Washington Wizards: The Grounding of Vintage John Wall

Washington Wizards John Wall (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards John Wall (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The nightly guessing game of whether “vintage” John Wall will overcome and outshine “modern” Wall can be maddening. Where is vintage Wall?

John Wall showcased his vintage self as he squared up Celtics’ center Robert Williams beyond the arc, crossed the ball over to his left hand, accelerated past the rookie, exploded off his left foot, and flipped the basketball off the backboard with his right hand for two points and a foul. Williams was left staring at the back of Wall’s head, too slow and symbolically too small to keep up with the sequence.

This particular drive was against the same disruptive Williams who had three blocks two nights prior in New Orleans and would go on to swat five shots against Atlanta two nights later.

No blocks were to be had on Wall this mid-December night in the District, though, for it was a vintage Wall game: 34 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds, and a relentless rim attack. Not even the youthful Williams could slow Wall’s barrage of buckets at the basket.

After Wall flew by fellow all-star Kyrie Irving en route to yet another left-handed layup on that same mid-December night, the point guard crashed to the ground and laid in visible pain. Wall was helped off the court and missed the next few important moments of overtime. The aching guard would re-enter the game and continue his rim attack, but the Wizards lost, again, pushing their record to a disappointing and irrelevant 11-18.

While this midweek regular season game against the Celtics highlighted Wall at his finest–blowing by long centers and agile all-stars alike–it also chronicled concerns–injuries and losing–that have plagued Wall and the Wizards the past two seasons.

The nightly guessing game of whether “vintage” Wall will overcome and outshine “modern” Wall can be maddening, so it’s important to define what makes vintage Wall so effective and what makes modern Wall so frustrating to a hibernating fanbase in desperate need of next-level playoff success.

Effective Driver vs. Complacent Shooter

From scowling, flexing, and smirking, to muttering heinous diatribes at no one in particular, it’s evident when vintage Wall decides to take residency in an arena and showcase his best self. These scowls, flexes, smirks, and diatribes also tend to happen after scoring near the basket.

Per NBA.com, Wall’s all-NBA 2016-2017 vintage season witnessed the all-star guard score 42.9% of his total points in the paint, 23.4% at the foul line, and 25.6% on the fast break. Vintage Wall’s points were products of aggression, speed, and physicality.

While Wall has produced a similar percentage of points in the paint this season, only 18.1% of his points have come at the line and just 15.8% of his points have come on the fast break. Modern Wall is less aggressive, slower, and less physical on a nightly basis. This lethargy is obvious to both the casual and fervent fan.

If modern Wall is not getting his points at the line or running for fast break points, where are the rest of his points originating? The current NBA values players that push the pace and make threes, so Wall is naturally seeking to be a modern NBA point guard threat behind the arc. 22.4% of his total points are coming from three (and they account for 29% of all his field goal attempts), whereas only 14.8% of his points were coming from deep two seasons ago (and accounted for only 19% of all his field goal attempts).

Wall’s trend of producing points from beyond the arc may seem like a welcome evolution given the current state of the NBA, however, pair modern Wall’s three-point attempt rate with his paltry 30% three-point field goal percentage and the expected value is less than one point (0.9) per attempt.

Diving deeper into Wall’s shot selection continues to indicate a concerning trend: Wall is becoming a shooter and can no longer be relied upon to regularly drive and be the unrelenting athletic force he was a few seasons ago.

Vintage Wall drove to the rim with ferocity and efficiency, making 76.6% of his “driving layups,” per NBA.com. Wall was only blocked 12 times during these plays. Modern Wall drives to the rim with less power and finishes with less efficiency, making only 56.6% of his “driving layups.” The season isn’t even halfway complete and Wall’s already been blocked 14 times on these attempts.

Since Wall isn’t finding the same success playing a strong and fast driving game, he’s simply settling for threes.

Modern Wall’s second most attempted shot (after the close-to-the-basket restricted area) is the “beyond the break” three (the three-point zone less the corners). The shooter has already taken dozens more attempts from this zone than vintage Wall’s textbook mid-range jumpers (129 vs. 102).

In 2016-2017, Wall’s second most attempted shot was that midrange jumper, taking 200 more than “beyond the break” threes (442 vs. 242). Modern wall has swapped mid-range jumpers and drives for threes.

While a vintage Wall pull-up mid-range jumper isn’t a shot most want to see, either, it is the shot that typically provides Wall with momentum and spark to take over games. Dribbling, driving, crossing over, and hitting a 15-foot jumper goes down more often than his three-point attempts.

Wall feeds off made baskets, but since he rarely sees deep balls go through the net, he needs to respect the purpose of his mid-range game. Wall doesn’t need to be modern NBA Wall; he can defer to fellow all-star Bradley Beal, efficient Otto Porter, and newly-acquired Trevor Ariza to fulfill the role of shooting from deep.

All-NBA Wall vs. All-Star Snub?

Wall tends to play with chips on his shoulders in big games against big names. It’s no coincidence that vintage Wall showed up for games against James Harden’s Rockets (34 points), Irving’s Celtics (36 points), and Lebron’s Lakers (40 points) this season. It’s also no coincidence that modern Wall followed these all-NBA nights with uninspired duds against non-playoff teams (17, 17, and 15 points, respectively).

In each of the contests that followed vintage Wall nights, modern Wall has relaxed his aggression and attempted more threes. After destroying Lebron’s Lakers with a mixture of strong drives and selective mid-range jumpers that encouraged outside rhythm, Wall chucked up 11 three-point attempts against an abysmal Atlanta team in only 25 minutes of play. The Wizards lost, of course, pushing their record to 12-19. Vintage Wall wins while modern Wall wastes opportunity.

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The fast, strong, and relentless vintage Wall is consistently being grounded by the complacent, hesitant, and inefficient modern Wall. Maybe vintage Wall isn’t sustainable at this point in modern Wall’s career, as injuries, surgeries, and the loss column appear to be taking their tolls on Wall’s ability to attack on a nightly basis.

Washington hopes Wall can overcome these aches, pains, and modern habits, or they’ll continue to lose and keep their fans hibernating all winter.