallas Mavericks. Even at full strength, Washington wasn’t good enough to coast against inferior competition as if they were playing them in NBA 2K. They aren’t the Warriors. With Wall out, these games will become even more difficult.
Can they survive without Wall?
The win over the Thunder was encouraging, but it probably isn’t a harbinger of things to come. Even the most ardent Wizards fan shouldn’t expect Otto Porter to score 25 points per night or Markieff Morris to drop 18. Washington isn’t going to beat too many teams shooting 38 percent from the field or 28 percent from three-point range, either.
Fortunately for the Wizards, their playoff chances haven’t taken a nosedive. FiveThirtyEight still gives them an 82 percent chance to make the playoffs. Wall should be back by then, but where will Washington be seeded when he returns?
This team had lofty expectations entering the 2017-18 campaign after coming within a game of the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago. Now with their best player out for the foreseeable future, it’s safe to wonder whether this team can reach the second round this year. The Wizards play in the East, so that makes things slightly easier. But for a team that expected to ascend to the NBA’s elite, Wall’s injury has made the difficult task of competing for an Eastern Conference title even harder.