Optimus Dime Gives You Wings: High Fliers with John Wall | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Optimus Dime Gives You Wings: High Fliers with John Wall

Updated: January 20, 2015

Optimus Dime is just different.

I’m talking about Johnathan Hildred Wall, Jr.

Wall, the most popular All-Star guard in the East (as of the most recent release of voting numbers), is averaging an NBA-best 10 assists per game this season, after leading the Association in total dimes in 2013-14. And, despite spending his first few years on the court with selfish and generally clueless “co-stars,” Wall’s 2,550 career assists through 300 games rank ninth all-time.

However, to really appreciate Wall’s impact on the offensive side of the ball (his improved defense is a topic for another day) you have to look past the traditional statistics.

[photo via @LedellsPlace]

Before we get to that, we have to touch down in Houston, Texas, home of the so-called future of the NBA.

Thanks to Rockets GM Daryl Morey, “the mad scientist of analytics” as described by Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry, the future looks a lot like James Harden, perhaps “the most important player in the world.” Goldsberry writes:

“Morey loves his players to shoot 3s, but there’s more to it than just deciding to take more long-range shots. The act of generating 3-point offense has just as much to do with playmaking and assisting as it does with actually knocking down those shots; 84 percent of the league’s triples (and 96 percent of its corner 3s) are assisted.

“In other words, any team hell-bent on shooting more 3s needs to be a team looking to create more 3s. And when it comes to generating those long-range buckets for teammates, nobody is as prolific as Harden.”

Harden, as of this morning, is leading the league in corner 3-point assists (73). John Wall is No. 2 (45).

You can’t help but give a lot of credit to Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale, a Hall of Fame power forward who, like Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman, was battle-tested in an era of sharp elbows and hand-checking. “[McHale] doesn’t necessarily see the game through our analysis, but he’s very smart, and he believes in a lot of things that our analysis says how the game should be played,” Morey told ESPN.com’s Beckley Mason last year.

While McHale would rather his players only attempt layups and dunks, he’s also “learned to stop worrying and love the 3-pointer.”

Randy Wittman, on the other hand, well … his heart is set on something entirely different.

[photo via @swedendc]

At Wizards practice the other week, TAI’s Adam McGinnis asked Wittman for his take on why the Wizards take the second fewest 3-pointers per game (15.5), despite leading the league in 3-point percentage (38.9%). And why his Wizards take the second most 15-19 foot jumpers per game (the least efficient shot in the game, statistically speaking).

“You take what your defense gives you is what you kind of say and when there are opportunities we look to take them,” Wittman said. “We shoot a high percentage but we don’t have a lot of guys who shoot them … if that makes any sense to you.”

(It doesn’t. Even the Wizards best marksmen, Bradley Beal—the kid with the Jesus Shuttlesworth release—being one of them, don’t get enough looks from 3. That’s by some ancient, twisted design. Wittman’s system maximizes neither potential nor possessions. As Chris Towers of CBS Sports pointed out on Twitter, Ray Allen never took fewer than 35.7% of his shot attempts from 3; Beal isn’t even at 32%.)

“You’re not going to get, I think, the same as when you have the 4 (position)—or like we played [against the Atlanta Hawks]—the 4 and 5 shot 3s,” Wittman continued. “So you have five guys capable of shooting 3s, you’re going to have more 3-point attempts. We don’t have that. It’s basically our 1, 2 and 3 (positions) that shoots 3s for us. So our attempts are going to be down.”

Which leads us back to the point. John Wall isn’t just another great player—and he is great. He takes a blue-collar, screen-setting, midrange shooting, brick-laying offense, and makes it competitive. The Wizards are 13th in Offensive Rating, scoring 104.2 points per 100 possessions. (Not to mention the fact Wall ranks top 10 in Real Plus/Minus, which takes into account defensive performance, because that’s for a separate story.)

The secret? Turning Has-Beens, Once-Weres and Whatevers into dangerous weapons on the wing. Career-years are just part of the ticket.

I took at look at three Wizards wing players of the past few seasons and their production in several key categories, with and without John Wall: 3-point percentage, 3-point attempts per game, corner 3s per game, field goal percentage, points per game, and Player Efficiency Rating.

[Note: The following set of player-specific data is accurate as 6 p.m. EST on Jan. 17, 2015.] 


The Rundown: This former sixth overall pick out of high school joined the Wizards as a seven-year pro (and very fringe free agent) who’d only once started more than 60 games in a season. Webster was a solid but unwanted 3 & (so-so) D guy. He wasn’t even guaranteed a spot after training camp. (Did I mention the back problems?)

Pre-Wizards Career Numbers

3P%: .373
3PA: 3.23
Corner 3PA: 1.37
FG%: .415
PPG: 8.4
PER: 11.4

The Optimus Dime Effect: With John Wall jump-passing the Wizards into respectability, Webster displaced incumbent starter Trevor Ariza and set career-highs across the board. GREEN font from here on out indicates an improvement, RED is a lower mark. 

