Basic Stats: 19.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 8.8 APG, .35 3p%, .43 FG%
John Wall’s season was a success and a vindication for him after three years of warranted and unwarranted criticism of the 2010 number one overall draft pick. Wall made his first NBA All-star team as a coach’s selection, started all 82 games, helped lead this team to their first playoff appearance since 2008 and their first playoff series win since the 2004-2005 season, and mixed in a Sprite Slam Dunk Championship along the way. It was as if everything that could break the right way for John Wall on an individual and a team basis did, which may have been Wall’s universe finding balance after three years riddled with injuries, poor rosters, and questions about how good John Wall could actually be.
In reviewing Wall’s season to remember, it starts with his ability to start 82 regular season games this season. The early part of John Wall’s career has been marred by injuries that have slowed his own progress and derailed expectations for this franchise. In his rookie season he missed 13 games as a result of various injuries that started with a foot injury suffered in his ninth career game. Prior to that injury John Wall was off to a great start averaging 18 points , 9.75 assists, and 4 rebounds per game on 44 percent shooting from the field AND 37 percent shooting from the 3-point line (7-19). The injuries had him in and out of the lineup. After returning to a lineup that had undergone another facelift as Gilbert Arenas (and later Kirk Hinrich) eventually exited, he had an up and down finish to his rookie campaign.
Going into his third season the expectation for the team was to make the playoffs after trading for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza and then drafting Bradley Beal with the third overall selection. All of that went out of the window on the eve of training camp as the team announced that John Wall would miss time with a “stress injury”. Eight weeks turned into longer with Wall finally returning on January 12 versus the Atlanta Hawks after missing 29 games of regular season action. By then the team was 5-24 and any realistic team goal to make the playoffs or individual goal for John Wall was out the window. His return started with the same inconsistencies that plagued his first two seasons as he worked his way back into condition and the critics were out. However just as things seemed to be going south, Emeka Okafor seemed to light a fire under John Wall and he ended the season on a tear. The team went from 5-24 without John to 24-25 with John averaging 22.7 points per game on 46.5% shooting over the last 26 games of the season. It became clear that for the Wizards to make the playoffs; John Wall had to be available for the large majority of this past season. The result, he was able to start and finish 82 regular season games and 11 playoff games. Since he returned from his stress injury on January 12, 2013 the team is 74-68. While that all can’t be attributed to John Wall, his impact on the team’s success cannot be undervalued.
In terms of what he brought to the court this season, John Wall’s 2013-2014 season will be remembered for his improvement as a 3-point shooter. A career 24% 3-point shooter heading into this season with only 49 made attempts, the 3-point shot wasn’t really a part of Wall’s game until the latter portion of the 2012-2013 season. The hope was that the success he had to end the 2012- 2013 season would carry over into this season but the sample size wasn’t large enough to know for sure. It ended up that it was a sign of things to come and John Wall went on to make 108 3-point field goals at a very respectable 35.1% clip. While teams still played off of him at times (see Indiana in the playoffs), they regularly paid for it if they ignored this aspect of John Wall’s game.
Wallalso showed a high level of confidence in his ability to take and make this shot during the regular season; something which you couldn’t say was the case earlier in his career. Wall also lead the entire league in total assists averaging a career high 8.8 assists per game. His ability to create open 3-point field goal attempts for his teammates, specifically the corner 3 is practically unparalleled in the league and was highlighted by Kirk Goldsberry with Grantland in mid-April. Walllead the team in points, assists, steals, and games played; he had the highest free throw % amongst the starting 5; he was 4th on the team in blocked shots per game; and ranked 4th on the team in 3-point field goals made. He is an absolute terror on the fast break and additionally he led the team and the entire NBA in total touches and time of possession per game. With his fingerprints all over the team, the Washington Wizards were going to go as far as John Wall was going to take them, and that ended up being beyond the team’s modest goals of a playoff appearance and into the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs going to six games versus the Conference’s number 1 seed.
Next Season and Improvement:
Notwithstanding all of the good, there were several shortcomings that John has to improve upon if he’s going to take the next step from being an All-Star to a Superstar.
