Anything can happen when a prized racehorse comes stumbling out of the gates.
Maybe the horse falls behind the rest of the field and can never catch up. But it's also possible for the thoroughbred to recover from the early slip-up and storm back, passing the rest of the contenders en route to a title.
After inking John Wall to a max deal, the Washington Wizards have left no doubt that their star point guard is being thought of as a prized racehorse. He's the player that the team is planning on riding for years to come, after all.
Unfortunately though, he's stumbled out of the gates in a big way. Wall's shot just isn't falling, and he's been unable to carry the Wizards to a winning record as we near Thanksgiving.
But remember, there are multiple possibilities when the racehorse stumbles. Should the Wizards be worried about the outcome of this race and the not-as-metaphorical quest for a playoff spot yet?
What Has He Done?
Following a monstrous double-double that sparked a 104-100 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, John Wall is averaging 15.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game. Impressive numbers, right?
But not when you take efficiency into account.
Well, they're still impressive. Just not to the same extent, as Wall is shooting 35.7 percent from the field and has earned, courtesy of ESPN.com, a PER of just 17.34. He's supposed to be well above the league average of 15, not just barely on the positive side of the ledger.
That's played a major part in the Wizards' sub-.500 start to the season 10 games in. Remember, this was supposed to be a highly competitive team, one expected to reel in one of the eight playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Panic trading for Marcin Gortat right before the start of the season was as big an indication as any. The management decided to go all-in for a postseason berth, and that makes the opening salvo of the 2013-14 campaign quite underwhelming.
As for Wall himself, his struggles have all been due to his shot's consistent failure to find the bottom of the net.
Let's work from the inside to the outside.
Basketball-Reference shows that Wall shot 59.4 percent at the rim and 42.9 percent from three to 10 feet in 2012-13, and he's come nowhere near matching those numbers this go-around. Thanks to NBA.com's statistical databases, we can dive a little bit deeper into the current data.
On drives, defined as "any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks," Wall has been one of the least effective players in the Association.
Among all 116 players meeting these requirements at least twice per game—Wall is averaging 5.4 drives each contest—just two players have shot worse than him. He's making a putrid 22.7 percent of his attempts when going to the hole, better only than Shane Larkin (0-of-2 in his one game) and Jose Calderon (somehow 0-of-24 on drives).
Isn't this supposed to be one of his strengths?
Other types of shots don't look much better.
Wall has actually been fairly effective as a catch-and-shoot scorer, but he's not using that part of his game very often. While his 61.9 effective field-goal percentage is looking good, it's not making a large impact because he's only taking 2.1 shots per contest.
Finally, we have pull-up jumpers, the facet of his game that needed to improve most going into the season. If he could torture defenders with those, it would be even easier for him to get to the rim.
NBA.com defines pull-up jumpers as, "Any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took one or more dribbles before shooting," and Wall is taking nine of them per game. Only nine players in the NBA have averaged more each outing.
But has he been effective when shooting them? Nope, absolutely not.
So far, 99 players have taken at least three pull-up attempts per game. Of those 99, Wall has the ninth-worst field-goal percentage, checking in at only 24.4 percent.
Any doubt that he's struggling with his shot thus far?
Playing Injured and Abandoning His Attacking Mentality
Ever since the first few games of the season, Wall has been playing through a back injury.
It hasn't been enough to keep him out of a single game, but it's clearly inhibited his play. Wall's game is based largely off his athletic abilities and knack for hitting speeds that most NBA players can only dream of. He thrives bursting by defenders in transition and moving around screens like a laser beam.
Without that elite quickness, he devolves.
No longer can he get to the rim before either his man or a help defender can contest the shot. Instead, he has to settle.
That's been a word that should haunt the dreams of every Wizards fan out there, because it's what Randy Wittman's squad has done on a consistent basis. Instead of moving the ball and seeking out the best shot, they settle. They settle for contested looks early in the shot clock, and they settle for pull-up jumpers instead of kicking the ball out and resetting the play.
And it all starts with Wall.
Take a look at his shot chart this season, courtesy of NBA.com's databases (subscription required):
Now, compare that to his shot chart from last year:
Don't those look massively different?
The discrepancy is caused by plays like this one:
A healthy version of Wall would go crashing around the oncoming Gortat screen and go plummeting toward the hoop with reckless—but controlled—abandon.
An ailing version...not so much. And we're dealing with that type of point guard in 2013-14.
Instead of brushing legs with his big man and losing Ricky Rubio, Wall instead drops back. But his jumper is in no way threatening, so there's virtually no response from the defense.
Rubio is going under the screen. Kevin Love is staying put, refusing to hedge out on Wall as he curls around.
And Wall drives to the basket settles for a long two-pointer, the single worst shot that you can take in professional basketball. There's that word again.
Sorry, I wrote "drives to the basket" out of habit because that's what we're so used to seeing from the dynamic point guard. Not him pulling up for a long mid-range jumper when he has space and time to explode to the hoop.
That's why it's foolish for the Wizards to worry about him right now.
These shooting struggles are the direct result of a lack of physical capabilities, and those aren't going to hold back an in-shape 23-year-old professional athlete. On top of that, it's not like Wall is failing to contribute positively.
Remember those 9.8 assists per game? They're coming at the expense of only 2.9 lost possessions each contest, giving him quite the impressive assist-to-turnover ratio.
According to Basketball-Reference, only 137 qualified seasons have ever been recorded in which a player averaged at least 90 cents worth of dimes. Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio and Wall are the only ones doing so this season.
But how many of them have done so while averaging less than three turnovers per game?
All of a sudden, the number dwindles to 23. Wall is still having a historically great season as a distributor, even if he's struggling as a scorer. And since those are complementary roles, his passing will only get better when the threat of his shooting returns.
It's still far too early for the Wizards to panic about Wall's shooting.
There are other things to be worried about, sure. But let's leave the Kentucky product out of the conversation for the time being.
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