The Eastern Conference is being shaken up. On the heels of the Detroit Pistons acquiring Blake Griffin in a blockbuster deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, the Washington Wizards shut down John Wall for six-to-eight weeks to get his knee right. Wall had been playing well – he was an All-Star – but not quite up to the lofty standards he’s set for himself, and while it’s commendable that he received a PRP injection earlier in the year to help him play through it, it was clear he wasn’t John Wall yet this year. Shutting him down to get his knee right is unquestionable the right call for Washington, given that Wall’s five-year extension doesn’t even kick in until next season. It does potentially shift the balance of the back half of the East.
As the Wizards set to host the Toronto Raptors on Thursday, they find themselves in fifth in the conference, 4.5 games up on the Pistons in ninth. That’s not an entirely unsafe place to be, and even without Wall, a lot would have to break a certain way for Washington to slide out of the playoff picture. The biggest change for them may be that they’re no longer as motivated to be a buyer at the trade deadline next week. If there’s no certainty Wall will be Wall when he returns closer to the playoffs, why mortgage assets for a first-round exit? Instead, maybe Washington gears up for 2018-19.
The Wizards will be no less scary if they sneak in, though, and the Raptors know first-hand that this isn’t a team to overlook even without Wall. Bradley Beal has ascended to All-Star status, and the team is a respectable 7-6 without Wall in the lineup. On Nov. 5, Beal scored 38 in Toronto to hand the Raptors once of their worst losses of the season (Otto Porter also had a big night), and he followed it up by dropping 27 in the rematch, a game Toronto won (Porter again played well). With Beal carrying a heavy scoring load, Porter filling in as a sort of Swiss-army knife, and physical bigs like Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat starting, the Wizards won’t be an easy team to defeat at home.
Over seven games, sure, they lack depth and their upside is determined entirely by the health of Wall. For Thursday night, the Raptors already know what underestimating a Wall-less Wizards team looks like.
The game tips off at 7 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050.
The Raptors are embarking on a three-games-in-four-days stretch, and the difficulty of that stretch is increased by Sunday’s tip coming at noon. Basically, the Raptors are playing three games in a 65-hour span, and they’ll want to manage everyone’s workloads carefully. That’s why they’ve recalled Alfonzo McKinnie and Lorenzo Brown for additional depth on the one-game trip, giving the team 14 healthy bodies if C.J. Miles can play.
Miles, as a reminder, missed Tuesday’s game with soreness in his right knee. It was entirely a maintenance thing – Dwane Casey said Miles likely could have played if it were a playoff game – and the Raptors are wise to give Miles and Serge Ibaka the occasional night off to manage fatigue and soreness. The season is long, those guys are veterans, and it has the added bonus of opening up playing time deeper in the rotation, where it’s been hard for anyone outside of the established 10 players to gain much traction. Miles is officially listed as questionable on the injury report.
Norman Powell was the beneficiary on Tuesday. After weeks spotting in as the 11th-man or seeing occasional games with 10 minutes or so, Powell played more and played better than he has in weeks. He took four threes early on to get in the groove, making just one, looked comfortable attacking and making passes out of the paint, and had a really nice defensive showing. There’s a reason I’ve been parroting it in this space – Powell’s going to be needed again at some point, and it makes sense to get him time where they can to help him find a groove. Whether or not Miles plays, Powell could factor in against Washington, as Beal is exactly the type of offensive player Powell does well with and is one primary wing defender OG Anunoby has struggled a bit with in earlier meetings.
The three most commonly used lineup iterations involving Powell have all been negatives on the year, but it’s coming around – the all-bench group with two point guards and Powell has essentially played its way back to even, and the next six most commonly used Powell lineups have all been positives in smaller samples. There’s some garbage-time noise in there, and most of Powell’s season-long metrics still look bad from an ill-fated starting stint. Powell is worth maintaining faith in, and he may get another opportunity here.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, (C.J. Miles), Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: C.J. Miles
905: Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo
There’s a pretty clear idea of what the Wizards will look like without wall at this point. The major change from the last meetings between the teams is that Tomas Satoransky has been starting instead of Tim Frazier. Satoransky is a really nice young piece, and while it’s maybe a bit too soon for a starting point guard spot, Beal carries a heavy playmaking burden, anyway – Beal is averaging 3.9 assists per-game and averages 6.8 per-100 possessions when Wall’s not on the floor, a rate that’s just shy of DeRozan’s playmaking on the year. Frazier now comes off the bench and is the most natural past-first player on the roster, and Jodie Meeks rounds out the backcourt rotation as a shooting specialist who hasn’t been particularly special shooting so far.
All told, the Wizards have managed without Wall. Again, he determines their upside, and the team’s lack of depth limits the floor, but there’s enough here to be competitive night-to-night. The projected starters have a massive net rating of plus-28.7 in 58 minutes together – they were minus-4.5 with Frazier starting over 195 minutes – and they have a Beal-Satoransky-and-bench look that’s been really effective (plus-34.1) over 50 minutes. The issue here is that their three most heavily used non-Wall lineups have been outscored, as should probably have been expected anyway.
That’s all to say, this team is still dangerous. Beal has been playing tremendous, Satoransky is a nice piece, their three starting frontcourt players are all quality pieces, and Kelly Oubre is incredibly wavy.
PG: Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier
SG: Bradley Beal, Jodie Meeks
SF: Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre
PF: Markieff Morris, Mike Scott, Chris McCullough
C: Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi, Jason Smith
OUT: Sheldon Mac, John Wall
TBD: Tim Frazier
G-League (no affiliate): Devin Robinson
The Raptors are 3-point favorites on the road here, with a 215 over-under. Currently, 71 percent of the action is going Toronto’s way. The Raptors are 26-23 against the spread to 22-28 for the Wizards, for context there. In terms of the over-under, the Wizards are slightly above average on both offense and defense and exactly average for pace, while the Raptors are top-five at both ends and only a hair more up-tempo than Washington.