Numbers between 2012-14 with Wall*

3P%: .407
3PA: 4.55
Corner 3PA: 1.83
FG%: .438
PPG: 10.55
PER: 12.70

*does not include the handful of appearances in 2014-15


The Rundown: Trevor Ariza flew into D.C. from New Orleans with Emeka Okafor, in exchange for Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick. He immediately, publicly, became Team President Ernie Grunfeld’s third-favorite “winning spirit,” a big-name starter at small forward in media guides in early 2012-13, despite never being much more than the harmonica player in a bluegrass band: a regular salary dump with one shining moment as an NBA Finals hero.

Non-Wizards Career Numbers (including 2014-15*)

3P%: .259
3PA: 2.42
Corner 3PA: 0.867
FG%: .438
PPG: 9.27
PER: 13.76

The Optimus Dime Effect: John Wall’s end-to-end speed and Ariza’s willingness to chase the play combined to be a potent one-two punch. Ariza became a “rainmaker” from the corners. TAI Boss Hog Kyle Weidie summed up the 2013-14 season: “To put it simply: Trevor Ariza fucked around and had a career year.” All hail Lord Threeza.

Numbers between 2012-14 with Wall

3P%: .386
3PA: 4.7
Corner 3PA: 1.93
FG%: .437
PPG: 11.95
PER: 14.90

*This season, in Morey’s Magic Kingdom, Ariza is attempting more than 2.5 corner 3s per game
attempting more than seven 3s per game, a new career-high. Percentage is down, however.


The Rundown: Butler was OUT OF THE LEAGUE in 2012-13. He made a return in Indiana last season, appearing in 50 games, starting two. He averaged 2.7 points per game.

Pre-Wizards Career Numbers (since 2004-05)

3P%: .360
3PA: 3.05
Corner 3PA: 1.21
FG%: .394
PPG: 7.11
PER: 9.99

The Optimus Dime Effect: For a little while this season, Wizards watchers weren’t sure whether Rasual Butler would ever miss a shot again. Currently third in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage. Nearly half of those makes behind the arc are assisted by Wall.

Numbers This Season with Wall

3P%: .465
3PA: 3.5
Corner 3PA: 1.62
FG%: .475
PPG: 9.80
PER: 14.5

Optimus Dime makes the game look easy. Shoot, Paul Pierce has seen an uptick in 3-point percentage playing with Wall. The Truth is shooting nearly 40 percent from 3 on the season. If he finishes the season above that 40-percent mark, it’d be just the fourth time he’s done so in his 17-year career.

Commentators and analysts, in describing Wall’s impact, like to say that “he makes other players better.” H.M.O.P.B. is one of the most used platitudes in basketball—generally a stale way to talk about a player who commands attention from defenses, or covers up his teammates’ mistakes. But in Wall’s case, it’s on point.

Even NBA know-it-all Zach Lowe recognizes the game-changing ability: “John Wall is fast-becoming one of the NBA’s smartest assist men,” said Lowe on Tuesday in a Grantland video feature about Wall’s roundball IQ and his deceptive set-up play.

“Manu Ginobili has been suckering dudes with [the no-look jump-pass] for years. We call Manu crafty, but chalk up John Wall’s assist numbers to his ridiculous speed and athleticism. That has to change. Wall is a hoops intellectual. He’s operating one step ahead of defenses. He knows how they’ll respond to every dribble and manipulates them to create the best possible shot for teammates. The corner 3 is his game of choice.”

John Wall isn’t perfect. “Wall’s electric play sometimes carries risks,” explains TAI’s Conor Dirks. (Remember, he led the league in turnovers last season.) But those risks are out-weighed by the good Wall brings to the table. He’s the complete package as a point guard: he’s big, physical, fast, team-oriented, humble, and a pass-first professional with X-ray vision. Wall, this year more than ever before, is a nightmarish talent to game plan against—his jump shot is no longer a cheap joke.

What’s most impressive, however, is that Wall, almost singlehandedly and against the grain, creates 3-pointers and corner 3-pointers in an offensive system where all things are considered—except for any method to increase open looks from beyond the arc.

He’s the real deal, folks. And the Washington Wizards, under his command, are enjoying one of their best seasons in franchise history. They currently have the most home wins in the Eastern Conference (18)—and Wall’s averaging better than 18 points, 10 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2 steals per game in the Phone Booth. They’re winning close games (6-1 record in games decided by 3 points or less). They’re hanging with tough opponents (8-10 vs. teams .500 or better) and beating some of the best the West has to offer, including Harden’s Rockets. They’re also running bad teams out of the building (21-3 record vs. teams below. 500).

“We’re a team that can compete. We can compete with the best,” said Wall during a recent West Coast road trip.

James Harden might very well be the future of the NBA. But, right now, Optimus Dime gets my vote for MVP.


[Photo via @Joe_Bohnerman]

[Photo via @Joe_Bohnerman]

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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.