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What's Behind John Wall's Evolution into Full-Blown NBA Superstar?

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What's Behind John Wall's Evolution into Full-Blown NBA Superstar?
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

"Maybe" isn't a word associated with John Wall anymore.

Maybe he's a top point guard. Maybe he's an actual superstar. Maybe he's capable of carrying the Washington Wizards into the postseason.

Is it maybe time for the "maybes" to die?

Most definitely.

Certainty is something Wall now brings. On the heels of his max extension, he's playing the way superstars do, leading his team the way superstars must.

"Sometimes I don't bring it and that's not what they accept from their leader," Wall told reporters following a victory over the Brooklyn Nets, per The Washington Post's Michael Lee.

Taking ownership of the Wizards, both their foibles and triumphs, has become common practice for Wall, who knows he is now held to a higher standard. And unlike years past, expectations are aligning with his play and production, diminishing skepticism and increasing conviction.

Doubting Wall is old news. If there was a time to doubt his status, it was last year—not now, not today. 

Now is when we should appreciate him for who he is: a resident star that just keeps on rising.

 

Expanded Offense

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Wall wasn't always the scorer he is now.

Through his first three seasons, he scored—a lot. But he wasn't the versatile point-totaler he is now. He was fast and able to reach the rim, but his jump shot was broken, perhaps beyond repair.

News flash: It's fixed. And lately, it's been Katrina Bowden pretty.

Efficiency-wise, not much has changed. Wall is still hovering around 43.3 percent from the floor, slightly above his career average (42.6). Away from the rim is where he's experienced the most noticeable change.

Did I say "the most noticeable change"? Sorry, what I meant was, "a complete, barely recognizable transformation."

Last season, roughly 41.2 percent of Wall's shot attempts came within eight feet of the basket, according to NBA.com (subscription required). This season, only 32.7 percent of his attempts are coming within that area.

Below is the breakdown of his field-goal attempts over the last two seasons:

John Wall's Shot Distribution
Season %FGAs Within 8FT %FGAs 8-16 FT %FGAs 16-24 FT %FGA 24+ FT
2012-13 41.2 20.8 31.9 6.1
2013-14 32.7 10.2 34.1 23

NBA.com.

Increasing the range of his shot selection has left Wall more difficult to cover. Defenders are no longer guarding a predominantly drive-and-kick point guard who will likely carom any jumper you give him off the front, back or side of the rim. He's someone who can score from anywhere. More importantly, he's not afraid to try scoring from anywhere.

While his shooting percentages can become eyesores—he's shooting 28.8 percent between eight and 16 feet this season, for instance—the willingness to take the open jumpers defenses give him is there in ways it hasn't been before.

Take his three-point shooting. He's attempting a career-high 3.7 treys per game and hitting a career-best 35.6 percent of them. Before now, he never averaged more than 1.7 three-point attempts per game or converted more than 29.6 percent of them. 

Recently, his three-point touch has crossed over "competent" and into "deadly" territory. In each of the last four games, he's jacked up at least four threes and buried 50 percent or more of them.

Know how many times that's happened for him before? Zero. This is the first time in Wall's career he's drained 50 percent of his threes while attempting at least four per game over four successive contests.

Now, consider this: The Wizards are 26-26 since Wall entered the league when he converts 50 percent or more of his treys. While relatively unimpressive, they're 98-152 in games he's played overall, so there is significance in his ability to stretch the floor.

When he's knocking down threes, the Wizards become a defense's nightmare. Defenders cannot sag off him the way they usually do, focusing solely on dribble-penetration prevention, and they cannot crowd him, for fear of getting beat off the dribble.

Add that to his natural and progressing playmaking instincts, and you have one of the primary reasons why Wall's 19.8 points and 8.7 assists per game are quarterbacking the first playoff push Washington has made since 2008.

 

Developing Defense

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Defense has never been Wall's strong suit, and it still isn't. He struggles to read and react when defending the ball, and his close-outs off switches need some serious work.

But he has improved. 

Though his defensive rating is higher this season (104) than it was last (103), he's doing a better job of shutting down fellow point guards. Opposing floor generals are notching a 16.6 player efficiency rating against him this season, down from 19.3 last year, per 82games.com.

Wall's greatest improvement comes when defending pick-and-rolls. For most of his career, Wall has been a disaster in that area, frequently blowing his assignment off screens or getting picked off and basically relegated out of the play altogether. 

This season has brought change. Wall is fighting through more screens and sticking with ball-handlers who once eluded him.

According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), he's allowing just 0.66 points per possession when guarding ball-handlers, which ranks 23rd in the NBA. Wall never allowed fewer than .74 points per possession or ranked higher than 42nd previously.

Infogr.am.

In Washington's most recent victory over the Brooklyn Nets, Wall's heightened defensive engagement was on full display. After allowing Deron Williams to tally 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the first quarter, Wall helped hold him to four points on 0-of-7 shooting the rest of the way.

"Yeah, I was really upset," Wall said of letting Williams catch fire early, via Lee. "I just tried to make it tough on him in the second half and not give him too many clean looks like he had in the first."

The old Wall wouldn't have locked down Williams—not that he wouldn't want to, but he couldn't. He wasn't locked in last season like he is now. He wasn't as smart or calculated then as he is now.

Moments like these, when Wall would limit opposing point men, came few and far between last season and, frankly, the last three years. Now they're expected, closing in on standard.

 

Super-Duper Star

There are no secrets behind Wall's explosion, no covert recipe he used to make it this far, just good ol' hard work and modifications.

Limits once defined his game. You looked at Wall and saw what he couldn't do, what he should be doing—what he wasn't doing.

Then he made adjustments, entering this season with a nifty chip the size of a max extension on his shoulder. Up went his three-point percentage and overall value. In came his first career All-Star selection, bringing with it respect and recognition he's long sought both inside and outside Washington.

Where does John Wall rank among active NBA superstars?

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And soon enough, his evolution will come full circle, his transformation will be complete. The Wizards will make the playoffs, capitalizing on Wall's status and, yes, a baseborn Eastern Conference. 

What they do there doesn't matter so much as the postseason berth itself—not this year.

Once the Wizards are there, Wall sheds his overrated and overpaid label for good. The days of being a fringe superstar will be mementos of the past, and he'll be tasked with using his status to usher Washington into eventual contention, where playoff appearances are the bare minimum.

Until then, appreciate the continued making of the Wizards' point guard, this 23-year-old kid turned luminous leader.

This raw work in progress turned polished superstar and maybe killer.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed.


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