John Wall: Why Washington Wizards PG Will Shock the NBA World in 2012-13 Season
Young saviors are all the rage in Washington, D.C. sports these days. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have transformed the Nationals into an MLB playoff contender much sooner than anyone expected, Robert Griffin III has given hope to forlorn Redskins fans everywhere.
He's already set the bar rather high for himself and his team, suggesting to some that he wants to be an All-Star and that the Wizards are prepared to puncture the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference this coming season.
Not that such achievements—seemingly lofty after an abysmal 20-46 season in which Wall's game appeared to backslide in some ways—are at all beyond his reach.
For all the criticism Wall has absorbed regarding his inability to live up to expectations, he remains one of the game's burgeoning young talents and, at 22, still has plenty of time in which to reach his considerable ceiling. Wall's raw numbers from last season (16.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists in 36.2 minutes per game) paint a picture of individual stagnation, considering how similar they were to the stats (16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 8.3 assists in 37.8 minutes) he compiled as a rookie in 2010-11.
But to say that Wall "regressed" as a sophomore is to overlook his slow-but-steady improvement in other areas. His three-point accuracy bottomed out—from 29.6 percent to 7.1 percent—but so did his attempts, as he cut them down from 1.7 to 0.6 per game. It's entirely possible that he stopped shooting threes due to a lack of confidence in his stroke, or because he understood that his blinding speed and building-leaping athleticism were better spent finding easier shots, or something in between.
In any case, the shift away from the three-point line resulted in a modest uptick in Wall's overall field goal efficiency, from 40.9 percent to 42.3 percent, and player efficiency rating, though his accuracy between three and 23 feet from the basket remained a dismal 29.6 percent, per Hoopdata.
Part of the problem stemmed from Wall's shooting stroke. It was still rather "hitchy" and inconsistent, and Wall had a tendency to launch shots in an off-balance manner, particularly when pulling up off the dribble.
Wall's issues also resulted from poor shot selection. The frequency of his contested attempts was disconcerting, though the greater mystery in this regard is figuring out why Wall settled for jumpers as often as he did in the first place.
That is, why a player with Wall's size, strength, speed and athleticism would pull up for an off-balance jumper and forfeit an open path to the basket in the process.
These shortcomings all played out through Wall's paltry performance in the pick-and-roll. Synergy Sports rated him the 128th-best pick-and-roll player—perilously poor placement, particularly so for a player who handles and passes the ball as well as Wall does.
Again, it came down (in part, anyway) to Wall's subpar shooting and selection therein. Because Wall wasn't really a threat to score away from the cup, opposing defenders tended to go over screens rather than under them to cut off his driving lanes and, in turn, leave him with wide-open jumpers.
But even when his man was screened away and there was a clear lane to the basket, Wall often chose to shoot rather than attack (h/t Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti):
So why, after all this, would there be any cause for optimism regarding a John Wall breakout in 2012-13?
For one, Wall's shot selection and shooting woes are of the sort that should dissipate with hard work and accrued experience. The better acclimated Wall becomes to the NBA game (and running the pick-and-roll in it), the more capable he'll be of reading and reacting to situations effectively.
Likewise, the more time Wall spends refining his shooting stroke, the more accurate it will be and the more confidence he'll have in it. Assuming Wall has put in the requisite sweat equity to improve his jump shot over the summer, he should be a greater threat to score from distance, which will presumably open up the rest of his game.
At this point, though, there's no way of knowing with any reliability what sort of work Wall's registered this offseason or how that work will translate to his game in live action.
We do know, however, that Wall's supporting case has improved immensely (on paper) and can hypothesize that his game will flourish as a result of GM Ernie Grunfeld's roster overhaul. The sloughing-off of bad seeds like JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche should make it that much easier for the Wizards to cut ties with the losing culture that's consumed the organization since Gilbert Arenas turned the locker room into a mini-NRA convention.
Grunfeld essentially replaced that cast of knuckleheads with a slew of savvy professionals—most notably Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza—who figure to foster a steadier, more winning-friendly environment for the entire team and Wall in particular.
Though they'll have to keep a close eye on Martell Webster, who signed with D.C. in free agency and arrives with a reputation for tomfoolery.
Still, the roster that now surrounds Wall is far better than the one he dragged along for most of last season. Wall's numbers, as both a scorer and a helper, should creep up (if not skyrocket) now that he can throw the ball down to Nene in the post, operate in the pick-and-roll with Okafor and the emerging Kevin Seraphin, and kick the ball out to a pair of reliable outside shooters in Webster and rookie Bradley Beal.
Webster and Beal are outside shooters who, evidently, weren't present during Wall's first two NBA seasons, each of which saw the Wizards finish 28th in the league in three-point shooting.
Webster and Beal may not be panaceae for spreading the floor, considering how middle-heavy and shot-poor the rest of the lineup still is, but they still represent a solid step in the right direction. It'll be that much easier for Wall to drive to the basket and rack up assists if those two can convert perimeter jumpers and draw defensive attention.
So, too, will they be useful in transition. Washington ranked third in fastbreak points per game and second in fastbreak efficiency last season, per Team Rankings. The addition of athletes like Ariza, Webster and Beal, along with the continued development of Seraphin and Jan Vesely, should render the Wizards' transition game that much more lethal a complement to their burgeoning ability in the half-court.
Especially given the team's likely improvement on the defensive end. Wall has never been viewed favorably by defensive metrics, if only because the Wizards have stunk it up collectively in that department since before he arrived in town.
Which young D.C. star will be under the most pressure to perform this fall?
Yet, Wall has shown himself to be a solid defender, at the very least. He's notched 1.6 steals per game for his career, with the physical ability to wreak havoc as a helper and to lock up in man-to-man situations.
The team around Wall should only accentuate those defensive skills and lift the Wizards to another level as a result. Nene and Okafor are both big bodies who can bang down low, and the shot-blocking acumen of Emeka and Seraphin should dissuade opposing teams from parading to the rim. On the perimeter, Ariza has proven to be a stifling defender at times and Beal has the potential to match him in that respect.
It'll be up to Washington head coach Randy Wittman to properly calibrate the new pieces at his disposal to complement Wall's particular talents and vice versa. A proper job could put the Wizards back in the business of winning basketball games before long, perhaps even as soon as this season.
As it happens, winning is the most surefire way for any budding star to grab the attention of the basketball world. And if Wall has the Wizards winning often enough in 2012-13 to sneak into the postseason, it won't much matter what his numbers look like or what the stat geeks think of his jump shot or his pick-and-roll decision-making.
Because, in that case, the Wizards will be much more than just another cellar dweller in the Eastern Conference, and dragging the team out of its doldrums would be enough, in and of itself, to "finally" make John Wall the officially savior of the franchise.
And, perhaps, the superstar as which he's been touted.
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