Maybe the Heat Are Targeting the Wrong Star
Commentary // 10 months ago
By: Nekias Duncan
After watching Josh Richardson drop 27 against the Pistons on Monday — his sixth 20-plus point performance in nine games — some things started settling in for me.
The biggest realization: Richardson should be off the table, period.
He has fully embraced the increased scoring role. He’s lighting it up from three and from mid-range; the finishing should come around. He’s getting to the line more than ever. His assist rate is up, and his turnover percentage is down — a clear indicator of someone starting to get “it.” That, combined with his defensive ability and his contract should make this stance a no-brainer.
Now, that doesn’t mean the Heat should take themselves out of the running for a (disgruntled) star. This roster has a very definitive ceiling and is still pretty cluttered. At the very least, the Heat should sniff around and see if there’s a consolidation deal to be made.
We’ve all been following the Jimmy Butler situation. It is bad, and confusing, and stupid, and exhausting. Butler has not been a saint in this, and while his numbers are gaudy (22-5-4-2-1; 49/34/80), his impact and overall effort have not been. Still, when he’s on, he’s a top-12 player and someone that fits Miami’s organizational ethos.
In theory, he’s a Heat Guy. But maybe he shouldn’t be the Heat’s guy. In fact, I’d argue that if Miami is bent on trading for a disgruntled star, they should pass on Butler and angle for Wizards point guard John Wall.
What Wall Brings
One of my favorite scenes from The Longest Yard (the remake) was when rapper Nelly’s character, running back Earl Megget, is first introduced into the film. After finally being convinced to try out for the team, he gets on the practice field and promptly burns everyone out of the backfield.
Inmate Unger, a snake before Kevin Durant made it cool, was in the cut, scouting for the prison guard’s football team. He relayed what he saw by giving one of the most detailed scouting reports in sports movie history.
“They got this one guy, Megget. He’s fast. Oooh, he’s really, really fast. I mean, he’s so fast, he makes fast people look … not-fast!”
It’s safe to say that Wall falls under the same umbrella.
That man is fast. He’s an absolute blur in transition, and a guy that can burn teams in the half court if he gets a head of steam.
Current Heat guard Goran Dragic gives you a similar element, though he’s more force than flash. Wall is just another level of explosive.
Washington sets up in HORNS Flare right there, a common set run by every team in the league. That action typically flows into a high pick-and-roll, but Wall just jets to the rim at ease. There was no answer for Wall’s hesi-and-go. That is a rare level of explosiveness that teams can’t really simulate in practice.
Wall’s speed sets up the rest of his game. Because he can get to the rim so quickly, teams have to rotate a hair earlier to account for a potential blow-by. That opens up jump-passes and skips to the corner:
It puts defenders in compromising situations in transition:
And it helps open up opportunities for the roll man in pick-and-roll:
Wall is extremely good at forcing the big to commit in drop coverage, then feeding his man with a wrap-around or lob pass. The lobs are something to pay attention to. Over the past three seasons, Wall and a teammate have connected on 110 alley oops, the fourth most in that span behind James Harden (279), Russell Westbrook (129), and Draymond Green (119). That … kinda matters when Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo are your big men.
Miami is a team that wants to collapse defenses and spray it out, or hit the big. Wall is a guy that can do both at a very high level. Wall may not be the guy that can carry a team as a #1 scoring option like Butler (though he’s averaging 21.1 points over the past four seasons), but he can prop up the “others” thanks to the attention he commands as a driver.
Defensively, Wall can be a hound. He has great size, length, and has a nose for the ball. He can pick-six you in a heartbeat, or just flat out rip you when he’s feeling mean:
Even when he’s beat, he’s rarely out of a play completely. Much like Richardson, Wall is a guy that can recover and swat shots from behind:
He isn’t an elite defender — he just doesn’t bring it consistently enough to earn that title — but his ceiling is pretty darn close. He can at least match up athletically with virtually any point guard in the league. His floor as a defender is probably higher than Dragic’s ceiling, and that matters when you consider Miami’s drop scheme.
The Downside of Wall
Of course, there are obvious (and valid) concerns about Wall.
The darkest cloud hovering over him is his contract. His extension kicks in next season, one that would average a little over $42 million from 2020 to 2023. He’ll have a player option in the last year of the deal, though it’s hard to see him turning down — gulp — $46.8 million at age 32.
That is an unbelievably steep price for a guy that isn’t in the top three at his position — and that’s a conservative way to put it.
Then there’s the issue of his knees. He’s had multiple procedures to his left knee over the last three years. For a guy whose game is predicated on speed, that could obviously be problematic as he gets into his 30s.
On court, Wall’s defensive reputation precedes him at this point. The tools are there, and there are still flashes of him locking down opposing point guards and tracking down shots from behind. Overall, though, he has mostly opted to choose his spots. He’s been more likely to give a Hardenian reach-around than fight over screens and stay attached.
The same sort of energy issues have persisted on offense. He’s a trailblazer with the ball. When he doesn’t have it, well, Washington has practically gone 4-on-5. He poses virtually no threat as a cutter. Not because he doesn’t see the floor well, but because he doesn’t move if he doesn’t have the ball. ESPN’s Zach Lowe put it in plain terms.
From his piece on Wednesday:
“His speed — the thing that makes Wall special — manifests only here and there. Last season, only Dirk Nowitzki and DeMarcus Cousins spent a higher percentage of court time than Wall standing still or walking, per Second Spectrum tracking data — a stat that set off alarm bells throughout the league and within the Wizards.
You can attribute some of that to coaching; Scott Brooks has never been lauded for off-ball movement in his offenses. Still, some of that onus has to fall on Wall. He knows he isn’t a shooting threat — some well-timed cuts could at least make defenses think a little.
The hope would be that he’d be invigorated under head coach Erik Spoelstra, and Miami’s get-right-or-get-left culture.
As stated earlier, Wall’s mega-extension doesn’t kick in until next year. For now, Wall’s price tag ($19.2 million) is not only reasonable, it’s right in line with the contract of Goran Dragic. He would obviously need to be in the deal.
A Dragic-Wall swap clearly isn’t enough on its own, but it’s hard to gauge what, exactly, Washington may prioritize more in a potential Wall deal. Considering Wall’s baggage and future cost, it’s very unlikely that Washington could haggle for a top-tier young asset. That’s part of the intrigue; Miami could land a star-talent without giving up Richardson or Bam Adebayo.
Something that may work: Miami landing Wall and Ian Mahinmi while sending out Dragic, Justise Winslow (sad face), and Dion Waiters.
Washington wouldn’t suffer a severe drop-off at point guard, and would likely improve in some areas. Dragic is more likely to take a step back to (further) empower Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, and that could massively improve the locker room.
We know what Winslow brings to the table: strong defense, secondary playmaking, and some spot-up shooting. He’s also under contract for at least the next three years, which could make the talented-but-wildly-inconsistent Kelly Oubre expendable.
Mahinmi would obviously be salary filler for Miami and raise their cap sheet some in the short-term. However, Mahinmi would be off the books sooner than Waiters would, providing them some much needed relief as the Wall extension kicks in. If Miami can get younger and better at point guard and shed the Waiters deal without giving up their two best young assets, they probably should take that and run with it.