John Wall is back on the court after a stress reaction in his knee kept him out for the early part of the season. It’s clear that he is one of the best young point guards in the game, but there are questions as to whether he can be a franchise cornerstone for the Wizards. He struggled a bit last season after a solid rookie year, but now that he’s back, it’s time to examine what he can do to bring his game to the all-star level. The key to him improving lies in improving his pick and roll game.
Wall was a largely ineffective pick and roll player last season despite it making up an astounding 31.2% of his offense according to mySynergySports. He only shot 35.6% on these plays and turned the ball over nearly 20% of the time per Synergy. There are a number of reasons for this. We know Wall can get to the rim at will; he was 5th among point guards in shots per 40 minutes at the rim last season. The problem was, while he was able to use his incredible quickness to get to the rim, when he got there he was often going too fast to finish. He was out of control.
In all four of these clips, Wall easily blows by the initial pick and roll defense, but by the time he is trying to finish, he’s almost underneath the rim. He is just barreling down the lane without a specific plan and is making the ‘finishing’ part too tough on himself. He also has trouble getting calls on these plays; he only drew fouls on 7.3% of his pick and roll plays last year, per Synergy. Refs don’t very often bail out an out of control player recklessly running into contact. It would be nice to see Wall develop multiple gears and hesitation dribbles. He can learn from what Chris Paul does:
Paul is patient coming around the screen and quite often changes speed while attacking the rim. Starting to do this kind of thing would unquestionably help Wall’s pick and roll game.
Another aspect of the pick and roll game Wall can develop is his runner/floater, which he can take before he gets too close to the rim. The number of floaters he took off the pick and roll last year can be counted on one hand despite totaling 409 plays as the ball handler in a pick and roll. If Wall can develop that teardrop shot so many of today’s point guards have, then he isn’t stuck taking shots from under the rim through contact. He can learn from Tony Parker:
Another thing that would help would be developing some semblance of a jumper. He shot 32.5% from midrange and (wait for it)…7.1% from three last year. Not much happening from outside. Opponents know this and give him the jumper coming off the screen and he takes it:
It’s going to be tough for him to do much until he’s able to hit the J when his defender goes under the screen. This strategy of pick and roll defense can take away other outlet options on the play and makes penetrating much tougher. (There’s always the option of attacking the space he’s given when the defender goes under the screen rather than accepting that he needs to take the jumper the defense clearly wants him to take. Doing this can force the defense to back off even farther, leading to a cleaner path to the rim. This is a strategy many guards with shaky jumpers use when defenders go under.) But considering most of Wall’s pick and roll shots are jumpers, whenever he can get to at least a semi-acceptable level shooting, he immediately becomes much more of a weapon.
If he can learn how to make subtle speed changes, gain a floater, and work on his jumper off the pick and roll, Wall can bring his offense to an all-star level. Remember: the pick and roll is nearly one third of his offense. The struggling Wizards need offense; they rank last in the league in offensive efficiency by nearly 5 points per 100 possessions. Wall’s development isn’t the only step they need to take to improve, but if he’s going to be the franchise cornerstone they drafted him to be, it’s probably the most important.