Since the Hellenistic era, greatness was always considered an arduous journey that few survived, forcing the hopeful to bring their best, burning away self-doubt, challenge their will to overcome. This journey to greatness is still very much alive today, especially in the modern NBA. All great individual players and teams have been tested by bitter rivals or superior teams. Michael Jordan had the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons; Magic had Bird and vice versa.
For the backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, they have just begun to scratch the surface of their potential. So far to date, they are combining to average 37.2 PPG and 11.8 APG for the season, a staggering improvement from last season while leading all Eastern Conference starting guards in those two combined categories.
It’s not that surprising. Injuries to Rajon Rondo of Boston, Derrick Rose of Chicago and a slow start by Deron Williams in Brooklyn has catapulted the newly coined “B-W Parkway” into the crÃ¨me of the crop in the East. But a closer looks reveals they are more than mere production; their skill-sets complement each other so well, and as long as injuries do not derail them, they have the makings of potentially being a top backcourt in the entire NBA for the next decade.
But they are not the best backcourt in the NBA, not by a long shot. This distinction belongs to the Splash Brothers. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors are putting up a combined 42.5 PPG and 12.3 APG while connecting on 6.3 three-point field goals per game. They have even been called, by their own coach Mark Jackson, the greatest shooting backcourt ever, and they are only entering their fifth and third respective seasons in the league.
Curry and Thompson are a few steps ahead of Wall and Beal. The Splash Brothers led the Warriors into the playoffs last season, something Wall and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis have both publicly stated as a team goal this season. Not only this, but Curry and Thompson actually advanced to the second round of the NBA postseason and gave the eventual Western Conference Champions, the San Antonio Spurs, a huge scare.
A matchup with the Splash Brothers would be an appropriate litmus test for not only Wall and Beal, but the seemingly playoff-bound Wizards as well.
On a frigid Sunday night in January, the Golden State Warriors rolled into DC boasting an eight-game winning streak and decisive wins over the L.A. Clippers, Phoenix Suns and the Miami Heat. In all five games against Stephen Curry in his career, John Wall has never produced a win. However, according to Wall, individual matchups never give him any extra motivation.
“I don’t get caught up into it,” Wall said, “because when I play these guys, everybody wants to say, ‘Who is going to win the matchup?’ But I don’t see the matchup as who’s scoring the most points, it’s about who gets the win at the end of the night and how did I help my team get the win, or what did I do wrong to lose the game?”
As the game got underway, the energy level was palpable, even from press row well behind the baseline at the Verizon Center. The Wizards had an extra spring in their step, they were focused: Wall and Beal put up 16 points and seven assists in the first quarter of play. A Chris Singleton three-point basket with 0.9 seconds remaining gave the Wizards a 36-28 lead over the Warriors, tying the most points the Warriors have given up to any team in the first quarter this entire season.
A sidenote: Wall and Curry play a diametrically opposing style that can be characterized by physical dominance versus offensive genius. Wall is like a 400-horsepower Italian sports car that can go the length of the entire court in less than three seconds while Curry is an elegant, efficient maestro that orchestrates all aspects of his team while commanding opposing defenses due to his incredible quick release that’s lethal from anywhere inside the half-court stripe. But early on, it was obvious that Wall’s size and physicality was bothering Curry, as Wall forced Curry into bad shots and two early personal fouls.
Despite Curry’s struggles, Klay Thompson, son of the former No. 1 overall draft pick Mychal Thompson, managed to keep the Warriors afloat by using picks and constant motion to get free. This is the catch-22 of focusing too much on either one of these players, because both are capable of raining down three-pointers from every conceivable spot on the floor. Thompson lit up the Wizards in the first half, going 4-for-6 from deep, sending both teams to the locker room knotted up at 58 points.
Even though the Warriors managed to crawl back to tie the game, Wall and Beal had combined for 20 points in the first half, along with nine assists, very respectable numbers that gave the home crowd of 17,390 hope for a barn-burner of a finish to an already exciting game.
Halftime passed and both locker rooms emptied. However, only one team came out to play.
The Warriors went on a torrid 30-5 run to begin the third quarter that virtually ended the game. The Warriors made some subtle changes; they put Andre Iguodala on Bradley Beal to bother him with his length and athleticism, and switched the 6-6 Thompson onto Wall to slow down his drives to the basket. Then as Marcin Gortat found his way to the bench, David Lee went to work on Jan Vesely on the right block and put the game out of reach, scoring 12 points in the quarter.
The Warriors outplayed and outshot the Wizards so bad in the third quarter that the actual scoreboard shutdown for a few minutes. That was the microcosm of this game: the Warriors just “shot the lights out,” zapping the energy and life out of the building. The more experienced Warriors exposed the Wizards inability to defend the post and three-point line effectively, as well as their inability to fight back after taking a punch in the mouth.
Words like “terrible” and “wasted opportunity” were common place throughout the Wizards locker room after the game, which is understandable after the Warriors increased their winning streak to nine games at the expense of the Wizards, who dropped a third straight at home. Beal, in particular, struggled, going the last three quarters without a point while settling for contested midrange jumpers.
This is a common theme in the journey to greatness. Youth are bound to make mistakes and fall victim to inconsistencies; that is the nature of inexperience.
Failure only comes if one gives up. Wall and Beal experienced firsthand that one does not have to play a perfect game — Curry hit five out of 17 attempts and committed five personal fouls but found a way to win. Like Randy Wittman said afterward, “This game is a game of mistakes, the team that can play through mistakes and then obviously limit them, but play through them usually wins.”
Now the question remains, will they commit to learning from these mistakes and reaching their potential? Not only is the whole of the DC area watching intently, but the entire NBA fan base is because Wall and Beal might just have what it takes to lead this forlorn franchise back to greatness, deep into the playoffs and beyond.
The journey is still unfolding, and the collective eyes of all NBA fans wait in eager anticipation.
How good can Wall and Beal be together?
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