Aggressiveness – While John Wall’s field goal attempts per game were at a career high, his free throw attempts per game went in the opposite direction bottoming out to a career low of 4.8 per game. More alarming was the month by month trend:
FTA per game by month
John Wall is just too talented and too dynamic of a force on the basketball court to stop attacking the basket. The playoffs emphasized the need for Wall to be in attack mode. Wall did not shoot well in either playoff series but in Round 1 series win over Chicago he attempted 9.2 free throws per game. Against Indiana….back down to 3.7 attempts per game. Additionally while he stands out at creating 3-point looks for his teammates, how many times have we all watched as he kick outs on would-be easy lay-ups and yelled at the T.V. screen? It’s possible that he realized he had to conserve himself to ensure his availability given the impact he has to this team’s success and it’s also probable that the burden he carries on both ends of the floor takes a toll on him over the course of an 82 game season but Wall has to find the right balance between settling for a jump shot and attacking the basket. The additional benefit to attacking more will be the opportunities it creates for easy baskets for his teammates. A perfect example is the game winning dunk by Nene against the New Orleans Pelicans. John Wall didn’t settle and the result was the defense collapsed on him, creating an easy game winning dunk for Nene. This play was as impressive as it gets. If he could supplement his ability to create 3-point attempts with a consistency in creating attempts at the basket he could dominate a game without scoring the basketball.
Defense– John Wall has the potential to be one of the premiere defensive point guards in the NBA. When he’s locked in he can hold Stephen Curry to 32.5% shooting with 4 turnovers per game as he did in their head to head matchups. However for every one of those, you get a Phil Pressey scoring 20 points on 70% shooting, Nick Calathes putting up an 18/7/6 stat line on 66% shooting, Isaiah Thomas going triple double with 24/11/10, or D.J. Augustin scoring 25 points in 30 minutes in a critical late season loss. John Wall has had a history of troubles defending smaller point guards, but it can’t be attributed solely to that. While he does have adjustments to make, is it fair to ask if part of the problem is not being up for the opponent? Does he cheat a little too often or try too hard to get in the passing lanes when the opposition isn’t a Stephen Curry or Chris Paul? Don’t get me wrong, some of it is the approach. With his height and length he needs to understand that instead of playing right up on his opponent, more often than not he can give a little ground and make up for it with his length.
Shot Selection– The downside of John Wall’s improved shooting was he too often fell in love with long jumpshots. According to Basketball-reference.com John Wall attempted 510 field goals from 16 feet < 3-point line. This correlates to 6.22 attempts per game from this distance. The problem (aside from this being an inefficient shot) is he shot a mere 36.1% from this distance. His field goal attempts from this distance however went up by 1.8 attempts per game from the 2012-2013 season. Additionally while Wall was working on his jumpshot, it seemed from the outside looking in that he made a concerted effort to improve it from the inside out, focusing on the short mid-range game as he grew comfortable with his jumpshot in the NBA. That work seemed to be paying major dividends in the 2012-2013 when he shot 42.9% on 1.98 attempts per game between 3 and 10 feet and 37.9% on 2.49 attempts per game between 10 to 16 feet. However as his shooting range expanded this season, his emphasis and effectiveness from those distances went took a back seat. Between 3 and 10 feet his shooting declined approximately 17% points to 25.8% on 1.46 FGA attempts per game. Between 10 and 16 feet his percentage decline was less pronounced but it was down to 34.6% on 1.62 FGA per game. In total he was down nearly 1.5 field goal attempts per game at a distance where he began to flourish in the 2012-2013 season. It would be one thing if the decline in attempts directly correlated to an increase in 3-point field goal attempts, but the decline in those attempts also seemed to feed the increase in long jumpshot attempts.
Was this past season truly a breakout season? Would the Washington Wizards have made the playoffs a year earlier had he just been healthy to start the 2012 -2013 season? The truth is the foundation to this season began in the latter portion of the 2012-2013 season but with the Wizards season down the drain, how many people noticed? Outside of the diehards, would the casual NBA fan (or casual Wizards fan for that matter) have been able to tell you that John Wall scored 47 points against the Memphis Grizzlies and 37 points versus the Indiana Pacers last season? But while you could argue his ascension amongst the top NBA point guards began last season, doing it in meaningful games over the course of a full 82 game season was the real litmus test. With the goals of playoff or bust set and the burden of living up to his max contract, John Wall was able to perform at a high level over a marathon 82 game schedule while being the focal point of opponents scouting and pre-game prep. Teams didn’t overlook him or the Wizards any longer and he was able to deliver with an All-star appearance, playoff berth and series win. This is why this past season was a truer measure for John Wall and was indicative of a real breakout season both for him and this team.
Looking ahead John Wall has the ability to go on mini-surges that can change the outlook of a game. He can do that as a scorer, facilitator, and defender. How many of the other top point guards in the league could you honestly say that for? His simple presence on the floor puts stress on an opposing defense like few others in the NBA can. The question now is can he have those stretches of dominance on a nightly basis and take the next step to Superstar status? That’s what separates the good ones from the great ones. John Wall has the opportunity to be a great one, but it’s up to him to seize it. If he could, he can take this team to the next level with him.
In 2013-2014 season, John Wall was the “head of the snake” as he likes to say and during the 2012-2013 season as he went, so did the Wizards, all the way to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Final Grade: A-