Distinction amongst NBA point guards is hard to come by.
Boy wonder John Wall knows this only too well. Over the last three-plus years, the Washington Wizards point man has battled injuries, inconsistency and droves of critics; skeptics that haven't gone anywhere.
Max contract in hand, Wall still isn't lauded like so many of his peers. He's still trying to establish himself as an elite floor general. Still aware that he has something to prove. Still pining for our approval.
Make no mistake, that's what he's doing. Confident superstars don't feel the need to deem themselves the best, or one of the best, at their position. They just know it.
"I'm the best point guard in the league. That's my statement." - @John_Wall— FOX Sports: Hoops (@HoopsonFOX) November 27, 2013
Wall continues to search for that reception, for that universal acceptance. In a point guard-heavy league, he's remained on the outside looking in at the elite, at the top five of his position, waiting for the day he too could join those ranks.
That's what this season has been about—erasing that gap. Making that leap into the top five.
Gaining acceptance as a superstar.
Distinction amongst NBA point guards is hard to come by.
Chris Paul is clearly the best floor general in the NBA—seriously, it's not even close—but after him, the field is thick with talented point men, all of whom deserve recognition of their own.
In his latest positional rankings, B/R's Adam Fromal cited Damian Lillard, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, Tony Parker and Paul as the league's five-best point guards. But the pool of exceptional distributors doesn't stop there. Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Ricky Rubio and Jeff Teague are all a part of the conversation as well.
Then there are the inactives. Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo—we can't forget about them. Cases can even be made for rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams. A top-five finish is out of the question, but are you prepared, beyond reasonable doubt, to place him outside the top 10 or 12? You shouldn't be. Not at the moment.
Last, though certainly not least, there's Wall. The $80-million man. Where does he factor into this mess of talent? Top 10 for sure, but top five?
This season's been as good as any to say "yes." Rose, Williams and Rondo are all injured and with them out, Wall's stiffest competition is currently Lillard, Lawson, Parker, Irving, Curry and Westbrook. Counting Wall, that's seven players vying for the final four spots behind Paul.
Wall has to like those odds.
"Bust" was never a term associated with Wall. He's always been good. Held his own. But this season is different. This season, he's great.
Wall is averaging 19 points, 9.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game on the year, all of which are career highs and if maintained, would leave him as just the fourth player in NBA history to post such stat lines for an entire season. The three others are Paul, Isiah Thomas and Tim Hardaway.
Where Wall has seen the most improvement is on his jump shot. His 41.6 percent shooting isn't aesthetically pleasing, but his touch from beyond the arc has improved considerably. He's connecting on (34.4 percent) and attempting a (3.6) career high in three-pointers.
Beyond that, he's just improved in general. Look at how his shooting percentages in various zones this season compare to the rest of his career:
|Season||Less Than 8 FT||8-16 FT||16-24 FT||24+FT|
While there hasn't been a great deal of change in most of the zones, he's finally a viable threat from long range. Jacking up threes with Stephen Curry-like frequency remains a bad idea, but we're no longer flinching at the sight of his jumper either.
Through 18 games, Wall has attempted 64 treys, 19 more than he hoisted all of last season in 49 appearances. And he's made 22 of them, more than he made in each of the previous two years—combined (15). Wow, and stuff.
Before now, he was also averaging just 1.1 deep balls a night. This year, he's up to 3.6. That's more than a 300 percent increase. Wow, and stuff, again.
Comfort behind the three-point line is invaluable for point guards. Smaller players can typically bomb away. Those who can't, rarely become accomplished or competent marksman. The injured Rondo and Rose sure haven't.
But Wall has.
Best part is, this is merely an addition; an extension of his game. You won't see Wall live and die by the three. It's a complementary ability, something he's incorporated to bolster an already strong repertoire.
Frequently recognized for his scoring, Wall has quietly dominated the playmaking side of things. He's assisting on 42.7 percent of his team's field goals when on the floor, the third-best mark in the league behind only Paul (52.4) and Williams (42.9). So really, with Williams having appeared just nine games, Wall, along with Curry (also at 42.7), is second.
Not that this should be news to anyone. Wall's assist percentage was higher last season (43.9) and he's on course to become the seventh player in league history register a 38 through the first four seasons of his career.
Separation is difficult for point guards. There are so many great ones doing great things, only a select few are able to distance themselves from the herd. And Wall is one of them.
On His Own
Security blankets don't exist in Washington.
Wall was paid like a superstar, like a franchise cornerstone because the Wizards see him as one. Believe he's a player who can carry them. Rescue them from stretches of dormancy. Elevate them even further in times of prosperity.
Early on, Wall has held up his end of the deal.
Washington reached .500 on the season with a win over the Orlando Magic, the first time its seen .500 since Nov. 3 2009, long before they even drafted Wall, according to The Washington Post's Michael Lee. Playing .500 basketball won't win titles, but it's good enough for the third-best record in a pitiful Eastern Conference.
For Wall and the Wizards, that's huge. After a 2-7 start, we weren't sure if they had a playoff berth in them. Now it seems like a foregone conclusion, what with Wall playing out of his mind and the Eastern Conference resembling spoiled bleu cheese and all.
Keep in mind that Wall has led this resurgence without Bradley Beal, who has been sidelined with a leg injury for the last five games. The Wizards are 4-1 during that time. Because of Wall.
Of Washington's nine victories, Wall has accounted for two of them, or 22.2 percent. With the Wizards currently on pace for 41 victories this season, that means Wall's projected to finish with over 9.1 win shares. His previous career high was 4.5 and he's only amassed 10.2 win shares through his first three seasons combined.
Wall's two win shares rank 12th among all guards as of Dec. 4, kind of impressive, but not really. So let's put it like this: Wall has accounted for over a fifth of Washington's victories; let's see how that stacks up against some of the league's best point men:
Paul leads the way because of course he does. Of the rest of the group, the seven we discussed earlier, Wall ranks second. You better like them apples.
The Wizards have never needed Wall more than they do now. They've invested everything in him. Built everything around him. He's their rock.
Lucky for them, Wall has never been more valuable, more capable of carrying the Wizards than he is now.
So That Means....
You know what it means: Wall is a top-five point guard. Not the best, or better than Paul, but top five.
There, it's been written. So it's true. And it is true.
Injuries to Rondo, Williams and Rose have of course opened the door for Wall. When Williams and Rondo (not Rose) return, the conversation will change. Wall will have new company he must stand up against. But right now, he's a top-five floor general.
Move beyond the shooting percentages (though feel free to keep your eye on his three-point conversion rate). Look past his near double-double per-game averages. Forget about the injuries that strengthened Wall's position by default.
Where does Wall rank among the NBA's best point guards?
Focus on the value of the player instead. The one who has improved by leaps and bounds in a short period of time. Who has his Wizards firmly planted in the (regrettable) Eastern Conference playoff picture. Who is as valuable to his team as anyone.
This Wall, the version were seeing now, is rivaling the best. Curry, Lawson, Lillard, Westbrook, Parker, Irving—none of them are completely out of his reach. Or playing on another plane.
Wall is right there, playing with them. Head and shoulders above some of them; maybe all of them.
Playing like the top-five point guard he is today.