Is John Wall the Best (Healthy) Point Guard in the NBA?
Is John Wall the best* point guard in the NBA?
Allow me to reintroduce myself: I’m TAI’s resident pessimist. Which means there’s been much less to write about these days, as the Wizards assemble their best season since John Wall was a high school junior.
Every game offers a fresh reminder why the team is currently sitting in the fifth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Nene’s sublime play. Martell Webster and Bradley Beal’s shooting from the perimeter. A bounce-back season from Trevor Ariza. (And yes, their woeful competition in the East.)
But the optimism begins with Wall, who’s finally having the breakout year that many wanted to see from the former no. 1 overall pick.
It isn’t a question anymore if Wall will be an All-Star.
Barring catastrophe—or a last-minute surge in votes that catapults him into the starting lineup—Wall will make the team when the reserves are announced in two weeks. His numbers are too good, and the Wizards’ comeback storyline is too tempting, for coaches to pass on him.
The more interesting question might be this: Is Wall the best (healthy) point guard in the league right now?
Just consider the competition, starting with the East. Kyrie Irving: Down. Derrick Rose: Out. Rajon Rondo: TBD.
And in the Western Conference, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Eric Bledsoe are all nursing injuries.
A critic could point to a few other guards, of course. ESPN.com’s Brad Doolittle (ESPN Insider) slotted Wall sixth in his recent point guard rankings, behind Paul, Curry, Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, and Damian Lillard. And by per-minute stats, Irving has been a much more productive player over his short career, even if the Cavaliers remain woeful.
But a November panel of NBA.com bloggers felt that Wall was, hands-down, the best point in the East. And he’s won conference player of the week twice in the past four months of play, stretching back to the end of last season.
It’s a giant leap in a short time. At this point a year ago, Wall had just returned from injury to play three games for a Wizards team that was absolutely pathetic without him.
What’s the difference?
The physical gifts are there—they’ve always been. The size and strength to muscle past other point guards; the game-changing speed to blow by everyone else.
His jump shot is still questionable; Warriors Coach Mark Jackson recently told TAI’s Kyle Weidie that his team would rather play Wall for the jumper than let him in the lane, essentially. But elite point guards from Jason Kidd to Andre Miller have gotten by without an elite jumper, and Wall has reduced some of his less productive mid-range attempts, while ramping up his shots—and demonstrating a better touch—from the 3-point line.
Wall’s also making a larger impact beyond the box score, through better decision-making. At BulletsForever.com, Mike Prada called out Wall’s improving ability to read the defense to get secondary assists—initiating more attacks designed to get open looks for a corner three-point shooter, even if Wall didn’t get credit for an assist.
There’s another mostly overlooked piece behind Wall’s success: the team’s front office.
The Wizards have done a better job of putting complementary pieces around Wall; the shooters who can play off his penetration, the pick-and-roll partners who can dive to the hoop. And with that team success comes individual confidence—the bravado to control a game and bring the Wizards back from the brink, even as LeBron James and the Heat tried to mount a fantastic comeback on Wednesday.
Add it all up, and John Wall’s goal to become the best point guard in the league isn’t quite so optimistic anymore.
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