John Wall's End of Season Play Gives Hope for Future

Apr 7, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (2) drives the ball to the basket against Boston Celtics shooting guard Courtney Lee (11) during the first quarter at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

With the playoffs on the horizon and the NBA on the precipice of becoming the sole focus of the sports world, now is the time to honor those who are about to get lost in the all-consuming postseason narratives. One such player, who is treating these final few generally monotonous weeks of the season like his own personal conquest for the max glory, is John Wall.

Wall’s play since coming back from injury mid-January has been fantastic and although his quest to drag his team to that ever allusive ninth seed is a little misguided it is none the less fun to watch. The Wizards star point has seen a rise in his usage rate (from 24.9 to 29) and, defying all traditional logic, has actually seen his overall efficiency rise in the process. His assist rate has skyrocketed to 44% (good for third in the league) and his turnover percentage has actually dropped from an unwieldy 19.2 to a more manageable 16.

A lot of factors go into a jump like this from one season to another, but for Wall specifically this improved efficiency has a lot to do with his more astute approach to decision making. Wall’s passing ability and court vision has been perpetually underappreciated since he came into the league. However the severe case of “Westbrook syndrome” that he is often afflicted with, where he lets his body go off to the races before his mind is ready, has hampered his ability to fully manifest his passing skills. Last year he had an unfortunate habit of coming off the pick and roll already with his mind made up that he was going straight to the rim, guns blazing. He was so resolute in his decision that three, and as you can see in the following clip, even four defenders crashing into the paint did nothing to deter him.

Obviously many of these wild drives into the paint resulted in turnovers, but some of them can be explained away simply because with an offense as inept as Washington’s there isn’t a lot of better options. The next play featured, however, reveals an even more egregious tendency that Wall had last year.

Wall come around the pick and is met with a triad of defenders in perfect position to seal off his lane to the basket. Wall’s athletic prowess enables him to get past Hedo Turkoglu (which, admittedly, isn’t that difficult to do) and the defender guarding the corner three is forced to help on Wall.

This leaves Jordan Crawford wide open for a three pointer but Wall completely ignores him in favor of a drive at the hoop. The Magic triad of defenders quickly close in around him and Wall promptly turns the ball over.

At the time Jordan Crawford was shooting under 30 percent from three (and most likely did countless Jordan Crawford things leading up to this to make Wall mad), however a spot up three from the corner will always be preferable to a reckless charge into three defenders. (I realize I was the one who inferred the thought bubbles but I chuckle at the fictitious irony of Jordan Crawford shaking his head at someone else’s decision making. Way to call the kettle black, Jordan.)

This season, Wall has curbed this tendency and the effects on his overall game have been obvious. He is looking for teammates out of the pick and roll and finally utilizing his incredible court vision.

Wall once again finds himself in a situation where the defense is in a good position to clog the lane to the basket. Pierce has especially positioned himself well, cutting off any pass to the right corner.

Wall takes one more aggressive step and then, instead of charging blindly ahead, picks up his dribble and launches a one handed bullet of a pass cross court to the open Martell Webster. The degree in difficulty for this pass is insane but even more impressive was that Wall was able to see it and make the decision to pass before rounding the pick.

Webster receives the ball in perfect position, pump fakes the scrambling Terry for added embarrassment and drains the shot.

This downtick in turnovers is part of the reason Wall’s PPP as the pick and roll ball handler is so improved from last year. Per SynergySports Wall went from a well below average .68 points per possession on pick and rolls to a much improved .8. Even more important than the cut down in turnovers is another very unlikely weapon that Wall has added into his arsenal, a jump shot.

Overall Wall still needs a lot of work on his jumper and his mid-range shot chart looks like Barriston Selmy painted it. However like a beautiful green flower in a desert of bricked jumpers, hope springs eternal in the form of the right extended wing.

The 96 shot sample size is large enough that Wall’s success from that spot can’t be dismissed as a fluke and defenses are starting to change the way they play him because of it.

The play begins with Nene setting a screen on Pablo Prigioni so that Wall can go to his favorite spot on the court.

Prigioni knows how lethal Wall is off the dribble and despite having the springy and youthful title of rookie, the man’s body is 35 and needs all the space he can get to prevent a blow-by. He chooses to go over the Nene screen, a decision that last year or from any other spot on the court, would have been the right choice.

Unfortunately for Prigs this is a spot Wall shoots over 50 percent from and now has the right amount of space to get off what is an easy make for him.

Two quarters later the Wizards run the Wall-Nene high pick and roll again, this time with a much more wary Prigioni.

Prigs is forced to go under the coming Nene screen, not wanting to give Wall space again. You can see him telling Carmelo to get to that right wing spot so Wall can’t get off another wide open jumper.

Melo successfully closes out on the Wizard’s point, but is about to learn the dangers of playing too far up on a freak athlete like Wall. Kenyon Martin, and all his veteran savvy knows what’s coming.

A lightning quick change of direction forces Melo to spin 90 degrees and try, to no avail, to stop the coming attack on the rim. K-Mart is in decent position to prevent this but his knees are about a thousand years old, and really the fact that he didn’t foul here for an and-one should be counted as a victory.

Wall has improved his offensive game exponentially merely through playing with a little more discipline and developing an effective jumper in one spot on the floor. If he can get to even league average in jump shots for the rest of the court, or develop any kind of consistent three-point shot, he has the chance to be really special. And so we close the 2012-13 NBA book on John Wall and hope the max contract he is almost sure to get will keep him on this impressive trend of improvement.

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