John Wall Proving He's Max-Contract Superstar with Breakout Season

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John Wall Proving He's Max-Contract Superstar with Breakout Season
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John Wall loves proving people wrong.

Doubt spread like a viral video of a unicycling Darth Vader playing flaming bagpipes after Wall signed his max-contract extension with the Washington Wizards in July. Some of it came from yours truly—all right fine, a lot if it came from yours truly.

How could the Wizards hand $80 million to a former No. 1 pick with a broken jump shot and no playoff berth on his resume? It was irresponsible and reprehensible, and flat-out wrong. 

Then this season happened.

In came Wall, healthy, explosive, agile and, more importantly, locked in. Focus like he's never had before has resulted in production we've never seen from him before. Doubt has been replaced with belief; apprehension has been supplanted by confidence.

Slowly but surely, Wall has made the leap from promising and flawed prospect to legitimate superstar and palpable cornerstone. 

 

Fun With Numbers

Looking at Wall's 2013-14 production, there aren't many point guards who are having a more complete season.

Wall is averaging career highs in points (19.8), assists (8.5) and steals (two) per game, putting him on course to join Chris Paul as the only other player to hit such benchmarks since 2007.

Reaching New Heights
Season MPG PTS FG% 3P% ASTS STLS Off. Rtg Def. Rtg PER
2012-13 32.7 18.5 44.1 26.7 7.6 1.3 105 103 20.8
2013-14 36.9 19.8 42.3 32.5 8.5 2.0 106 103 20.2

Via Basketball-Reference.

For the most part, Wall has improved across the board. The dips he has experienced are either very minuscule or irrelevant, or simply easy to overlook because he can shoot three-pointers now.

Burying less than 33 percent of his treys hardly makes him a dominant or lethal shooter, but it's an accomplishment for someone who never drilled more than 29.6 percent of his bombs before now.

Hitting a higher percentage of his threes makes him that much more difficult to defend, stretching defenses thinner than he previously could. Gone are the days when defenders could slink back four or five steps in an attempt to cut off his dribble penetration without fear of him draining the long ball.

Wall has evolved. He's become a more complete player in his fourth season, meeting expectations that once seemed out of reach. 

There are still issues, that's for sure. His shooting percentages aren't magnificent and defense remains a concern; opposing point guards are posting an above-average PER when going up against him, according to 82games.com.

But his upside easily trounces any improvements he still needs to make. The Wizards' offense is nearly 13 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor, per NBA.com (subscription required), and the team is part of the Eastern Conference's playoff conversation because of him.

Without him, without his improvement, Washington would be headed for another lottery appearance—not battling for one of the conference's top four postseason spots.

 

Elite Distinction

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Point guard is a deep position. So deep. Deeper than the Mariana Trench.

Playing such a position makes valuable distinction hard to come by. Talented floor generals are the standard, and merely improving and putting up stellar per-game stats doesn't guarantee top-level standing.

For Wall, it does, because of everything else he's doing. 

Only three point guards are averaging at least 19 points and eight assists per game this season—Wall, Paul and Stephen Curry. And of all guards logging at least 30 minutes a night, Wall ranks fourth in assist percentage (39.6), behind only Paul, Curry and Kendall Marshall, and ahead of star facilitators like Deron Williams, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson

Infogr.am.

Wall is also on pace to record a career-high 8.5 win shares. While that checks in at 33rd in the NBA, bear in mind that the Wizards aren't exactly winning in excess.

Washington is only tracking toward 41 or 42 wins, meaning Wall would be responsible for more than 20 percent of its total victories. That's impressive, and at the very least shows how important he is to his team's survival.

When we compare his percentage to those of the league leaders in win shares, Wall stands the test of legitimacy once again.

Infogr.am.

Wall's 20.4 percent mark doesn't topple over everyone, but it's not an outlier in the wrong direction either. He's already counting for a greater percent of his team's wins than Damian Lillard (17.4), Dwight Howard (17.5) and James Harden (18.8), among a few others. He's also right in line with Paul George (20.5), David Lee (20) and Blake Griffin (22.6).

This isn't proof that Wall is better than any one of those players. Given the option, I would still build my team around George before I would Wall. But he's right there. Among the stars.

Among the superstars.

 

Shifting Perception

 

Perception of Wall is changing. Drastically.

Don't let the atrocious Eastern Conference cast a shadow over Wall's transformation. The Eastern Conference is bad. And despicable. And outright embarrassing. We get it.

A superstar's job isn't to turn a team into a contending powerhouse on his own anymore. If it was, Kevin Love wouldn't be considered a superstar and Carmelo Anthony's player stock would be plummeting.

Wall must be held to the same standard. He's playing on a team with little help. Inconsistency continues to plague Bradley Beal and a definitive No. 3 has yet to materialize on a roster maligned with question marks.

None of the uncertainty surrounding Washington has prevented Wall from doing his job—returning the Wizards to relevancy.

"Like I say, the only way you get to those situations and get the opportunity is you've got to win games and you've got to lead your team," Wall told Bleacher Report in January. "That's what I'm trying to do—lead my team to the playoffs. And keep playing the right way.

Wall not only has the Wizards in the playoffs, they're 1.5 games back of the Eastern Conference's third-best record. 

Because of him.

Ned Dishman/Getty Images
Who would you rather have on your team, Irving or Wall?

Most wouldn't have hesitated to take a player like Kyrie Irving over Wall before this season. In some ways, that's still true. Irving was voted into the All-Star Game as a starter while Wall creeped in as a reserve.

But it's Wall who has his team in the playoffs, who is accounting for more than a fifth of the Wizards' total wins. Irving represents just 11.9 percent of the Cleveland Cavaliers' victories, and it's him that's helped fuel the organization's turmoil instead of eradicating it.

Where does John Wall rank among the NBA's superstars?

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And it's not him being talked about here. It's Wall, who remains imperfect but does enough to join ranks Irving has steadily slipped out of and other players can only dream about.

"He worked extremely hard this offseason, and it’s paying off," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said upon learning Wall was selected to his first-ever All-Star Game, via the Washington Post's Michael Lee. "He’s been the best point guard in the East, and this is a very well-deserved honor."

A well-deserved honor for a well-deserving superstar playing on a well-deserved contract.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless attributed elsewhere.


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