John Wall: The District Is Waiting

It is hard to believe that John Wall is playing in his sixth NBA season for the Washington Wizards.  As the first overall pick in 2010, he was the most obvious source of hope that the franchise’s fortunes would turn around.  On one hand, Wall is the team’s best player and the Wizards are coming off two straight playoff appearances after years of cellar dwelling.  At the same time, the point guard isn’t perfect when it comes to shooting and shot selection.  Wall is immensely talented and shows it on plenty of occasions.  I still believe he’s capable of more offensive consistency.

John Wall Points FG% 3-Point% Assists PER
2015-16 20.0 43.2% 35.0% 9.8 20.3
2014-15 17.6 44.5% 30.0% 10.0 19.9
2013-14 19.3 43.3% 35.1% 8.8 19.5

Speaking of talent, Wall had arguably his best game of the season on February 3, at home against the Warriors.  In the first quarter, he was able to float into the corner, receive Jared Dudley’s pass, and drain the corner three.  A few minutes later, Steph Curry was slow to get back on defense after hitting the deck and Wall took advantage by promptly hitting a jumper in front of Harrison Barnes, near the elbow.  Golden State eventually pulled away from the Wizards, but Wall put on a show until the end.

Wall was decisive with his shots and smart about driving to the hoop when given the chance.  The result was high-percentage looks and lots of easy buckets.  ESPN announcer, Jay Bilas, commented on Wall’s “great first step and his superior speed.”  He scored on a crazy up and under scoop shot and subsequently made a layup from an angle so severe as to seem impossible.

The final line was impressive: 17-25 from the field including 3-3 from behind the arc.  That was good for 41 points, not to mention 10 assists.  Of course, he was upstaged by the one man you’d expect: Curry himself, who scored 51 and fell one short of tying a league record with 11 three-pointers.  Wall followed that performance with a triple-double against Philadelphia to the tune of 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Brick City 3-10 feet 10-16 feet long two’s 3-pointers
John Wall, 2015-16 36.1% 34.2% 35.6% 35.0%

For a player who can do so much, Wall should be higher than 37th league wide in Player Efficiency Rating.  His 20.30 PER compares favorably with teammates, but not the elite point guard company he keeps.  He’s only 10th at the position according to that metric, in part because of a low true shooting percentage (51.6%).   He is shooting 43% on field goals, which is in line with career numbers but down from the 44.5% posted last season.  Wall’s three-point production is up from 2014-15 as he makes 34.7% or 1.5 per contest.  That’s still an inferior rate when compared to his 2013-14.

In addition, Wall can make puzzling offensive decisions.  For instance, he launches many long field goal attempts that are just in front of the three-point line.  Even when they aren’t off-balance shots, that’s a tough way to make a constant living.  As a result, his points per shot are 1.15 which ties him with Deron Williams for 18th among point guards.

The other problem with Wall’s plan of attack is that it takes away from his considerable ability to facilitate.  His 9.8 assists per game are third in the NBA, and he’s fifth in assists per 48 minutes.  If Wall cut down on poor shot attempts, he could increase his field-goal percentage and conceivably lead the league in assists.

Point Guard Matchup Points FG% 3-Point % Assists Assist% PER
John Wall 20.0 43.2% 35.0% 9.8 45.8% 20.3
Steph Curry 29.8 50.7% 45.2% 6.5 32.5% 31.9
Russell Westbrook 24.0 45.7% 29.1% 10.0 48.9% 28.7
Kyle Lowry 21.0 42.4% 39.7% 6.2 29.7% 22.8

In a recent loss to Denver, Wall was credited with nine assists but shot a poor 5-17 on the night.  Four of those misses were three-point attempts and four others were taken 20 or more feet from the hoop.  Coach Randy Wittman can live with the two misfires on contested layups, but Wall consistently took long range shots when he couldn’t find his stroke.  That’s a recipe for inefficiency especially when Wall can create offense for teammates by drawing in help defenders.

Wall is especially weak on threes from the left, hitting just 23% from that side of the circle.  He can also get into situations when he forces shots, which resulted in Derrick Rose blocking him easily during their January 11 matchup.  The Wizards need Wall at his best, because their lineups with him off the court are about as successful as the 13-39 Brooklyn Nets.

When asked during the preseason about what he wanted to improve, Wall responded: “It’s just taking a better shot selection.”  When Wall is more selective, he has a pair of games like December 1 and 2.  Against the Cavaliers and Lakers, he scored 71 points on 58% shooting.  He’s also off to a good start in February after a less impressive end of January.

Wall is headed to his third All-Star Game, but the Wizards are on the outside looking into the playoff picture.  That’s why Wall has so little margin for error, if he wants to carry his team to a postseason berth.  Given that Washington is 3.5 games behind the eighth-seeded Pistons, there’s no room for off nights.

photo via llananba