Ewing Theory: Wizards up against the Wall-less-ness… & thriving

John Wall - Ewing Theory - Patrick Ewing - Washington Wizards

John Wall played his last game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on January 25 — a Wizards loss.

Seven days later, on February 1, Washington frantic redditors and tweeters (including Celtics247) began issuing Potential #EwingTheory sighting alerts, and it hasn’t stopped since.

Indeed, as the Celtics travel to play the Wizards tonight, Washington has won 5 of 6 since Wall went down. The only loss was a tough back-to-back at Philadelphia against the 76ers. And note, that followed three wins in four days — over Toronto at home, at Orlando, and at Indiana the night before.

It’s gotten so thick that the Wizards, including Wall himself, have started to talk about the subject. Marcin Gortat celebrated what he was pleased to call a “team” victory last week. Wall was not amused.

Are the Wizards actually a more formidable team without Wall? Much-respected NBA writer Tim Bontemps calls this question “crazy.” Bradley Beal uses the more subdued term, “comical.”

Both the numbers, and the eye-test observations of many Wiz-watchers, however, answer a tentative “yes.”

Backs against the Wall play

Since Wall went down, the Wizards are 5-1. Prior to his injury, 26-22.

For the season, the Wizards allow 105.6 points a game. Since then, 105.7. Not much change. But for the season, the team scores 107.4 a game. Without Wall, they’ve averaged more than 114. Net point differential for the season: +1.7. Net differential over the last six games without him: better than +8.3.

It may sound a little harsh, but as Wizards follower Jeffrey Bochner tweeted: “Hope John is watching…team is moving/sharing. Not 1 guy pounding rock for 18 seconds b4 ill-fated foray to rim or fading jumper. We need John at his best PointGod play; not this iso guy he’s been showing.”

Bontemps counters: “In truth, it isn’t the Ewing Theory that best fits this unexpected winning streak. It’s Occam’s razor,” he writes. “For the Wizards, the most straightforward explanation for their current hot streak is that… losing Wall has reminded them that they have no margin for error in his absence.”

(Mad respect for Bontemps, but what this shows is he really doesn’t understand the Ewing theory. In fact, the team-gets-serious phenomenon is a Ewing Theory staple.)

Footnote: What is the “Ewing Theory”?

Simply put, the Ewing theory posits that sometimes, a team can lose a star player to trade or injury — and actually start to play better. Even way better. Examples abound. Drew Bledsoe goes down… enter Tom Brady. Some even feel the Philadelphia Eagles were a “Ewing Theory” manifestation this fall after losing Carson Wentz.

It gets its name from the 1999 NBA Finals run made by the New York Knicks — after Hall-of-Famer Patrick Ewing went down with an injury.

(For those who need a primer, the original Cirilli-Simmons Ewing Theory piece, or one of the earliest, appeared on We side with one of our contributors, who posted a version with different nuance here.)

So are the Wizards a more dangerous opponent for the Celtics tonight without Wall? So far, yes.

Red and the Ewing Theory

Red Auerbach quotes - Red Auerbach on team basketball - Boston CelticsHaving a rational discussion about the Ewing Theory can be difficult. Fans always hear a criticism of “missing star.” Or a statement that “he’s no good.”

That can be the case. What’s interesting about the Ewing Theory, though, is that usually, it’s not. No one we know is saying that John Wall isn’t a good player — or that Patrick Ewing wasn’t.

Sometimes, it’s just the remaining players realizing, “man, we better play hard now.” Sometimes, it’s a matter of chemistry — and that seems to be the case with Washington.

To a certain extent, the discussion reminds one of the comment Red Auerbach made.

“They said you have to use your best five players,” Auerbach observed. “But I found you win with the five who fit together best.”

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Celtics247 staff

Celtics247 staff

Celtics247 staff is composed of fans, journalists, disbarred attorneys, people laid off by ESPN, and other disreputable types who spend too much time watching basketball -- and loving it. If you'd like to join our merry band, you can post a comment, tweet us at @Celts247, or email us (see the contact page.) The only requirement is that you bleed green.


  1. Celtics247 staff

    Celtics247 staff


    Interesting discussion here from February 6:

    ING boards – basketball

  2. Pingback: Brown's "big three" - Kyrie's dagger free throws - Celtics > Washington Wizards - full highlights, recap

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