By Cardell Dudley
Washington in their first preseason game against NBA competition pulled out a 104-100 win over the New York Knicks. John Wall was in mid-season form in his first game of the preseason, posting 19 points and 6 assist, both game highs. As with every team in preseason, there were some highs and lows during the game. Washington played well offensively, shooting nearly 50 percent for the game from the field (46%), 35 percent from three point range and 82 percent from the line while only committing 13 turnovers. They especially took advantage of New York scoring inside, finishing the game having poured in 46 points in the paint. Concerns came from the defensive end. The Wizards gave up 62 points in the first half and allowed the Knicks to get to their sweet spots where they capitalized all night, shooting 45 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep. What saved the Wizards was that they forced 29 Knick turnovers, scoring 28 points off their mistakes. Improving their defense was the common theme among the players during post game interviews, however, its only the second game of preseason so losing stress over the issue isn’t about to happen. With that being said, it was an overall good performance from Washington, here are a few takeaways from the game to make mental notes of moving forward.
1. John Walls debut – Wall was sharp in his first preseason game. He was deadly efficient shooting 9 of 14 from the field while holding Sessions to nine points on 3 of 9 shooting. Simply put, no one on the Knicks could keep Wall in front of them. Only negative for Wall was his five turnovers which he admitted he can’t have that after the game. If Wall can bring this level of efficiency shooting the ball, it will make him nearly unstoppable and elevate the Wizards to another level.
2. Kelly Oubre Jr emerging –
Oubre after a summer of improving his strength, ball handling and shooting continues his aggressive play on both ends. He posted 14 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals in the win over New York and did it all without a single turnover. Last season when he had an open shot, he hesitated, this season he’s letting it fly which shows supreme confidence in his game. Can he maintain this throughout the season? From what we’ve seen throughout the preseason, the answer is a resounding yes.
3. Mike Scott (X-Factor ?) – Scott is making the most of his opportunity while Markieff Morris recovers from surgery. The forward from Virginia was impressive against the Knicks, posting 12 points (5-9 FG/ 2-3 3FG), 4 rebounds and 3 assist off the bench. Scott’s ability to stretch the floor with his shooting, post-up and make plays off the bounce makes him a match-up nightmare for forwards around the league. While his offense get’s the most praise, his defense may end up being key down the road to how far the Wizards can go. Defensively, he can hold his own in the post against bigger forwards and centers and stay with explosive guards on the perimeter, which was an issue for Washington all last season. All signs point to Scott being the x-factor for the Wizards, a player opposing teams will struggle to have an answer for.
4. Carrick Felix making it tough on Brooks – A long shot to make the team when training camp began, Felix has turned heads with his tenacious competitive drive and now has many in the organization considering if he should stay on the roster going into the regular season. An athletically gifted wing who while being mostly a slasher, has range on his jumper. He’s also been one of the better defenders throughout the preseason, due to those traits which has caught head coach Scott Brooks eye. Felix continues making the impact that he has, I can see Washington finding a place for him on the team.
5. Bench can win games now – It’s no secret, Washington had one of the worst benches in the league last season and it definitely showed during their loss in seven games to the Boston Celtics during the playoffs. The starters had to almost play superhuman to pull out games, which at some point, will wear down the overall unit (see game seven against Boston for proof). This season that won’t be an issue. Although, no big names were signed, Washington did a great job of addressing needs by signing players who excel in those roles. I’ve already talked about Oubre, Scott and Felix, who’ve brought versatility, toughness and athleticism to the bench, yet, when you add veteran sniper Jodie Meeks who may is not just among the best shooters on the team, but the league as a whole, a healthy Mahinmi , and hungry more experienced youngsters in Tomas Satoransky, Sheldon Mac and Daniel Ochefu, you realize this bench has the talent to make an impact in winning games this season. Don’t forget, Tim Frazier has yet to play in preseason, so that’s potentially another impact player in the rotation for Washington. The bench actually closed the game in the fourth quarter against projected Knicks starters, holding New York to 15 points to win a close game. The fourth quarter performance is a great foundation to build on moving forward.
Are their some things to improve? Of course, although it’s preseason, so it’s way too early to start “trippin”. The goal is to create cohesion among the roster and Washington is right on schedule with that. For the Wizards to ultimately make a run to win the east, they will need to have strong depth to hold and sometimes build momentum’s, it can’t all be on the starters to carry the weight against the contending teams, just too much to ask from the unit. So far, the bench has been up to the task. Sunday, Washington will get a early test as they welcome the dominant team in the east the Cleveland Cavaliers. Pass this test and it will send a strong message that it’s indeed a three team race for eastern conference supremacy.