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The Future of John Wall

Can John Wall make The Leap in his third season? WikiMedia Commons.

I threatened a few weeks ago to analyze the Wizards players individually before the season. Now it's time for some follow-through. Let's look first at the team's most important player: John Wall.

A quick look at Wall's "glory stats" (per game points, rebounds and assists) would suggest a productive, high-quality player. Those numbers look good -- the kind of production we'd expect from a supremely gifted athlete. Few players have Wall's open-court burst, quickness, length, and hops. 

But there are problems -- enough of them that Wall has rated below average overall in my system in each of his two seasons. In my summary measure, 100 = league average. A score higher than 100 means better than average; lower than 100 means less than average. Simple, right?

As a rookie, Wall scored an 87. In year two, a 97. That's progress, but not close to enough for a guy with Wall's tools and draft position. If the Wizards hope to become a championship contender in the near future (and it's debatable whether that's actually a goal given their offseason roster moves), they need Wall to be highly productive.

For Wall to become highly productive, he needs to fix two major issues: his shooting and his turnovers. His shooting woes have been well-documented around the web, albeit not so much in the mainstream media. But, here are the numbers again: As a rookie, 62% of Wall's FGA came from 3-feet or beyond. His effective field goal percentage (efg) on those shots: .325. Which is atrocious.

As bad as his rookie shooting was, his second year shooting was even worse. 57% of his FGA came from 3-feet and beyond, but his efg on those attempts was just .279. Overall, his efg in year two was virtually identical to his rookie season -- mostly because of the uptick in "at-rim" attempts and a slight uptick in the conversion rate.

One big change in Wall's shot selection was the dramatic reduction in three-point attempts. They were 12% of his FGA in 2011; but just 5% in 2012. Some might argue that this was a smart move given Wall's .296 percentage from three in his rookie season. I argue the opposite: Wall's efg on 3pt shots as a rookie was .443 -- a better conversion rate than any other distance other than at-rim.

Said another way, his rookie percentage from three was bad, but not any worse than his 2pt jump shooting this season. In my view, the better strategy would be for him to keep shooting the 3pt shot, even if he's hitting just 29-30%. Last season, he attempted 289 long 2pt shots, hitting on .291 (about the same as his rookie season). To get the same effective field goal percentage on 3s, he'd have to hit just .194. To say it yet another way, if he shoots .296 from 3pt range (as he did his rookie year), his effective field goal percentage would be .444 — significantly better than the .291 he was getting on jumpers.

Reports that he worked with shot doctor Dave Hopla this offseason are encouraging. I'd feel more comfortable if Hopla was back on the coaching staff this season, but he's been hired by the Knicks. I met Hopla briefly a few years back, and his simple shooting advice carried me through several years of church ball -- even when my knees were past done. Look for New York's percentages to climb this year.

Turnovers are Wall's other big issue. Experience should be the cure, so it's a little worrisome that he actually committed more turnovers in his second season. The assist numbers suggest that Wall's court vision is fine. My thinking is that he needs to cut down on the careless turnover -- to value possessions more than he does.

By no means should Wizards fans be down on Wall. He should return from his knee injury in December ready for action. And, the start of his career is more than superficially similar to the first couple seasons of Isiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook. 

Like most fans, I'm rooting for Wall to succeed. But, he needs to demonstrate improvement early and often this season. NBA players typically make their biggest improvement in their third season. Wall needs to make that jump.

As he's played, Wall is an acceptable NBA point guard. If he doesn't improve his shooting and turnover rate, he's not a franchise player, however. A franchise-level talent is what the Wizards need.

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