Washington Wizards 2015-2016 Player Previews: John Wall


John Wall, the leader of the Washington Wizards, is the key to their 2015-2016 fortunes.

Other players will have a major role in how this season turns out.  Bradley Beal’s continued maturation into a potential All-Star and Otto Porter’s development as a full-time starter replacing the departed Paul Pierce will impact the potential of this year’s version of Les Boulez, but no singular player holds as much responsibility towards the outcome of this season as John Wall.

The Washington Wizards are not the team we saw exit the Verizon Center after a crushing dis-allowed game tying three point shot versus Atlanta in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Gone are Pierce, Kevin Seraphin, Will Bynum, and Rasual Butler. Gone also is an emphasis on slower paced, big-man oriented basketball.

Randy Wittman has evolved and that evolution in centered around pace, spacing the floor and shooting the three-point shot. In other words, coach Wittman has finally centered this team and their style of play around their franchise player, John Wall.

In case you’ve been sleeping through the preseason, here’s what you missed. Prior to the last preseason game versus Toronto,

  • The Wizards are first in the NBA averaging 117.3 PPG in 6 games
  • The Wizards are first in the NBA in FGM per game (42.8)
  • The Wizards are 9th in the NBA in 3PM at 9.2 per game
  • Oh, and John Wall leads the NBA in assists per game in the preseason at 8.6 per game

This is not your father’s Washington Wizards (actually it’s not even the team you’ve become accustomed to watching). In his sixth season in the NBA, Wittman is focused on playing towards the strengths of the 2010 first overall pick.

The player 53.4 percent of general managers voted as fastest with the ball in the NBA is finally being allowed to play in a system which emphasizes pace; this after the Washington Wizards ranked 16th in the NBA in pace during the 2014-2015 season.

This is a great change for John Wall.

You can argue it should have been done sooner, but it’s possible playing within the discipline of a half court oriented system has helped put Wall in a position where he can truly take advantage of the space this offense should create for him.

Wall is clearly one of the best in the NBA when it comes to creating open 3-point attempts for his teammates, in particular from the corners. The presence of Marcin Gortat, who thrived playing in an open system with Steve Nash makes this an even more intriguing fit for John Wall.

Playing in a system that has an effective pick and roll center who can dive to the basket and complimenting that with shooters on the wings is the ideal fit for the Wizards franchise point guard, as long as he’s up for the challenge.

What does that challenge entail?


With the departure of Trevor Ariza and then Paul Pierce, there is a leadership void on the Wizards.

Wall has said all the right things about learning from the vets who have mentored him throughout the first five years of his career. He took initiative this past summer, hosting a three day mini-camp at his offseason home in Los Angeles.

It’s also evident in watching Wall how much more engaged he is in supporting his teammates while they’re on the floor without him. The NBA season is a marathon though and not a sprint.  It’s one thing for Wall to show leadership throughout training camp and the early portion of the season, but will he be able to maintain that leadership for an 82-game regular season plus the playoffs?


With the departure of Pierce and Nene moving to more of a reserve center role, there will be a need for an additional scorer on the floor.

Beal has improved at creating his own offense (as evidenced by last year’s playoffs), but Marcin Gortat specializes in pick and roll, and Otto Porter and Kris Humphries have to be viewed as complimentary offensive players until proven otherwise.

That leaves an added burden on Wall to be more of a scorer, especially when the supporting cast is coming up short.  The Washington Wizards will also be missing Pierce’s heroics in the fourth quarter.

Who is going to assume that closer role? Expecting one player to fill the shoes of a first ballot Hall-of-Famer is a tough task, but the Wizards will likely need some combination of John Wall and Bradley Beal to fill those shoes.

To fulfill this need, Wall will have to improve from the 3-point line. Wall struggled from the 3-point line last year, shooting 30% from beyond the arc on 2.7 attempts per game. This was down from a respectable 35.1% in 2013-2014 on 3.8 attempts per game. The odd thing about this is while Wall struggled from 3; his mid-range game showed solid improvement.

If Wall could maintain the growth in his midrange game (on ideally less attempts) and get back to shooting the 3-point shot on a level consistent with his 2013-2014 season, it would allow him to pose a greater threat that would have to be accounted for by defenses in the half-court, rather than defenses sagging off of him or staying home on wing shooters. This preseason has showed a positive start with Wall shooting at a 40% clip from beyond the arc on 10 attempts.


Wall has been a consistent presence in the lineup since returning from a stress injury in the 2012-2013 season.  However, just being in the lineup every day isn’t enough anymore.

With the added burden (and opportunity) this offense will put on his shoulders, it will be up to Wall to maintain that high level throughout the season. In each of the past two seasons, Wall has started strong but hit a rough patch or seemed to wear down a bit as the seasons progressed.

The evidence is in field goal attempts and free throw attempts per game.

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Wall’s free throw attempts per game decreased in the second half of the season in each of the past two years.

His field goal attempts decreased in the second half of the 2013-2014 season.

Last season, there was an uptick in his field goal attempts in March and April, however it didn’t impact his free throw attempts per game, so what kind of shots was he getting?

Was he hurt, preserving himself for the postseason, or has he gotten accustomed to playing in meaningful games late in the season for this first time in his career?

It’s possible that it’s all of the above or none of the above, however, these patterns have reoccurred and this season more than any, it will be on John Wall to maintain that edge and aggressiveness for the entirety of the season.

All stars go through peaks and valleys.  Superstars bring it nightly, knowing that every opponent has a game plan centered on stopping them. John Wall has proven he’s an All-Star.  He has declared a desire to enter the MVP discussion. Maintaining that nightly intensity for 82 games will determine if he ends up in the discussion.

What can the organization do to help?

They’ve started off on right foot by surrounding him with shooters and building up the team bench. Adding Ramon Sessions at last season’s trade deadline and having him with the team for a full offseason and training camp will definitely help.

Given the increase in pace, Wall’s minutes will have to be monitored so that when he is on the floor he can play at the aggressiveness and pace Wittman is looking for. Having him play 40 minutes with tired legs in the fourth quarter won’t do him or his teammates any good.

Beal’s continued improvement as a ball handler will undoubtedly help as well.

The Washington Wizards have lacked that secondary ball handler as Beal acclimated to the NBA, but he looks to be up for the challenge after assuming that role when John Wall missed games 2-4 of the Conference Semi-finals versus Atlanta.

Gary Neal also brings an extra backcourt player into the fold who has had experience initiating the action at times in San Antonio.

In year six of his career, John Wall has graduated from a young, fast player to premier veteran point guard. That doesn’t mean he’s hit his ceiling yet and that’s the key question facing John Wall this season. Will he settle as an All-Star player or will he be able to graduate from the next level and go from good to great.

Next: Why Nene Will Still Be Very Important To Wizards' Success

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