Wizards Training Camp FAQ: Can John Wall continue his upward momentum?
[Washington Wizards 2013-14 training camp is upon us. I bet you have some questions. Well, the TAI crew has answers. Five of us will cover five different frequently asked questions in a five-part series as the Wizards get ready to host Media Day on Friday, and then get to training camp work on the campus on George Mason on Saturday.]
Can John Wall Continue His Upward Momentum?
He’s had a very busy summer … anything particular to be concerned (or encouraged) about? What are the odds he makes All-Star in the East?
—by Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
John Wall will have his best season yet in 2013-2014. That’s not saying as much as it could, given the broad room for improvement there is in Wall’s game, and how large the gap is between his potential and his production. Three-point shooting, turnovers, and a steady commitment (think: “going steady”) to active defense are problem areas for Wall, but are thankfully all teachable, drillable skills. That Wall has achieved as much as he has without a dependable 3-point shot should warm the cockles of your heart; it is rare when a franchise point guard (Wall, Rajon Rondo, once-upon-a-time Andre Miller)
doesn’t have a 3-pointer to fall back on when a defender plays conservatively and sags off to play the drive or the pass. Wall made twelve 3-pointers last season. Even Ricky Rubio, at a cringeworthy 29.3 percent on 3-pointers, made more (27). His weaknesses as a player are a strange thing to be encouraged about, but Wall has been a unique player in his first three years. In 2013-14, he’ll be less unique, and more complete.
The Okafor injury comes at a really bad time for the Wizards in general, but especially for Wall. The Wizards were fifth in the NBA last season in defensive efficiency and held opponents to the sixth lowest field goal percentage (44%) in the NBA. As Okafor was a key, if not the key contributor to Washington’s dramatic improvement on defense, the assumption is that
the other team will miss less, and therefore the Wizards will have less fast breaks off of the rebound. Last season, Wall averaged 5.5 fast break points (“FBP”) per game. The Wizards, as a team, averaged 14.2 FBP (bumped to 15.1 FBP per game post-Wall, and 17.9 FBP per 40 in the 1,602 minutes Wall was on the court) which surely would have been higher had Wall been healthy all season. Still, 5.5 fast break points per game was good for third overall in the NBA. The problem is compounded when you consider that there isn’t a “center” on the Wizards roster that rebounds as consistently as Big Mek (“Consistent” should be Okafor’s lame, decidedly non-dangerous middle name). While Okafor has a predictably solid On-Court REB% of 50.1%, his potential replacements Kevin Seraphin (48.6%), Trevor Booker (48.6%) and Jan Vesely (48.5%) all fall short of Okafor’s standard. Potential fast breaks could trend towards second-chance points for an opponent, which hurts Wall more than the average player.
I think one of the most, if not the most burning sub-questions about Wall is whether he will be an All-Star this year. Unfortunately, All-Star spots aren’t always determined by play. More often than not, a player who is less accomplished in a given year, but who has more national/international notoriety, will garner the most fan votes. The same is true for winning the respect of NBA executives. In the 2012-2013 survey, John Wall tied Ty Lawson for 4th (4th!) for “fastest player.” Are there really three players faster than Wall (or Lawson, for that matter)? While there’s reason to expect that Wall will return to the floor this year a better defender, a more careful passer, and a serviceable 3-point shooter, I don’t know if his public relations team can keep up with his shine, despite the successful “Quick Ain’t Fair” campaign. For whatever reason, people love corporate-prank-star Uncle Drew. I’ll admit that this is frustrating to me, personally.
Last year’s Eastern Conference All-Star point guards were Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, and, grumble, Kyrie Irving. With Rondo’s luster tarnished by a serious knee injury (and when he returns, a lack of surrounding talent), and Jrue Holiday shipped out of the conference, it would seem there is room in the corrupted vein of the NBA All-Star Game for new blood. But then you have to consider the presumably triumphant return of Derrick Rose, who has long been a national favorite, along with Brooklyn New Celtics point guard Deron Williams, who may benefit from the presence of Garnett and Pierce in much the same way that Rondo has in years past. Wall will most likely have to beat out Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams for a spot on the All-Star roster, since Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose are, by way of the fervor of their national fanbase, almost guaranteed a seat at the table. A team like the Wizards, who barely play on national TV (one game, a February 7 contest against…Kyrie Irving and the Cavs), may need the help of the coaches, who pick All-Star reserves, to adorn their superstar hopeful with the historically hideous All-Star logo. If the Wizards are winning come January, Wall (as Washington’s natural representative) will be on the shortlist.
As international recording superstar and former Degrassi standout Drake (and Gilbert Arenas) will tell you, “money done changed everything.” An arrival parade on the exulted plane of superstardom can be tempered by increased pressure, criticism, and if things don’t go well, venom. As you prepare to enjoy another season of Washington Wizards basketball, remember that Wall’s extension, while already signed, doesn’t kick in until next season. When you’re preparing to lash out, or say “We don’t pay him max money to turn the ball over three times and get smoked by the eternally underrated Jose Calderon,” remember that no one is paying him max money yet. It’s a temporal issue, and one that will be eventually resolved, at which point you can use the present tense freely, without fear of recrimination from the semantics police. I say Wall has as good a chance as any to live up to the sometimes wild, sometimes reasonable expectations that attach with his new salary. If Wall builds off of his successful, truncated 2013 campaign, and hires a shaman to keep his team healthy, Washington basketball will be in better shape than it’s been in the last half-decade (or more). If not, then at least the team hitched their wagon to a guy who can run.