On November 27th, 2013, John Wall proclaimed himself to be the best point guard in the league. This year we watched the former no. 1 overall pick become an All-Star, win the Slam Dunk Contest, and lead the Wizards to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time in what feels like decades. Back in November, no one took him seriously. Was John Wall the best point guard in the league?
Among point guards who played in at least 70% of their team’s games, Wall had the 5th highest PPG average, with 19.3. His 43.3 FG% comes in third among the top 5 scorers, only behind Steph Curry and Isaiah Thomas. Wall’s 3PT% has gone way up, from an abysmal 26.7% to 35.1% this season. His jumper is still developing, and while he will never be mistaken for Curry (3PT% of 42.4%), he has the potential to keep improving upon that percentage in the coming years. For a player who attempted more threes this year than in the three previous years combined, 35.1% is a solid rate, especially considering Kyrie Irving hit 35.8% and Chris Paul hit 36.8%, players known for their three point strokes. Another player to consider is Damian Lillard who averaged 20.7 PPG with a 3PT% of 39.4%. However, Lillard’s FG% was just 42.4%. According to NBA.com shot chart data, Wall had the highest FG% at the rim, at 60%. Considering his improving jumper and strong ability to finish at the rim, it is not a stretch to imagine Wall as the top scoring point guard in a few years. However, as of right now, Curry is a much more dangerous scoring threat, and I’d rank Paul ahead of him also, despite Paul’s slightly lower scoring average of 19.1 PPG.
Wall had the most total assists in the entire league, and came in second in assists per game with 8.8. While that is a far cry from Paul’s league leading 10.7, it is also important to consider the strength of the Clippers roster vs. that of the Wizards. Curry averaged 8.5 assists per game, good for 6th in the league, while Lillard averaged just 5.6. Most of the Wizards’ offense is predicated on Wall’s passing abilities, and he has delivered. The corner three is all the rage these days, and Wall had more assists to the corner three than anyone in the league by a wide margin. Wall had 109, followed by LeBron James with 89 and Goran Dragic with 66. Wall’s ability to create in the drive and kick game is unmatched. Further, Trevor Ariza’s career 3PT% before this season was 32.5%. This year, his 3PT% is 40.7%, largely as a result of Wall’s play. One troubling aspect of Wall’s game is his 3.6 turnovers per game. However, much of this does have to do with his having the highest usage rate in the league.
Basketball is a two-way game, and this is where Wall truly separates himself from guys like Curry. Curry is an exceptional offensive player, but a defensive liability, as are guys like Lillard and Irving. Wall comes in at 4th among point guards with 1.82 steals per game. However, steals do not tell the entire story. Wall is a very engaged defender, and makes life very difficult for almost every opposing point guard. He harasses players into turnovers, a big reason why the Wizards are one of the leading teams in fast break points. Paul is the only other premier point guard who’s defense can rival Wall’s. While Paul is for the most part a very good defender, he is a renowned flopper, and I am proud to say that I have never seen Wall flop. Interestingly enough, Wall also averages .49 blocks per game, good for second among point guards only behind Michael Carter-Williams.
It is important to consider the strength of the Wizards as compared to the other teams with elite point guards. Chris Paul and Steph Curry are Wall’s main competitors for the top point guard spot. Paul plays with a strong supporting cast including MVP candidate Blake Griffin, and Curry plays on a star studded squad including All-Stars Andre Iguodala, David Lee, and one of the best shooters in the league in Klay Thompson. Wall certainly has a solid team, but the Clippers and Warriors are clearly superior in terms of talent. Another important factor to consider is durability. While Wall has had some injury troubles in the past, he managed to start all 82 games this year, a feat only he and Lillard accomplished among the top 20 scoring point guards.
Based on the results from this past season I’d give Paul the edge over Wall, followed by Curry and then Lillard. While Paul may play on a better team, he was a more efficient scorer and passer than Wall this past season, and even managed to lead the league in steals per game. Curry is an explosive offensive player, but Wall’s court awareness and defensive leadership give Wall the edge over him. While Lillard is a great three point shooter, his shot selection, passing, and defense leave much to be desired. Wall’s performance this season was very promising, but he will have to keep improving to fend off other elite but injury-riddled point guards such as Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, and Russell Westbrook.