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Is Wall Showing He Can Be a Franchise Player? A Response To Jason Reid

 

In today's Washington Post, columnist Jason Reid weighed in with a surprisingly nonsensical article about John Wall and the Wizards. Here's my response:

You can talk about a lineup change that has worked well for the Washington Wizards, or mention the development of a productive rookie. But any discussion about the team's improvement starts with one person: point guard John Wall.
This is paragraph one and Reid is already off to a bad start. Wall certainly deserves some credit for the team's improvement over the last 11 games, but any sensible discussion would include his teammates. As I wrote yesterday, the players most responsible for the turnaround are Emeka Okafor, Martell Webster and A.J. Price. 

The team has been better with Wall on the floor than it has been throughout most of the season. However, it's also been slightly better on offense (and I'm focusing on offense because no one -- including Reid -- has made the argument that Wall transforms the Wizards defense) since Wall's return while Wall has been on the bench. According to NBAwowy.com, in the games since Wall has come back from injury the team has averaged 105.1 points per 100 possessions when he's been on the floor, and 105.6 when he's been sitting.

I guess one could argue that Wall is soooooo good that he's helping the team even while on the bench, but it would require a new form of logic heretofore known as "talking out of one's ass."

The Wizards actually have a winning record (for an 11-32 team, a 6-4 stretch is something worth celebrating) since Wall returned to the lineup after missing their first 33 games because of a knee injury. Washington has been sharper on offense and tougher on defense. And although some NBA decision-makers say Wall isn't talented enough to carry a team, he clearly has been a game-changer for the Wizards. If Wall can keep it up, he just may be the right guy to lead the team after all.

In an 82-game schedule, 10 games is a small sample size. It's also big enough to inspire some optimism — finally — about the franchise's direction with Wall playing at the highest level of his career. There have been other encouraging developments, too.

No real argument here. The team has been better since Wall returned. That "better" is reason for some optimism. But, a realistic look at Wall's actual performance doesn't indicate he's a guy to build a team around. His overall production has been a little better than average since his return -- not the stuff of a franchise player.

Center Emeka Okafor woke up once forward-center Nene joined him in the starting lineup, a move that occurred before Wall came back, and rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal is proving those favorable pre-draft comparisons to Ray Allen were on point. Wall's big step, however, has pulled everything together. The difference is most evident in the weakest part of Wall's game: shooting.

The scouting report on Wall hasn't changed since his days as a prep standout. He has always been considered exceptionally fast with the basketball, highly athletic, intensely competitive — and a below-average shooter.

There are only so many fast-break opportunities. In the NBA, it's nearly impossible to become a star point guard unless you can score consistently in the half-court game. That means making mid-range jumpers.

Wall's doing it better than ever. He's shooting a personal-best 45.3 percent from the field. That's after Wall made only 40.9 percent of his shots as a rookie and 42.3 percent last season. Beyond the statistical proof, Wall's jumper passes the eye test.

The first paragraph in this sequence is strange. Reid first credits Okafor's resurgence to Nene, then he adds some irrelevant fluff about Bradley Beal, and then somehow credits Wall for all of it because he's learned to shoot. What?

Nene became a starter on December 22. Wall came back on January 12. Primary credit for the change in Okafor's performance would seem to go to the one that happened first.

I'm not sure what the stuff about Beal is doing in there except maybe Reid felt like he needed to mention the rookie. Beal's improved play began in early January -- before Wall's return. Seems silly to attribute Beal's better shooting to Wall when the better shooting pre-dated Wall. They do seem to play well together, but it's hard to attribute Beal's improved play to the presence of Wall when the improvement pre-dated Wall's return.

Finally, notice the bait-and-switch on the shooting statistics. Reid builds up that section by talking about making mid-range jumpers (which is actually a bad shot that teams should avoid, if possible), and then switches to general field goal percentage. When you look at relevant stats, you'll see that Wall's improved shooting so far this season mostly amounts to shooting a bizarrely high percentage from 3-9 feet.

On jumpers, Wall's shooting is right at career norms. Which is to say, crappy. From 10-15 feet, he's shooting .333 (last season: .321; rookie: .280). From 16-23 feet, he's shooting .260 (last season: .290; rookie: .300).

Whatever improvement Wall's made to his game, it's not showing in his jumper. At least not yet.
In Wall's first two seasons, it was clear he had about as much confidence in his jumper as he did in the ability of some of his teammates to remember Washington's plays. Wall often appeared reluctant to shoot when the Wizards were struggling to score and needed someone to take charge. Not anymore.

