Mar. 20, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Washington Wizards guard John Wall reacts in the first half against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Debate: Does John Wall Deserve the Max?

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Mar 25, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) celebrates on the court after the Wizards

Will Stokes and I decided to debate each other on whether or not John Wall should be offered a 5 year, $80 million deal. I’ll let Will go first.

Will Stokes:

According to both ESPN and Yahoo Sports, the Washington Wizards and John Wall are nearing an agreement of a 5 year $80 million maximum contract extension. Some, like my esteemed colleague James Straton, do not think that this contract is a good deal for the Wizards. I disagree. I think that not only was this contract extension inevitable, it was a no brainer considering the other options available.

First, I think it’s important to keep in mind that John Wall very good. Here are a couple of notable statistics that illustrate Wall’s individual worth:

  • He had the sixth highest PER of all point guards in 2012-13.
  • This year, Wall had a career year in almost every significant statistical category  (info from basketball reference) including: True shooting percentage, free throw attempts per 36 minutes, assists per 36 minutes, and turnover percentage
  • The Wizards scored an additional 7.2 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor.  That’s probably important to a team that ranked last in offensive efficiency last year.

That doesn’t even cover Wall’s incredible March, where Wall shot 48% from the floor and 45.5% from three. Is that unsustainable and unlikely to be carried into next season? Absolutely. But is it also represents the kind of potential that the Wizards are buying with Wall.

Second, I don’t think it’s a terrible contract based on the market. There have been a lot of good point guard deals going around lately. Stephen Curry, a point guard who is almost certainly better than Wall, got a 4 year $44 million contract. Ty Lawson, another great point guard, got a 4 year $48 million contract. And yes, I’d rather have Wall sign a contract like that than this deal. But it’s pretty obvious (and feel free to dispute this) that those huge bargains wouldn’t be replicated on today’s market. Russell Westbrook, who I think models very similarly to Wall, got a very similar contract. And even if Wall doesn’t become a top five player in the league like Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook, he is certainly the best chance that the Wizards have at getting that kind of player for the foreseeable future.

But most of all, the strongest argument for giving Wall a maximum contract is that the Wizards didn’t have any good alternatives. If Wall wants a max and the Wizards don’t think he is worth it, they really have two options. The first is to let Wall become a restricted free agent and match whatever he gets. And the second option is to trade Wall before he goes on the market for assets and start over with Beal. The first option doesn’t make much sense, because some other team would inevitably offer Wall the max over 4 years, the Wizards would match, and they would just have a marquee player who doesn’t like his situation. The second option, while better, would almost certainly not net a centerpiece player with the upside and talent of Wall. I think any discussion of Wall’s contract needs to start and end with what the Wizards should have done otherwise. I think it would be almost impossible to convince me this is a bad deal unless a different path to contention without Wall was offered.

To sum up, I think Wall is individually talented and helps his team, his contract isn’t out of line for other franchise centerpieces, and the Wizards don’t really have any alternatives but to give him the max. I’d concede that they’re likely overpaying for the player he is now, but that’s the reality of today’s NBA centerpiece talent. I can almost guarantee other lottery teams like the Bobcats would be salivating to give Wall an offer sheet.  I think that illustrates how valuable Wall’s skillset is, and why the Wizards made the right decision in giving him a max deal.

I yield the floor to you James.

James Straton:

All of those stats are nice and good, but are mostly comprised of a single really good month. If we look at his monthly stats, you can see exactly what I’m talking about.

So he shot the ball well for one month. We’ve seen Wall have good months before. I wrote about his February of 2012, which was his previous best-month-ever, only to see him continue to be mediocre from there on out. What are we really talking about here? Are we talking about a body of work? It seems like I’m the only one in the world who can remember past March of 2013. If I could be guaranteed that guy, of course he’s worth $80m. But, I’m pretty sure he’s not that guy.I hate to invoke another guy the Wizards extended based off of one month’s production, but Andray Blatche comes to mind. Blatche was paid as if he was the player he purported to be for a month or so and then ended up being the player he had always been previously (oh, and he got fat).

