Two years ago, John Wall had a forgettable series against the Hawks. This year, he’s avoiding it at all costs. 

It was the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals when Wall averaged 17.7 points, 11 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.0 blocks, but Atlanta had the edge and dropped Washington in six games. Washington’s star played in just three. And it was the difference.

The Hawks did a great job defensively against Wall and Beal, who shot 39.3 and 41.9 percent from the field, respectively. We were waiting to see if Wall could take Washington to the next level, and an upset of the 60-win Hawks would’ve been all the convincing we needed. Now, in round two, the Wizards have an entirely different player. Conversely, Atlanta is vastly different themselves, and the former Kentucky standout has had his way with the squad who has no answer for him.

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Through both games, which Washington has won in dramatic fashion, Wall’s poured in 64 points on 47.7 percent shooting while maintaining an assists-to-turnover ratio of 3.3-to-1. Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore were called on to slow down the East’s best point guard, but the task has gotten more complicated. Wall’s always had the size and elite athleticism to make opposing guards reluctant to match up against him, but now he’s much more controlled.

Instead of blasting through the defense at one speed, something he saves fastbreaks, Wall has developed multiple gears and a frightening pace to his game. Schroder — who gives up size — can stay with him laterally but lacks the strength. With Bazemore, who’s 6-5 and has a 6-11.5 wingspan, Wall gets the step and is strong enough to keep him on his back.

Once the defense collapses, Wall makes the proper play. It’s that simple. And he can get into the lane at will. Of the 44 shot attempts thus far, 20 of them have come inside of the restricted area, according to If his man goes over the screen and Wall’s matched up with a big in single coverage, it’s almost a guaranteed blow by.

Why aren’t they going underneath, you ask? I don’t know. Since Wall isn’t a consistent jump shooter, forcing him into those shots is a much more sound strategy than leaving Ersan Ilyasova or Paul Millsap on an island.

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The concerning part is Wall’s only shooting 50 percent in the paint, an 8.6-point drop off from his regular season clip. He does, however, get pummeled on a fair share of his attempts without getting a whistle, and it’s something that’s upset him for most of the year.

Although we don’t have data on how many free throws he should’ve attempted, his 21 shots from the charity stripe lead the Wizards — by a lot. Wall made up ground by going 12-of-15 in the second game, and he decided to be a bit more aggressive since his outside shot wasn’t working. Additionally, he sought out Bradley Beal. After getting that incomprehensible deal last summer, the critics were out in full force, waiting to see if Beal was worth those nine figures.

After 31 points Wednesday night, he looked it. And he reached that total without getting to the line much (just six attempts) and also without relying heavily on his three-point shot (4-of-10). Even if the two guards have issues with one another, winning is the perfect remedy.

I think the scariest part about Wall’s sensational start is how he hasn’t been a game-changer on defense. In his 76 minutes, he’s recorded only two blocks and one steal. That’s remarkably uncharacteristic. For the regular season, he finished with a league-leading 157 steals, and his two-way prowess is what plays a role in him being one of the NBA’s top point guards. The Wizards’ team effort on that end trumps the lack of individual stats, and Atlanta’s offensive rating is just 105.1. It’s not great, but it’s four points better than what Washington was allowing during the regular season.

With the series headed back to Atlanta for the next two games, the Hawks’ homecourt advantage might slow the Wizards down a bit. However, if Wall sparks a run with a fastbreak layup, followed by a chase down block on the other end, the life is going to be sucked out of Phillips Arena faster than you can chant “M-V-P.”

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