It’s Wall’s first taste of postseason life, and it's a big deal. The responsibility sitting square on his shoulders is immense—not that he isn't used to it by now.
Wall’s fourth season was by far his best. Playing 2,980 minutes—fifth highest in the league—Wall had the third-highest assist rate and tallied 721 total assists. He crafted a relatively respectable three-point shot—35.1 percent up from 17.2 percent over the last two years—improved his scoring to a career-best 19.3 points per game and made his first All-Star team.
He’s important to everything the Wizards do on both ends of the floor. They were 2.9 points per 100 possessions better than their opponent with Wall on the court and 5.3 points per 100 possessions worse when he sat. Washington’s offense fell from league average to the worst non-Philadelphia 76ers unit in the league.
According to SportVU, Wall’s 95.0 touches per game were second to only Charlotte Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker, and his 7.8 minutes of possession led everyone. He’s crucial, and the Wizards have asked so much of Wall all season long. In the postseason, they’ll need all that and a little more.
It may not be the most important part of his game, but in order for Washington to defeat Chicago, Wall needs to be a one-man wrecking crew in transition. He needs to attack as often as possible, ideally off every defensive rebound, turnover and even a few made shots.
The Bulls have a tremendous half-court defense, led by Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. If they're fragile in one area, though, it’s transition. According to mySynergySports, Chicago ranks 10th best in the league in transition. Hardly a flaw, but opponents also shot 41.7 percent on transition threes, which is a killer.
Wall only attempted 25 transition threes all season, but if he can push the pace and get the ball ahead for unguarded teammates to take advantage, Washington may be able to turn Chicago’s “weakness” into a gaping hole.
The Wizards average 96.85 possessions per 48 minutes when Wall plays, and just 91.42 when he sits. That’s the equivalent of a slightly-above-league-average fast team suddenly moving slower than even the 30th ranked Memphis Grizzlies.
Washington needs Wall to accelerate the game’s tempo, or it will be forced to grind away in a less conducive environment.
The downside of going fast is the increased chance of reckless turnovers. Wall led the NBA in turnovers for the second time this season. He also needs to understand when it's right to get the likes of Nene and Marcin Gortat involved, be it on dump off passes or entries into set post-ups. This keeps everyone involved and could get Chicago's bigs in foul trouble.
But also, Wall needs to knock down jumpers and create a bit more off the dribble out of the pick-and-roll, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe points out in his playoff preview:
Chicago under Tom Thibodeau has been the league’s best team at vaporizing the corner 3 from the opposing playbook; Washington went only 5-of-14 against the Bulls over three games this season, per NBA.com. It starts with Chicago’s work against John Wall in the pick-and-roll. Chicago is just better at this than everyone else. The Bulls’ point guards, especially Kirk Hinrich, stay on the ball handler’s hip, and their big men (minus Carlos Boozer) can handle containment alone. No help = no 3s.
Wall attempted 301 three-pointers this season, which more than doubled all his triples through the first three years of his career. But more important than the long ball will be his ability to knock down an open mid-range jumper. This is somewhat of a concern.
For all his improvement behind the three-point line, Wall actually shot a tiny bit worse from 16-23 feet this year than last—37.2 to 36.7 percent. The difference there is negligible, and neither figure will make Thibodeau re-figure his defensive strategy.
If Wall can knock down enough shots to bend Chicago's ironclad defensive system, it'll open up shots for his teammates all over the floor. He led the NBA in corner three assists this season and showcased fantastic vision and the proper timing to dice opponents up.
On the defensive end, Wall will have plenty of opportunity to crash passing lanes and disrupt Chicago's weak offense. Kirk Hinrich should easily be contained off the dribble, but Wall can't afford to leave him open whenever he's roaming. The more steals he grabs, the easier it'll be for Washington to find simple opportunities in transition.
The Wizards need Wall to be a little more efficient, dictate tempo—be it fast or under control—and tone down his turnovers. It sounds like a lot, but for a burgeoning superstar who's about to be unleashed in a playoff setting for the first time, Wall could make it look like a piece of cake.