Before the knee injury cut short his offseason workout program, Wall focused on improving his touch. He shot and shot and shot, "and I'm making it more because I just really worked at it," Wall said, explaining his roll-up-your-sleeves approach. "I didn't do anything crazy or different. I just put in the time . . . and they're going in. It's a good feeling when you see the results. It makes you better."

Especially because of how fast he is. Opponents used to back off Wall, essentially daring him to shoot, which put them in better position to guard against him driving. Now, they're playing him tighter.
"When guys come up on you, that's when you go" toward the basket, he said. "It opens up the offense. It makes it better for my team."

This section is largely addressed in the previous response. To summarize: it's a crock because Wall's jumper hasn't actually improved. That Wall seems to think that it has is maybe a little worrisome.

Wall's strong comeback definitely has helped Beal. Every pass-first point guard wants to partner with a shooting guard who possesses big-time scoring potential. That's Beal. Wall enjoys setting up Beal for shots. "He's already really good," Wall said of Beal, who has been playing through a painful wrist injury and might need to take a few games off.
According to NBAwowy.com, when on the floor with Wall, Beal has an efg of .567 -- which is excellent. Since Wall's return, Beal's efg when Wall has been on the bench: .531 -- which is also excellent. The difference here is negligible. The sample size is so small, we're talking a difference of two made FGs.
Okafor and Nene are the next biggest beneficiaries on the list.

There's no nice way to say this: Okafor was awful early in the season, so ineffective that Coach Randy Wittman kept him on the bench during fourth quarters.

Wittman searched for answers while Wall was out and the team was reeling. He tried different lineup combinations. The decision to put Okafor and Nene in the starting lineup was one of Wittman's best.

In 21 games together, the team's big men have formed a productive tandem. Okafor's stats have steadily improved as Nene, still on a minutes restriction as he recovers from a foot problem, has shared in the burden of scoring and rebounding on the first unit.

Okafor and Nene have gotten a lot of easy inside shots because of Wall's ability to break down defenses, get into the lane and pass. Throughout the time he was sidelined, Wall stayed motivated by looking forward to working with Nene, Beal and Okafor.

Reid managed to jam an impressive number of inaccuracies and nonsense into a small space. First, Okafor was NOT awful early in the season. He was on the bench in the 4th quarter because his coach was wrong about his performance level. Okafor certainly was not as effective as he's become in recent weeks, but he was one of the team's few above-average performers in the early part of the season.

Second, Reid is again attributing Okafor's improvement to Nene, and then saying it's all because of Wall. Well, which is it? Or, is it a combination of effects? In which case, why all this stuff about how Wall is transforming guys?

Third, Reid seems to be suggesting that Nene is benefiting from Wall breaking down defenses and creating easy baskets for him. Except, Nene has been less efficient on offense and less productive overall since Wall came back. Hmm.

"When you have guys who all want to win, who all work hard, yeah, it motivates you even more," Wall said. "Everybody is just working to build something and keep it going. It's good. It's what you want."
Wall never wanted sympathy. When you're a No. 1 overall pick in the NBA, you either turn around a losing team quickly or get labeled as a disappointment — if not worse. All Wall wanted was a fighting chance, which he didn't have his first two seasons.

"No disrespect to anyone, but it's a more serious locker room now," he said. "Guys understand the game of basketball and they want to play. It's a big difference."

There's a feeling among some Wizards fans that the franchise suffered from having the top pick during a draft in which the best available player wasn't great. Truth is, Wall had the misfortune of joining a dysfunctional team. With his improvement and some better parts around him now, Wall is beginning to look just fine.

Finally, a part I have little quibble with. The locker room is more serious. The players are more focused. The Wizards do seem more focused on playing hard and competing. I don't agree that Wall was merely a victim of the team's immature locker room. Fact is, he didn't play like a top draft pick. That's not necessarily his fault -- he was the best prospect in a week draft. Most years, he wouldn't have gone that high.

But, the improvement Reid is claiming isn't really manifesting yet. It may yet come. Wall is a phenomenal athlete and seems to be a competitive guy who is willing to work hard. But, it does a disservice to Wall's teammates to credit him for things that are being accomplished by others. And, saying Wall is showing he can be a franchise building block when he's not actually performing like a franchise building block is the type of thinking that leads to bad decisions.

Wall may become a franchise player. But he's not there yet. He's not beginning to be at that level. He still needs to fix the basic flaws in his game that have been there since college: poor shooting and too many turnovers.

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