Heel Surgery to End John Wall’s Season

John Wall looks set to undergo season-ending surgery on his nagging left heel, per reporting from The Athletic’s Shams Charania (Woj’s tweet came a distant 18 minutes too late).

The news is categorically bad. Wall hasn’t recaptured his pre-knee scope form this season, but he’s still an explosive pick-and-roll point guard averaging 20.7 points and 8.7 assists per game. Charania says the procedure will return the 28-year-old to full health. But as with any surgery, there’s a chance it could sap his athleticism even further, just as his $170 million mega-extension kicks in.

Who Will Step In?

The short-term prognosis for Washington is bleak, too. With Austin Rivers now in Houston, Scott Brooks will turn to a ballhandling platoon of Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, and Chasson Randle.

Satoransky provided solid point guard play in Wall’s stead last year, but he’s best utilized as a role piece in an already functional offense. Randle can shoot a bit, but he’s a fringe guy on a non-guaranteed deal because of his off-the-dribble limitations. Second-unit ballhandling is paramount in the NBA, and the shorthanded Wizards don’t have much of it.

That leaves Beal to initiate most of the sets in this guard-heavy attack. He’s shown promise in that role. So far this year, Washington’s offense has perked up when Beal plays without Wall, with his usage rate climbing to 29.6 and his assist percentage reaching 28.3 – both conventional point guard numbers.

But he’s already shouldering a heavy burden. The 25-year-old has played 39.1 minutes per night in December despite his own lengthy injury history. Keeping up his efficiency numbers as the team’s only real creator for 36-plus minutes is a tough ask.

It’s possible Washington’s defense improves without their star floor general. Wall doesn’t try on that end, and his lack of effort permeates the roster. The Wizards have leaked 112.7 points per 100 possessions when he plays. That figure drops to a solid when he’s on the bench.

But losing Wall won’t turn Markieff Morris into a shot-blocker or gift Thomas Bryant 10,000 minutes of NBA experience. Don’t expect the defense to crack league-average. And even if it does, and this injury becomes “addition by subtraction,” Wall’s absence caps Washington’s offensive upside. This group won’t score enough to play at the 50-win pace it’ll need to bring playoff basketball to DC.

What Now?

That leaves ownership and management with some tough decisions. The Wizards are staring at a 30-something-win season, and they’ll get swept, frankly, even if lightning strikes and they snag the eight seed. Do you rush Morris and Otto Porter back from injury and keep up Beal’s workload just to win 36 games?

I know what my answer would be.

Wall’s injury sucks for both player and team. But Washington now has a chance to punt on this season and start replenishing the pantry with picks and younger players. Maybe that means exploring the trade market for its vets. Maybe it means nursing Porter back slowly or resting Beal on back-to-backs. Maybe it means finally giving Troy Brown Jr. actual minutes.

Memphis went all-in on its lottery odds last year after Mike Conley went down. That strategy looks like a win now that Jaren Jackson Jr. is a Grizzly. You can call it tanking if you want, but when you’re 13-23, you already are tanking. Washington has the league’s sixth-best lottery odds entering 2019. They’re firmly in the NBA’s bottom tier.

Playing pinball with the East’s bottom-feeders and moving further down the standings would be painful, sure. But it might be worth it now that Wall is on the operating table.

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