“I’m somebody that likes to have my own style, and I call it ‘coolin’ ‘ when I’m doing what I do. I make it work.”
—John Wall, Feb. Interview with Sole Collector
Sort of halfway through kind of three seasons*, how is John Wall doing?
[*153 out of 199 possible games, one season being a 66-game,
lockout-shortened season in which Wall played in all 66.]
John Wall’s jumper has looked improved this season. It seems like he’s developed more of a short runner in the lane. He’s also bricked the shit out of several shots. But his J is definitely more confident-looking. And he is hanging his head much less when he does miss. So this year’s John Wall, so far, has improved, mind you. Let’s go through the numbers.
Wall’s Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG% – accounts for the fact that 3-pointers are worth more) has been a plateau of 42.7%, 42.5% and 43% over his first three seasons.
His free throws: 76.6% to 78.9% to 78.8% this season. Not terrible, but the same.
Wall is scoring more: 15.6 to 16.2 to 18.3 points per 36 minutes.
And assisting more: 7.9 to 8.0 to 9.2 assists per 36 minutes.
(And, of course, turning the ball over more: 3.6 to 3.8 to 4.2 per 36 minutes.)
More advanced statistics, such as Assist Percentage (AST% – percentage of teammate FGMs assisted when on the floor), reflect that Wall’s passes are leading to more points — AST% from 35.7% as a rookie to 36.2% to 42.2%.
Of course, Wall is also using more possessions as a third-year player. His Usage Percentage (USG% – percentage of team plays used by a player when he’s on the floor): 23.6% to 24.5% to 28.6% this season.
His assist-to-turnover ratio, about the same: 2.20 to 2.08 to 2.16 now.
Scoring-wise, Wall has slowly improved up his … (numbers per 36 minutes):
- Points in the Paint: 7.2 to 8.1 to 8.9
- Fast Break Points: 5.4 to 5.7 to 6.0
- Points off Turnovers: 2.8 to 3.9 to 4.2
OK, great, so he’s gotten stronger, ever-so-slightly more measured on the break, and aggressive. In all likelihood, Wall is faster now than when he entered the league. It happens when you go from age 20 to 22.
Top-level advanced stats show a significant step in improvement:
- Wall’s Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 107.9 to 105.2 to 95.1 this season
- Offensive Rating progression (team points per 100 possessions): 98.9 to 98.5 to 100.6
- His plus/minus per game average: minus-6.4 as a rookie to minus-3.9 to plus-3.1 now.
But think about it. What’s really the difference? Sure, John Wall has naturally enhanced his pro-level skills. But improvement in numbers to this point is really about who he’s playing with. His teammates. History may never get over how much the cultivated ineptitude of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young (with Gilbert Arenas leading a transitional three-ring circus) stunted Wall’s growth. Or at least his surroundings and ability to grow at a certain pace. Maybe being around all those knuckleheads helped, somehow…
This current 18-game season of Wall’s (and second season, in a sense, for the Wizards) has been different.
Former super agent David Falk’s recent tango with The Washington Post regarding the potential of Wall continues to call attention to the face of the NBA franchise in the nation’s capital. People were similarly critical of Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, points out TAI’s John Townsend on Twitter. And sure, who wouldn’t choose Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving over Wall at this point?
Wall is who the Wizards got … he was their only option and is now their main hope. Misplaced? Perhaps. But he’s the best pillar the franchise has going for it. I still wouldn’t trade Wall for anyone else in the 2010 draft (in terms of building a team). OK, so you have bigs DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe. There’s All-Star Paul George, obviously. But an NBA point guard — one who has top-five in the league potential — was, and still is, the get of that draft.
Sure, Wall’s game is all about athleticism. Yet, he’s perfect for a league trending toward dribble penetration and kick-outs to 3-point shooters. He’s also got a desire for the game of basketball, leadership, and improvement that you don’t see in many players. At least not in Wizards land.
Regardless, Washington needs another star. Westbrook has a Kevin Durant. Gary Payton had a Shawn Kemp. Rondo had the aging Celtics’ Big Three. Derrick Rose has yet to find his second star. On and on.
But it starts with Wall; D.C. is on his shoulders. He must be a star himself. Bradley Beal could be his sidekick. He could be Beal’s sidekick. The most legitimate portion of Falk/Wise-Gate:
Again, Falk is not down on John Wall, whom he said has about an 18-month window to develop court sense and become a special player. “He might, but I don’t think he’ll be a much smarter player,” [Falk] said. “You can’t become a smart player. You either are or you aren’t.”
The only tangible detraction we really have of Wall’s lacking court sense (or “smarts”) is his careless turnovers. They are, indeed, a problem. Worth noting: Opponent Points Off Turnovers when Wall is in the game have decreased from 13.9 and 14.2 in his first two seasons, respectively, to 9.4 this season.
Another point worth noting: not many NBA point guards have the benefit of up-close-and-personal tutiledge in basketball intelligence and confidence from Sam Cassell. Wall is working on those smarts.
Still, it’s his move. It’s probably hard for Wall to grasp how quickly he’s gotten to this point — bursting on the scene out of nowhere in high school, playing one much-celebrated season at Kentucky, being a No. 1 overall draft pick, having a second season cut short due to a lockout, experiencing a significant knee injury. And now, he’s not the hardwood stylist pundits want him to be. He’s not a scoring star with a natural prowess for getting buckets. He’s not Kyrie Irving.
Maybe John Wall is not yet who he should be. Maybe he is someone else.
There are 31 games left in this season. A small window for Wall to prove a lot. Will his athleticism be enduring enough? Will his reckless abandon not be too overwhelming? Will he improve that jump shot? Will he get smart(er)?
Time for John Wall to stop being the same ole John Wall.
John Wall shooting zones, years one to three:
[stats via NBA.com/stats]