Early Returns on John Wall's Max Deal Look Good

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Early Returns on John Wall's Max Deal Look Good
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John Wall's middle name is Hildred, but it might as well be Atlas. He's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders for the Washington Wizards, and that's not going to ease up anytime soon.

Hercules may come in the form of Bradley Beal and potentially Otto Porter Jr. (though that would happen well down the road, it seems), but the burden still won't be completely eased for very long. 

That's what happens when you're a No. 1 draft pick. That's what happens when you sign a max contract despite failing to assert yourself as an elite point guard before putting ink to paper.

Basically, that's what happens when you're John Wall.

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster gave the Wizards an "A" for the extension they reached with their star point guard, one that left the franchise paying him $80 million over the next five years, but his opinion wasn't necessarily the consensus.

For example, The Wages of Wins Journal's Devin Dignam concluded his analysis of Wall's candidacy for such an extension by writing, "The Wizards should either sign Wall to a four year extension worth $40-$50 million, or hold off until he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season."

Dignam even went as far as suggesting that the Wizards trade their starting point guard if they feel he might eventually attract a big offer from another team.

Well, D.J., go ahead and pat yourself on the back.

You, along with everyone else who heaped praise upon the Wiz for locking up such a valuable commodity, deserve to be lauded. After all, Wall has spent the early portion of the 2013-14 season proving that he's definitely worth the money while establishing himself as an elite point guard.

Before the season, I predicted that John Wall would average 20 points and 10 assists per game, allowing him to gain membership to that ultra-exclusive club. He hasn't gotten there yet, but he's not far off the pace in either category.

Through Christmas, the Kentucky product was averaging 19.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 2.2 steals and 0.4 blocks per game, shooting 41.8 percent from the field, a career-high 31.9 percent beyond the arc and 83.5 percent from the charity stripe.

Subjectively, I define "elite" for a position as one of the top five players, and Wall now qualifies. When I last ranked the league's best floor generals, he trailed only Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.

But most importantly, he's been improving as the season progresses, just as he's improved throughout his career.

During December, Wall has shot 41.8 percent from the field, just as he has throughout the season. He's taken a small step back from downtown and a small step forward at the line, but he's posted 20.5 points and 9.4 dimes per contest, both of which beat his overall numbers on the season. 

The final month of the year has seen him drop 13 assists one night and then come out the next game to explode for 30 points, leaving no doubt that he's a well-rounded offensive superstar capable of carrying a team with his point-creating. 

In fact, few players are more responsible for their team's offense than Wall is for Washington. 

According to NBA.com's SportVU data, the point guard leads the NBA in touches per game at 100.7. Kemba Walker is in second, checking in at 99.5, and Chris Paul, Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry are the only other players above 90.

But it's not like Wall is briefly touching the ball each time it hits his hands, playing hot potato and making a skip pass to one of the wings or throwing an immediate entry pass into the outstretched arms of a big man. He also leads the Association in time of possession per game, holding onto the rock for 8.1 minutes during the average contest.

Brandon Jennings is holding down second place at 7.8 minutes per game—which is actually a sizable step down when you really think about it—and Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and D.J. Augustin are the only other players over seven. It's an exclusive club of ball-dominating point guards.

But it gets more impressive still: 

Infogr.am.
Touches per game vs. Points per touch

Theoretically, there should be an inverse correlation between touches per game and points per touch. As one goes up, the other should go down, as it's a different application of the more traditional volume versus efficiency tradeoff. 

That doesn't seem to be the case for Wall.

Even though he leads the NBA in touches per game—you're looking at the top 10 players in that category on the chart above—he's still keeping pace with the rest of the leaders in points per touch. Kevin Love and Damian Lillard are well above him, but it should be rather impressive that he's right there with CP3 and the rest of 'em.

All the while, he's been developing into an increasingly solid defensive player, capable of holding his own against the NBA's best guards without forcing Randy Wittman to hide him on the court. But nothing shows his impact more clearly than how the Wizards have fared when he's playing and sitting: 

Infogr.am.

That right there is impact. 

Not only do the Wizards score 18 more points per 100 possessions when Wall is on the court (18!), according to NBA.com's statistical databases, but they also allow 7.2 fewer points. For those of you without a calculator, that means he accounts for a 25.2-point swing. 

That's not impressive. That's virtually unheard of, even at this relatively early stage of the season. 

With Wall, the Wizards actually have a shot at holding down one of the middle seeds in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Without him, there would be rumors about Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins buzzing around D.C.

And that's the most important part of Wall's development: He's contributing toward wins. 

It's fairly safe to assume that the Wizards entered the 2013-14 season with a mandate from above. It was a playoffs-or-bust season, and that was firmly reinforced when the team drafted Otto Porter Jr., supposedly one of the more NBA-ready players in the 2013 class, and then panic-traded for Marcin Gortat. 

Everything pointed toward an immediate desire for a postseason berth, especially because the Wizards finally had enough talent to make it past the 82nd game of the season.

So far, so good. Thanks to Wall, at least. 

Rob Carr/Getty Images

At the time of this article's publication, Washington sat in the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference with a 12-13 record. While the team has been outscored on the season and wouldn't be sniffing the playoff picture in the Western Conference, it's accumulated enough wins to get a jump-start on meeting the ultimate goal. 

And, more importantly, it's sustainable. 

Under the tutelage of the defensive-minded Wittman, the Wizards have allowed 104.6 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference. That leaves them with the No. 11 defensive rating in the NBA, and it helps make up for the lackluster offense. An offense, I might note, that will surely improve as Wall and Bradley Beal continue to develop chemistry.

Basketball-Reference's simple rating system, which accounts for margin of victory and strength of schedule, has the Wizards as the No. 19 team in the Association. While only 16 squads make the playoffs, that only matters if eight teams from the East rank above Washington.

Only six do: the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. That screams playoffs to me, especially since the No. 9 team in the East—aka the one that would have to surpass Washington to knock it out of the realm of playoff teams—is all the way back at No. 23.

As long as that continues, Wall is a success.

Has Wall shown that he deserves his max deal?

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He's doing everything Washington could have asked when signing him to a max deal. He's improving on both ends of the court, playing terrific offensive basketball, sparking his team on to bigger and better things and keeping the team in playoff contention.

Championship contention will come later, and expecting anything different would be setting the bar far too high.

For now, Wall can sit back and sing a little Justin Timberlake to the world (maybe even while combining his John Wall dance with the dougie), because when it comes to his contract, he's 100 percent justified. 

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