Is John Wall making The Leap?
There are some nights, like November 26, when he thrashed the Los Angeles Lakers to the tune of 31 points (on 18 shots), six rebounds and nine assists, where it seems like a silly question to ask.
But there are other nights, like November 29, when he stumbled and bumbled his way to 4-of-14 shooting against the Indiana Pacers, where...it still seems silly, but for entirely different reasons.
This is Wall in a nutshell.
You can see the $80 million talent oozing out of his veins on a play-to-play basis, but the nights when he puts it all together for 48 minutes don't come consistently enough. It's not quite a "one step forward, two steps back" situation. It's more like "two steps forward, a hop-stop to the side, and an ill-considered mid-range jumper."
With Wall, it's probably best to start with the jumper. It doesn't appear quite as broken this season as in years past, but it's clearly not yet the weapon it needs to be for Wall's full potential to be unleashed.
He's improved his three-point shooting to a near-acceptable level (34.4 percent on above-the-break threes, per NBA.com), but he still launches far too many mid-range shots than is wise considering his conversion rate, which is still well south of the 40 percent mark.
Wall loves to go to his pull-up jumper from the right elbow when coming around a screen on the pick-and-roll. More than one-third of his 142 mid-range attempts this season have come from that right elbow, and he's made 41.2 percent of those shots.
There are times where—no matter whether the defender goes over or under the screen—that pull-up drops so smoothly through the net that you wonder how it is he ever misses from that spot. His body is straight up and down; his elbow is locked; his follow through is perfect.
But there are other times where none of that is apparent. And it's not just on late-shot-clock bailouts. Sometimes it seems like he just rises and fires because it's the first open shot he sees, which isn't necessarily the best strategy.
Of course, despite his shaky outside shooting, Wall still manages to be an incredibly positive force on the court.
Most of that is owed to his ability to create shots for others. He ranks second in the NBA in both assist opportunities per game and points created via assists per game, according to SportVU player tracking data released by the NBA in conjunction with STATS LLC. Wall had also created a greater percentage of his team's points than any other player in the NBA entering Monday's play.
Wall's single-best trait may be his proclivity to create corner threes. After leading the NBA in corner threes assisted in 2011-12, Wall continued to create them at a prodigious rate last season, and so far this year he has kept apace.
About 20 percent of his assists this season have gone for corner threes, and the Wizards have shot about an extra three shots per 48 minutes from the corner with Wall on the court this season compared to when he's been on the bench.
Wall is at his best when pushing the ball in transition.
He's able to draw multiple defenders on his way to the rim and somehow sneak the ball to a corner shooter before the defense can get out there to contest the shot. He has a stable of corner shooters to choose from—Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster each are excellent marksmen from the corner, and Beal and Ariza shoot significantly better from the corners with Wall on the floor.
By virtue of a 7-of-13 mark from the corner sans Wall, Webster slightly outpaces the percentage he shoots with Wall on the court.
This ability to create high-value shot attempts also extends to those in the restricted area. Washington attempts about six more shots per 48 minutes inside the area closest to the basket and finishes those shots at a 10 percent-better clip with Wall on the court than when he's off, per NBA.com.
His ability to create high-value opportunities is part of the reason the team shoots nearly 9.0 percent better when Wall is on the floor.
The giant difference Wall makes for Washington's offense, though, can be seen in the team's efficiency numbers with Wall on and off the floor.
While the team scores at a top-10 rate with Wall on the court, its scoring efficiency plummets to historically bad levels when he exits the game. The 83.9 offensive efficiency Washington has posted without Wall on the floor this season would be the worst ever recorded in NBA.com's database, which goes back to the 2000-01 season.
The defense doesn't fare much better without Wall.
Washington defends like a top-six unit with Wall on the court and like the 29th-ranked Nets when he comes off the floor. Wall is still a little jumpy and over-aggressive with his pressure at times, but that's allowed him to remain one of the league's top pilferers year in and year out, and his quick feet, long arms and ridiculous athleticism allow him to corral opposing point guards better than most.
When defending against pick-and-roll ball-handlers this season, according to mySynergySports (subscription required), Wall has held the opposition to 35.6 percent shooting. He has also (in conjunction with Nene, Marcin Gortat and his wing defenders) forced a turnover on 29.1 percent of such possessions, an absurd mark.
Whether it's jumping a passing lane as he does in the first clip above, or simply forcing the ball-handler to an inopportune spot on the floor as he does in the latter two, Wall is defending these plays well with a good amount of regularity.
I wouldn't exactly say it's been an up-and-down year for Wall, because the truth is that he's been better than that. A more accurate depiction might be "up, up, down, left, up, down, right, up."
The pieces are there, and the nights when they all lock together perfectly are beautiful to watch. The nights when the pieces are jumbled still come a little too frequently, but eventually, we might get to the point where those nights don't exist at all.
And that will be a sight to behold.
Jared Dubin works for Bloomberg Sports, writes and edits for the ESPN TrueHoopNetwork sites Hardwood Paroxysm and HoopChalk, is a freelance contributor to Grantland and is coauthor of We'll Always Have Linsanity.