Washington Wizards Have Their Superstar In John Wall

Jan 27, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) is introduced before a game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 27, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) is introduced before a game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Washington Wizards sought to add a star during free agency, but John Wall was the player they needed to realize his potential all along.

The Washington Wizards are scorching hot right now, standing at 30-21 and sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference – just 5.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, who sit atop the conference.

Since December 1, the Wizards are 24-10 – good for best in the Eastern Conference.

They are coming off an epic regular season showdown with the aforementioned Cavaliers, a game where they went blow for blow with the defending NBA Champions, serving notice to the NBA that this team has arrived.

You can give credit to several for the turnaround:

Scott Brooks is proving that his success in Oklahoma City – developing the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden and taking one of the youngest teams ever to the NBA Finals – was no fluke.

Bradley Beal is healthy and playing the best basketball of his career. He’s also taken a larger leadership role, which was exemplified during the funeral game versus the Celtics and the tenacity with which he approached that game against the Wizards’ newfound bitter rival.

Marcin Gortat is not a revelation, but he’s doing what he has done since coming to Washington, D.C but with even greater efficiency.

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Over the past 28 games, Gortat is shooting 62.7% from the field on 9.1 field goal attempts per game.

In the past 15 games he’s been even better, shooting 65.3% on 8.6 field goal attempts per game.

Markieff Morris shook off a slow start to the year to score 17.3 points per gamein January on 48.8% shooting from the field and 41.4% from the 3-point line.

Otto Porter is, to put it simply, automatic.

It all comes back to one player: the head of the snake, John Wall.

I have critiqued Wall in the past, often pointing to shortcomings in his game and an inconsistent approach that in my mind were inhibiting him from making the leap from good to great.

If you disagreed with me, you should have listened to his new head coach after taking the job with the Wizards last April;

“I think John Wall can be one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said. “That at such a young age, he’s a three-time all-star, in itself is pretty remarkable. But I think he still has room to grow and get better, both from a players perspective and also from a leadership point of view.”

A healthy Wall is making that leap now and has transformed himself into a bona fide NBA superstar.

Wall is averaging career highs in points, assists, steals, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage.

This team’s turnaround began with Wall shaking off the rust of an offseason which was slowed due to procedures on both knees.

Healthy and back in game shape, Wall took his game to heights it hadn’t previously reached in December.  In the month, Wall averaged 24.5 points and 10.7 assists on 49.1% shooting from the field and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month.

Wall accomplished a similar feat last December when he was also named Eastern Conference Player of the month.  The difference is, last season the Washington Wizards went 8-8 in Wall’s stellar December.

He has help now and this team (the starting lineup, in particular) is relatively healthy and firing on all cylinders.

Secondly, a healthier Wall has been able to maintain a high level of play with minimal drop-off after his strong December output.

In January, Wall’s field goal percentage dropped from 46% to 40.6% from December to January.  He had similar decreases in assists, rebounding, 3-point percentage, and free throw attempts.  That same level of regression has not occurred this season.

Statistically, there has been some drop off but Wall still posted a very strong 21.2 points and 10.9 assists for the month of January while shooting 45.2% from the field.  As such, and with the help of a stronger and healthier supporting case, the Washington Wizards were actually able to improve on their 10-5 December record and post a 12-4 mark for January.

In particular, you can point to a couple of areas that have allowed John Wall to make this leap.

Wall is getting to the line

John Wall is back to getting to the free throw line and is shooting a career high 81.6% when he gets there.

Early in his career when Wall was racing at one speed, he still managed to get to the free throw line at a relatively decent clip.  That number started to trend in the wrong direction as his career progressed.

Free throw attempts by season:

’10-’11:                 5.7

’11-’12:                 6.1

’12-’13:                 6.2

’13-’14:                 4.8

’14-’15:                 4.6

’15-’16:                 4.5

’16-’17:                 6.1

There is no excuse for a player with Wall’s speed, athleticism, and play-making ability to be taking less than five free throw attempts per game.

Was it a result of health and a means to preservation or was it a flaw in the coaching staff and Wall’s approach to the game?  There’s no way to tell, but he’s back to averaging north of 6 attempts per game now and you can argue deserves more attempts at the line given how often he’s attacking the basket this year.

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Wall is shooting from within 10 feet of the basket on average 7.8 times per game.  Last season, he averaged a full two attempts lower per game (5.8) from this similar distance.

There has been an emphasis on attacking the basket this season under the direction of Brooks.

He’s a closer now

Washington has been missing a closer since Paul Pierce’s brief stay in the district.

Wall is 12th in the NBA in four quarter, averaging 6.3 points on 48% shooting from the field and 83% shooting from the free throw line.

Last season, Wall averaged 5.7 points on 41.9% shooting from the field In 2014,  Wall averaged 3.7 points in the 4th quarter.

Of the top 12 players in fourth quarter scoring, Wall is playing the least amount of minutes on average.

In the clutch, Wall is equally as effective, ranking 12th in the NBA in clutch scoring at 3.6 points per game while maintaining his field goal percentage of 48.1% but actually increasing his free throw percentage to 87%.

Beyond the numbers, his growth as a late game scorer is evident.

Wall is finding his spots on the floor and is embracing the closer role which had been left void since Pierce decided to return to his hometown of Los Angeles. For a player who has been criticized in the past for not having a “go-to” scoring move and has been typecast as more passer than scorer, Wall has become effective in the clutch.

The Washington Wizards spent two seasons positioning themselves to chase an NBA superstar in free agency.  They orchestrated their roster and salary cap situation to be in position to chase that star this past summer and it failed to come to fruition.

The window to bring a star to the Wizards had seemingly closed, but often overlooked was the star they already had in the building.

Next: Why the Wizards Will Have a Bright Future

With the right coaching, teammates, and health, John Wall is finally realizing his potential as a bona fide NBA superstar and he’s been here all along. D.C, you have your WallStar.