Harsh Media and No Excuses: The Real Problem with John Wall
The Washington Wizards today are one of three teams with 2-7 records. Only the Utah Jazz out West have a worse record (1-10). For Wizards Nation, it’s a frustrating but all too familiar ride:
Wizards records through first 9 games
Some in the D.C. sporting world have begun to blame max-money point guard John Wall, now in his fourth season, for another slow start. Washington Post columnist Jason Reid did, after the Wizards suffered just the classiest of beatdowns at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs:
In his position running the offense … Wall is hurting the Wizards the most.
At the start of his fourth season, Wall has some impressive career stats, which Wizards officials surely would cite as proof the former No. 1 overall draft pick deserved the $80 million contract extension he received in July. At the time, Wall said his “main goal” was to win a championship for Washington. Unfortunately, he has yet to prove he can play the right way to achieve that objective.
Some Wizards faithful have also blamed team brass for mismanaging resources and failing to develop talent. “We gave a track star masquerading as a PG who’s never made an [All-Star game] or the playoffs … a max deal,” tweeted disgruntled fan @No_Cut_Card, for example.
Monumental Network’s Glenn Consor yesterday tried to do some damage control as if he were a cut man in Wall’s corner (a response to Reid’s column, perhaps?):
— Glenn Consor (@GCtalks) November 18, 2013
But is the (social) media really too harsh? Remember, not all of the criticism directed at Wall & Co. has come from outside the locker room. In fact, Head Coach Randy Wittman has said that the Wizards don’t respect the game. And Wall—like Bradley Beal—has been called out by veteran teammate Nene for playing with his head up his butt. (Nene would later apologize.)
Before we get into the analysis, specific to Wall and how he compares to future max guard Kyrie Irving this season, I don’t buy the argument that Wall played a great game against the Cavs, a team that arrived in D.C. winless on the road and that lost to the Charlotte Bobcats the night before. Sure, Wall may have been able to collect 20 assists—something he’s never done—had his teammates made more shots, but Irving, by that same logic, could have also added to his assist total (5) or scored more than 41 points with another made shot or two.
This was the laugh-out-loud state of the Cavaliers, now 4-7, according to Head Coach Mike Brown:
“We’re down 15. We could have easily quit. We’re kind of discombobulated. Andrew [Bynum] hadn’t practiced and I threw him out there and started him. Not one unit out there knew anything that we were doing. I didn’t know what we were doing. Threw Earl [Clark] in at the four. Earl doesn’t know what he’s doing at the four. We just kind of made it up on the fly.”
For a season being played with #NoMoreExcuses, there sure seem to be plenty, including injuries (again), though Wall himself “refuses to blame his struggles on back spasms that have flared up for most of this season and had him resting on a heat pack along the sideline, rather than sitting on the bench, in the loss to Cleveland.”
Fact: If the Wizards are going to make the playoffs, Wall must be the driving, All-Star caliber force.
Fact: So far, he hasn’t been.
Despite averaging a career-high 9.1 assists per game through nine games, Wall has posted career-lows in field goal percentage, points per game, free throw attempts per game (4.3, ranked 46th in the NBA), and blocks per game. Having perused the advanced roundball analytics this morning, there is cause for concern and, yes, criticism.
According to NBA.com/stats, Wall attempts 5.4 drives per game (34th in the NBA). A drive is defined as any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop, excluding fastbreaks. On Wall’s 5.4 drives per game, he shoots 23.8 percent and scores just 1.9 points per game … tied with 34-year-old Al Harrington, who missed the Cavs game with “wear and tear.” Wall does create 5.3 points for teammates on drives to the hoop (45th), but that’s not entirely impressive considering that his backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, who isn’t known for drive-and-dish capabilities, creates 5.1 points for teammates on drives per game.
Well, what are Kyrie Irving’s numbers? I’m glad you asked. He drives 8.6 times per game (8th), scores 5.1 points per game on drives (tied with LeBron James) on 32.1 percent shooting*. Irving’s drives and dimes produce 9.4 points for teammates per game (9th).
*The NBA average for FG% on Drives among players who attempt at least one drive per game is 44 percent.
John Wall has fallen in love with his jump shot. Instead of attacking the paint, he’s rising, firing … and missing. This new wrinkle in his game is not a good look and it’s hurting the Wizards. Wall has taken more jump shots (87) than any other shot type*, by far. To make matters worse, he’s shooting 20.7 percent on jumpers and just 29.2 percent from midrange. Wall has only attempted 14 layups, making two, and is shooting 26.7 percent in the paint.
*Wall has taken 102 total jump shots (all shot types, including floating jumpers) and has made just 31 of those attempts (30.3%). He has attempted 30 total layups (including runners and other layup shot types) and made 15 (50%) … but, still, those paint numbers are bad.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis blogged about his team’s overtime loss to Cleveland:
The differential between success and failure is quite small in pro sports and we should have a better record, yet here we sit, lamenting the loss of winnable games. This is a difficult learning process for our young players. The ability to rise to the moment and make every possession count in close games is something that we as a team must focus on.
There’s certainly some truth to that. The Wizards are the seventh-youngest team in the NBA with an average player age of 25.3. But it’s also a cop out.
The Cavaliers, the youngest team in the NBA (with an average player age of 23.8), are 4-7. The second-youngest team, the Philadelphia 76ers (23.8), are 5-6 and not only beat Leonsis’ lowly Wizards but also defeated the mighty Miami Heat. The third-youngest team, New Orleans (24.5), play in the more challenging Western Conference but have twice as many wins as the Wizards. The fourth-youngest team, Houston (24.9), are cruising above .500 at 7-4. The fifth-youngest team, Portland (25.1), are in second place in the West with an 8-2 record. The sixth-youngest team, Toronto (25.2), are 4-7 and currently control the 8th seed in the East.
Tomorrow, the Wizards will play the 7-4 Minnesota Timberwolves, the ninth-youngest team in the NBA (25.4). If they lose to Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and friends, and fall to 2-8 on the season, it won’t be because of their youth or their inexperience in closing time.
No, John Wall’s choices as a scorer and primary playmaker, not his age, will be a big reason why Washington will have missed their shot at starting the season above ground.
“Can you see a difference between this year and last year in terms of what you guys went through when you dug such a big hole?” a reporter asked Wall after the Cavaliers game.
“I don’t see a big difference,” Wall responded. “I think the main thing is we got guys healthy. There is no way you should be losing the games that you should win…”
Early-season losses: a Wizards tradition unlike any other.