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The Ascendancy of John Wall


Last night at the Verizon Center, John Wall played the hero role to near perfection. With injury or illness keeping Nene, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza on the sidelines, Wall dominated with an incredibly efficient 47 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists.

For Wall, it marked a kind of culmination of his abruptly improved play over the past few weeks. After a solid start upon returning to the lineup from his knee injury, Wall was terrible -- a turnover machine who struggled to make the ball go into the basket.

How good has Wall been in recent weeks? Folks are coming out of the Internet ether to proclaim they've been saying all along how great Wall has always been. This urge for folks (like Jalen Rose, who tweeted after last night's game that he's been telling "fools" about Wall) to be "right" all along is that it actually gets in the way of a great story.

The story on Wall is NOT that he was a great player all along, it's that he was an average player with elite potential who has improved markedly. As I'll demonstrate below, Wall's performance these past few weeks has radically changed in quality. That kind of improvement comes from one thing and one thing only -- hard work.

That kind of work ethic is an admirable quality that speaks well to Wall's character, and is also a positive sign for the future. Wall is still just 22 years old, and -- if he continues to work on his game -- is likely to continue improving.

So, here's a quick table showing Wall's month-by-month performance in major statistical categories (numbers are per 40 minutes and are pace-adjusted):

January 11  26.1  29.7%  101  .434  21.1  3.8  9.8  1.2  1.4  4.5  91 
February 12 31.7  28.3%  91  .380  16.7  4.5  10.2  1.6  0.8  5.3  55 
 March 14  35.8  27.8%  119  .542  24.4  5.0  9.0  2.2 0.8  3.5  223 

Usg = percentage of the team's possessions the player has used while on the floor

Ortg = points produced per 100 possessions -- league average this season is currently 105.7.

eFG = effective field goal percentage, a measure that accounts for the effect of the 3pt shot

PPA = Player Production Average, a stat I developed that credits players for things that contribute to winning and debits them for things that don't. PPA is a per minute measure that is pace-adjusted, accounts for defense, and includes a "degree of difficulty" factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better, and 45 = replacement level.

Month-by-month this season, Wall has gone from a bit below average (January), to a bit above replacement level (February), to "candidate for league MVP" level (March). For context, here are the top 5 in PPA to-date:

  1. Lebron James -- 276 (which would be the highest single-season PPA since 1977-78 -- which is where my database ends at the moment)
  2. Chris Paul -- 256
  3. Kevin Durant -- 231
  4. Tim Duncan -- 217
  5. Tony Parker -- 202

Wall's PPA in March is 223.

Here's the weekly PPA update for the full team:

Emeka Okafor  68  26.3  147  147 
John Wall 37  31.5  119 137 
Nene Hilario 54  27.6  116 121 
Martell Webster 68  29.1  121 118 
Trevor Ariza 50  26.0  105 108 
Bradley Beal 54  31.2  98 92 
Trevor Booker 37  17.9  87 91 
A.J. Price 46  22.5  83 83 
Garrett Temple 39  21.0  51  58 
Cartier Martin 32  16.5  44 45 
Chris Singleton 47  16.3  36 32 
Kevin Seraphin 67  21.5  17 17 
Jason Collins 11.0  91
Jan Vesely 40  11.7  5
The top eight looks pretty interesting for next season...if they can stay healthy and avoid the kind of production declines that often come as players get past 30 years old. And they'll have a lottery draft pick with which they can hopefully add some depth -- especially since Singleton, Seraphin and Vesely have been bad.

Beyond next season...we'll see. But, the Wizards have a couple building blocks now in Wall and Beal. Finally, some reason for optimism and hope.