Let’s talk about the stats you brought up one by one and explain why they aren’t very significant:

  • He had the sixth highest PER of point guards. You’re right. That he did. Quite an impressive feat for him. So we should pay him like the sixth best PG in the league. This is, more than anything, a point in my favor. Why pay a guy who isn’t even top 5 at his position franchise money? Because the Wizards have to? Jees, that could not be more of a cop out.
  • Wall posted a bunch of career highs. This is true. But career highs are meaningless when your career is otherwise meaningless. It doesn’t matter if this was his best ever. What matters is how it stacks up to other players. Let’s look at these stats in context:
  1. TS%: Of 81 qualifying guards (1250 minutes played, TS% over 50%), Wall had the 59th best TS%. Basically, he was bad.
  2. FT/36: John’s bread and butter on offense will be getting to the rim. For every 10 shots he took, he took 4.1 free throws, which was the third best mark in the league behind only James Harden and Ramon Sessions. This is probably your best point.
  3. Assists/36: He gets a lot of assists. No one disputes this.
  4. TOV%: Of the 55 qualifying ball handlers (1250 minutes played. I deleted definitive SGs, so I’m being nicer than if I had only chosen guards) I queried for TOV%, Wall had the 33rd best, meaning he was a well below average ball protector. I don’t think we should be bragging about this, since his ‘court vision’ is supposed to be his marquee skill.
  • Undoubtedly the Wizards were better on offense after Wall’s return, but you can’t attribute the entirety of the turnaround to Wall. Using the awesome tool at nbawowy.com, I isolated the Wizards’ season on the date Wall returned. You find that the Wizards were producing 96.3 points per 100 possessions prior to Wall’s return. After Wall’s return but with him on the bench, the Wizards were producing 101.4 points per 100 possessions. That is a HUGE jump that occurred even when Wall was on the bench. When Wall played, it jumped even more to 105.1 points per 100. The Wizards as a whole started playing a lot better around the time Wall returned. Obviously Wall had an impact on the offense, but it isn’t like he’s worth .7 points per possession on his own like you’re suggesting. It is more likely that the team was SO bad before him and started playing better in its entirety around the time he came back, and then also got a bump from his minutes eating into Livingston/Price/Crawford/Temple/etc. If you isolate the season into Pre-Wall and Post-Wall, you see that the team was unequivocally better when he returned, but with him as well as without him. Everyone started playing better, and he is obviously better than the PG flotsam that came before him. Are we surprised by this?

As for your ‘strongest argument’, it isn’t much of an argument at all. It misses the point entirely since it has nothing to do with what Wall is worth and only focuses on the team’s current construct. What better options did the Pacers have at center than Roy Hibbert? What better options do the Bucks have at PG than Brandon Jennings? What better options did the Kings have than Tyreke Evans? What better options did the Hawks have than Jeff Teague? Just because there are no better immediate options does not mean there will never be. An argument from this standpoint is, in my mind, short-sighted and accepting of mediocrity.

John Wall is a good player; I’m not saying he isn’t. Sometimes when I argue about Wall it sounds that way because I have to combat incredible hyperbole. Hear me now: John Wall is a good player. He’s probably worth $9.5 or $10m but he certainly isn’t worth $16m per year. We hope that he’s going to continue growing and someday become a real max guy. That’s what the Wizards are paying for at this point. I fully expect Wall to be better this coming year, but if he isn’t all of the signs were there. I realize there is no other option and I’ve already come to terms with this contract. We’ve known it was happening for months and I’m over that but it doesn’t change my stance that it is an obvious overpay. Will Wall improve this year? I’m sure he will. Will he ever earn all of this $80m? Probably not.

Will Stokes with the last word:

I STRONGLY disagree with the idea that contract worth should not focus on a team’s current situation. There isn’t a standard algorithm that tells you exactly how much a player is worth. Good players will take pay cuts to sign on with contenders (see Kirilenko, Andrei).  And teams in worse situations need to overpay to make stars stay. While you’re right that we can’t see the future and don’t know what options will be available if we don’t sign Wall, top flight talent like Wall is very hard to come by. If John Wall is a good player worth $10 million a year and has the potential to be a lot better, I can’t imagine that Wizards would find a better deal than that.  And waiting for unspecified future deal to that will be better than what’s right in front of us in no way to run a team.

The reason that Wall should be viewed as a top level talent is both his current skills and his potential to improve. The idea that Wall was only had good numbers because of one great month of basketball is objectively wrong. His terrible February FG% averages out his March FG%, and most of his other March numbers are in line with his year average. But beyond that, while Wall has had jumps and starts throughout the course of his career in Washington, he has steadily improved every year in the league. Yes, his TS% isn’t great. Yes, he has a below average TOV%. But all signs point to continued improvement for Wall in year four. If he grows at the same rate he did in year 4 that he has in past years, he is almost certainly going to be worth the max.

Without Wall, this team is going nowhere. With him, they have the potential to be a perennial playoff team, and maybe even a contender. That is why he is worth a 5 year/$80 million contract.

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