Why Washington Wizards Are Finally Thriving with John Wall

Jared Dubin@@JADubin5Featured ColumnistMarch 25, 2014

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John Wall is something of a passing impresario. He's proven throughout his four NBA seasons to be an extremely willing and creative disher, and as such, his per-36-minute assist average (via Basketball-Reference) has risen every season he's been in the league.

Like all great passers, though, Wall needs the player at the other end of his pass to actually connect on the shot attempt in order to tally an assist, and that's where Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster come in.

According to the NBA's media only stats site (subscription required), of Wall's 616 assists this season, slightly more than half (319, to be exact) have resulted in a basket by either Beal, Ariza or Webster. They've all been playing together for two years now, and not only has Wall become an expert at finding each of them in their hot spots, but the trio have also learned how to move around the floor to the easiest spaces for Wall to hit them with a pass.

Beal spoke to Bleacher Report's Jonathan Munshaw in February about playing with Wall:

He makes everybody's lives so much easier on the court. Honestly, if you can run with him in transition, you'll be fine.

He can find you in the corner to shoot a three, or somehow he gets it done. You can be at half court, and he'll beat you down to the baseline and shoot a layup.

That's just how fast and terrific he is.

And it's not just in transition where Wall will open up the corner three for a teammate; he does it consistently in the half court as well.

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The Wizards love putting Wall in a pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat or Nene at the top of the key, and Wall most often likes dribbling to his right off that pick.

His favorite shot is a right-elbow pull-up coming off a high screen; about 16.5 percent of his shots so far this season have come from the right elbow, and he's made just over 40 percent of his looks from that area of the floor.

via NBA.com

It's telling, then, that Beal, Ariza and Webster have carved out hot spots from locations on the floor where it is easiest for Wall to direct a pass from that right elbow.

Beal has become especially proficient from the left wing (45.4 percent this season, according to NBA.com) and the left corner (42.1 percent). Ariza excels from both corners (44.3 percent from the left; 45.6 percent from the right). Webster shoots 50.0 percent from the right corner and 42.5 percent from the top of the key.

Notice that none of them makes their home on the right wing, where it would be especially difficult for Wall to deliver a pass as he is driving forward near the right elbow.

The pass across the court to Beal is a difficult one, but one Wall has become nearly expert-level at in the short time the two have been teammates. Wall has assisted 109 of Beal's 402 baskets this season, or just over 27 percent.

It also helps that Wall can draw multiple defenders, dump the ball off to a rolling big man and be confident that both his drive and his pass pulled Beal's defender far enough away that he'll still wind up with an open three-point look at the end of the play. Gortat, Nene and Trevor Booker have the deftness to deliver passes off the catch while rolling to the rim.

Of Washington's trio of shooters, Ariza gets the most help from Wall's brilliance, as 139 of his 338 baskets (41.1 percent) have come as a result of a Wall assist so far this season. Whether in the half court or in transition, Ariza knows his skill set—he sets up shop in the corner and waits to get his catch-and-shoot threes.

Many Wizards sets place him there because of his prodigious shooting skill from the corners, but his purpose in running the break and stationing himself in the corner so Wall knows exactly where to find him is very impressive. If your point guard always knows where you're going to be, it's much easier for him to find you.

Webster doesn't get as many of his looks in transition as Beal or Ariza and hasn't benefited from Wall's assists as much lately, as he's been playing off the bench with new backup point guard Andre Miller. But Wall has still assisted on 31.4 percent (71 of 226) of his baskets this season, a healthy number.

Most of Webster's made threes have actually come from the wings, but he shoots much better in the corners and from the top of the key, the two easiest three-point locations because the corner shot is slightly shorter and the top of the key provides a more straight-on look.

All in all, Wall has assisted on 319 of the 966 baskets (33 percent) made by Beal, Ariza and Webster this season. He's delivered 45.2 percent (319 of 705) of all assists to those players as well.

The Wizards are only tied for 18th in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) at 103.0 this season, but they'd be even worse if it weren't for their outside shooting. Washington ranks second in three-point percentage at 38.6 percent, largely thanks to the exploits of Beal, Ariza and Webster.

The Wiz are especially proficient from the corners, from which they attempt the fifth-largest share of their shots at 8.0 percent, trailing only Miami, the Clippers, Atlanta and Phoenix, per NBA.com.

All three Wizards shooters are proficient at making the corner three, and Wall is an expert at drawing defenders away and then hitting his teammates with pinpoint passes to create an open look.

This stable of shooters will likely play a big role in Washington's postseason success. The team has gotten itself into playoff position with a borderline top-10 defense and an average offense, but if it wants to make any noise in the postseason, there will have to be a major improvement made on one or both sides of the ball.

Long-term, Beal is obviously a major piece for the Wizards, while Webster signed a four-year deal last offseason, but Ariza's contract is up at the end of the season. If Washington is to keep improving, it'll need to find a way, internally (with rookie Otto Porter) or externally (with a free-agent signing), to replace what he brings to the team.