Stats Say John Wall is a Closer: 3 Things He Must Do Better
By now you’re surely aware that John Wall’s five-year, $80 million extension makes him the third-most expensive talent in franchise history (behind only Gilbert Arenas and Juwan Howard). And you probably know that Wall is the fastest NBA player to reach 2,200 points, 1,000 assists, 600 rebounds, 200 steals, and 90 blocks (since steals and blocks became an official stat during the 1973-74 season).
But did you know that Wall is also one of the better NBA players at the end of games?
Over at Bloomberg Sports, Chi Nwogu crunched the numbers to figure out which NBA player was the best late-game option this coming season, as well as who has recently been the most cold-blooded NBA player during “closing time.” Closing time is defined by scenarios when the score differential was three points or less with less than 24 seconds left on the game clock.
Last year, Wall ranked just outside the top 10 at No. 13, but ahead of former rookie sensation Kyrie Irving (take that, Cleveland!). Wall also ranked ahead of Ty Lawson, Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Tony Parker, Rudy Gay, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, and Steph Curry. Wall even out-ranked backcourt mate Bradley Beal (ranked 31st).
Here’s a screenshot of 2012-13’s top 15 NBA closers:
There’s more where that came from. Nwogo also put together data for the top closing-time performers since 2010, when Wall entered the league on a red carpet as the No. 1 pick.
Here, again, Joe Johnson is the top dog. Johnson, of course, has that over-dribbling stigma attached to his game, but he seems to get the job done. Other players known for late-game heroics like Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki, and Derrick Rose aren’t too far behind. The Wizards’ supposed savior, John Wall, almost cracks the top 25, coming in at No. 26. Wall still bests Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, LeBron James, Jason Terry, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, and Paul Pierce.
Here’s a screenshot of the NBA’s top 30 closers since 2010:
There are a few things to note here. The first is the sample size of Wall’s attempts. Of the 53 players Bloomberg Sport charted since 2010, Wall falls near the middle of the pack: 3o players attempted fewer closing-time shots than Wall; 22 attempted more. Joe Johnson, for example, made as many shots in closing time as Wall attempted (18). Kobe Bryant made more than three times as many shots (24), but also attempted 46 more. Still, Wall performed better than Future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade in an equal number of attempts.
The other thing to note is Wall’s effective field goal percentage (eFG%), which adjusts for the fact that 3-pointers are worth one more point than shots inside the arc. Wall’s eFG% is the same as his FG% because 1) he doesn’t attempt a lot of 3-pointers and 2) when he does take them, he doesn’t make them. So, while Wall has been a good closing-time guy since his rookie season, sharpshooters like Ray Allen may actually be more valuable at the end of games because of their extended range. Allen’s closing-time FG% is 55 percent, but his eFG% is an unbelievable 82 percent. On Media Day, Wall indicated that improving from long-range isn’t one of his priorities (he creates late-game 3s for his teammates, mostly capable shooters). Wall is all about that mid-range game.
That said, Wall can, and does, drive hard to the rim to earn trips to the free throw line:
Wall ranked 11th in the NBA in “clutch” free throw attempts per 48 minutes (clutch defined as the last five minutes of a game, or overtime, and ahead or behind by five points or less) with an average of 15.5 [among players with 75 or more clutch minutes].
Wall ranked 13th in FTAs per 48 on the season (among those playing 1,000 or more minutes).
Top 10 clutch FTAs/48 in order: Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Jarrett Jack, Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, and Dwight Howard.
NOTE: Wall had the second-worst clutch FT% amongst that crew (80.4%) after Dwight Howard (75.9%). Gotta make your free throws.
[via NBA.com/stats for 2012-13]
It’s a bit ironic—as well as a testament to how much a team sport NBA basketball really is—that the Wizards have been so, so, so bad when their star point guard has been pretty damn good late in games.
How bad? A quick refresher: In Wall’s three seasons in Washington, D.C., the Wizards have won just 72 games. To compare, the Miami Heat last year won 66 games, and the Chicago Bulls won 72 games during a single, record-setting 1995-96 season. The Wizards team during the John Wall era has been historically bad. In 2011-12 they had their worst start in franchise history, 0-8. That prompted one TAI contributor to write a tongue-in-cheek memo to the NBA asking the league to contract the Wizards. The 2012-13 edition, determined not to be outdone, “bested” that start, opening the year 0-12.
Now, the Washington Wizards want to make the playoffs. Everybody knows it, because the team won’t stop talking about it.
