In Wall They Trust: John Wall’s Subtle Playoff Breakout Already Happened
Over at ESPN Truehoop, there is a story about John Wall. I may or may not have written it.
Headline enthusiasts and story skimmers alike may be unaware that John Wall’s playoff breakout already happened. It’s still happening. It’s cumulative, and it’s not necessarily the meme-inspiring, Twitter-trending, pixel-pounding breakout that Bradley Beal enjoyed in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Before tonight’s game, Wall is fifth in these playoffs in assists per game at 7.2, and is tied for 29th in turnovers per game, at 2.2 (with Nene). If you’re keeping track at home, that’s a mighty fine stat line.
Despite the fact that Wall, the team’s point guard (as you may be aware), handles the ball far more than his teammates, another Wizard has turned the ball over with e’er so slightly more frequency: Marcin Gortat, at 2.3 turnovers per game.
One of the knocks (more like a pounding at the door) on Wall in his first two years in the NBA was that he turned the ball over at a high rate. Nevermind that Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, in their first two years, did too. Most will remember suspiciously needling and short-sighted rants from John Feinstein (paraphrased to “Trade Wall and draft Kendall Marshall!”) and David Falk (“He doesn’t have a feel for the game.”) in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
To that knock, Wall’s turnovers have improved from his rookie year, but not necessarily on a straight downward trajectory, and not necessarily by all that much. He turned the ball over more frequently this year (3.6 per game to go with a heady 8.8 assists) than he did last year (3.2 per game, and 7.6 assists). Still, that’s improved from his second year in the league, where he averaged 8 assists but also turned the ball over 3.9 times per game. But in the playoffs, at 2.2 turnovers per game against the NBA’s two best defenses by the numbers, Wall is breaking out, subtly, as a game manager rather than as a scorer.
About that scoring. John’s right elbow. Not the one on his corpus, but the one on the hardwood. The development of that sweet spot has been huge, both for his point totals (19.3 points per game this season, a career-high) and the way he manages games. Now, instead of only being able to collapse the defense on drives to the basket, Wall can bring defenders off their man, and towards him at the elbow. One of Wall’s prettiest, and most effective, plays this season has been to fake, or even pull up, for a shot at the elbow and, mid-air, then fire a pass to Ariza, Beal, or Webster in the corner.
His improved 3-point shot (35.1 percent on the season, by far the best mark of his career) could eventually have a similar effect, although defenses have been reticent to commit to that adjustment, still sagging off Wall and allowing him space to shoot the 3, rather than overcrowding him and risking a drive to the lane.
Too often, point guards are pigeonholed as either a scorer or a passer. Armchair-fueled nostalgia for “old school” point guards is just that, nostalgia. Eventually, people at liberal arts colleges stopped complaining about cell phone use. And in a recent poll of individuals who broke up with their significant others via email, 100 percent of those participating said they would “be OK with someone dumping them over email.” Steve Buckhantz is on Twitter. Onwards and upwards.
The limelight is very new (the Wizards haven’t been on national TV since Wall’s rookie year), so forgive the internet for just taking real notice of Wall and the rest of this team. That said, the internet has taken notice. Go read the article, “In Wall They Trust,” over at ESPN TrueHoop.