I recently took a look at the numbers to see what sort of odds the team is up against. On average, teams that miss the playoffs one year but make it the next improve their record by almost 13 wins. The Wizards went 29-53 last year, which means that if they’re serious about getting to the postseason, they’ll likely have to win 42 games (coincidently, 42 wins is where Vegas set the team’s over/under).
The opportunities to steal the games that will win them a spot in the postseason have been available. The Wizards, last season, lost 40 games by fewer than 10 points, 23 games by fewer than six points, and 19 games by fewer than five points. That data suggests that that Wizards are only a few possessions here and a few made shots there from actually making it to the postseason.
If Wall is already a solid closer with the highest usage rate on the team, what could he do better to help his oft-injured and sometimes incompetent teammates?
1) Improve in the pick-and-roll.
The Wizards ran 339 pick-and-roll plays with Wall as the ball-handler last season, according to mySynergySports.com. With Wall playing the two-man game, he scored only 0.79 points per play (ranked 79th in the NBA) on 247 field goal attempts.
The team’s %score (the percentage of plays where Wall or a teammate scored at least one point, including any resulting free throws) with Wall as the ball-handler was 40.7 percent. This was not helped by Wall’s turnover ratio (15.3%) in the pick-and-roll. There’s certainly room for improvement.
The good news is that he could take a big leap in the pick-and-roll if he were to improve his shot selection, which leads me to…
2) Take smarter shots.
Wall attempted 735 field goals in half a season last year, making 324 (44.1%). Almost half of those attempts were jump shots, where he fared far worse. Wall made just 83 of 360 jumpers (23.1%), including 42 attempts from 3, where he actually shot better (23.8%).
One reason for optimism here is that he was a pretty good (if not deadly) pull-up jump shooter. Pull-up Js were probably his favorite look coming off screens in the high post, and off the dribble. He went 56-for-72 (77.8%).
How else should his shot selection change? Good question. I would recommend:
- More running layups (22-for-25, 88.0% in ’12-13).
- More driving layups (46-for-64, 71.9%).
- More floaters (13-for-19, 68.4%).
Fun Fact: Wall was 8-for-8 on fadeaway Js. (Hibachi!)
3) Earn that money.
The Wizards have a higher payroll than San Antonio, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, and Houston, as Bobby Karalla pointed out over at Hickory-High. Wall is now, for all intents and purposes, the max-contract player he has always wanted to be, so it’s time for Wall to prove his worth.
That doesn’t mean he needs to take all the shots. After all, “hero ball” doesn’t win you games. Knocking down more open looks than the other team, however, usually does. Last season in the clutch—the last five minutes of games with the lead no more than five points—Wall attempted, on average, 1.4 shots and made just 0.4 (27.5%). On the flip side, Wall dished 0.6 assists (tied for 6th), but also turned the ball over 0.4 times in the clutch (tied for 7th).
Tony Parker, who led the over-the-hill Spurs to the NBA Finals, and was in the conversation for league MVP, took 2.7 shots in the clutch, making 1.3 (47.1%). He also had a better clutch assist count per game (0.7) and committed half as many turnovers (0.2).
Parker, while lagging behind Wall in closing-time FG%, had a better player efficiency rating (PER). Parker was the third best point guard in the league by PER (23.10), while Wall was sixth (20.91). Parker was elite, top 5, according to the Estimated Wins Added (the estimated number of wins a player adds to a team’s season total above what a ‘replacement player’ would produce) with 13.1 wins added, behind Westbrook, Paul, Curry, and Williams. Wall’s EWA was 7.9, which ranks 15th, lower than Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley, Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard, the trio of Jose Calderon, Goran Dragic and Jrue Holiday tied for 11th, and Monta Ellis.
Among all NBA players, Wall’s EWA ranked 54th last season.
“He works really, really hard,” Ted Leonsis said when asked why the team gave him that major extension. “And he understands making commercials, having sneaker deals, making a lot of money, that’s a terrific side benefit of being a professional basketball player and being a great talent like he is. He’s our leader. He’s the player with the ball in his hand all the time and if the team doesn’t do well, you can trace it to, he hasn’t matured yet. He hasn’t realized his gifts and he understands that. He naturally is about team success.”
The Wizards need to win another dozen games, or more, to reach the postseason. Wall has put up some eye-opening stats in his three short seasons. But if the Wizards are serious about playing into the summer, Wall is going to have to do even more. He must realize those game-winning gifts Leonsis believes Wall has (and is paying for)—fast.