It was no surprise when the Washington Wizards started off this season looking like one of the worst teams in the NBA. They were one of the league’s worst teams last year, and they opened this season without starting point guard John Wall, which meant they were running such luminaries as AJ Price, Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple out there to direct the offense. Needless to say, things did not go very well. Through January 11 (the day before Wall’s return to game action), Washington posted a comically bad 95.0 offensive efficiency. For reference, that was 3.5 points per 100 possessions (pts/100) worse than the Charlotte Bobcats.
In their 11 games since Wall’s return, Washington’s offensive output has jumped 5.8 pts/100 to a still bad but not laughably awful 100.8, which, had it represented their full-season mark, would rank 19th in the league rather than dead last. While the offense is still not great, it’s now respectable.
What has changed most since Wall’s return to the lineup has been the quality of the shots Washington takes.
The percentage of the Wizards’ shots that came from the most efficient areas on the floor (restricted area and corner 3s) before Wall’s return was almost comically low. That 24.4% number in the restricted area ranked dead last in the league, and is nearly 5 points lower than the next closest team. The nearly 9% bump they’ve received since Wall’s return shoots them up from 30th all the way to 16th.
Since Wall’s been back, the Wizards’ shot selection is trending in the right direction in every area of the floor. They’re taking far more of the most efficient shots as well as fewer of the least efficient shots.
Perhaps the most direct relationship Wall has had though, is with Washington’s performance on corner 3s. Wall led the league in assists on corner 3s last year, and he has continued right along finding the stable of shooters surrounding him (Bradley Beal and Martell Webster, especially) this season.
Though the Wizards already ranked in the top half of the league in terms of the percentage of their field goal attempts that were corner 3s before Wall came back, they’ve climbed to a top-5 level since he returned. Wall’s ability to find shooters in the corner whether on the break or in the half court is a huge weapon that cannot be understated. Reading that back line help defender on pick-and-rolls and making him pay with a corner 3 has become a key component in efficient offense, and Wall is good at it and still getting better. He’s also adept at driving the lane and kicking it out to an open shooter on a fast break. Beal and Webster already know to fill lanes by heading to the corners because Wall will find them if they’re open.
Our own Jordan Kahn detailed the effect Wall has had on Beal’s game so far over at Bullets Forever last week. In a similar manner to the Wizards as a team, playing with Wall has dramatically altered Beal’s shot distribution, and shot performance, for the better. He’s only taken 52 shots and played just about 150 minutes with Wall so far, but already you can see the point guard’s presence has had an exceedingly positive effect.
The Wizards offense as a whole has been terrific in the minutes Wall and Beal have played together. Their 105.8 offensive efficiency would rank 6th in the league, and represents a massive improvement over Washington’s putrid offensive output this season. It’s no surprise that having a slashing point guard with excellent court vision paired with a sharpshooter like Beal would open things up a bit, but that kind of jump is even better than could reasonably have been expected.
The two have flashed excellent chemistry in the open floor, where Wall’s breathtaking speed and superior court vision make him one of the most dangerous players in the league. Wall has fueled the offense’s fire by pushing the tempo to the max. Washington has played at a pretty slow pace without Wall; their 93.64 pace factor in minutes he is not on the court would rank 18th in the league. With Wall on the court however, Washington averages a 98.85 pace, which would tie them for “fastest team in the league” honors with the breakneck Houston Rockets.
That increase in pace is the driving force behind their rise from 19th in fast break points per 48 minutes without Wall (12.3) to 1st with him on the floor (19.1). Though an increase in pace clearly gooses that number, it should be noted that Washington’s opponents have not seen nearly as big a jump (11.9 to 13.6).
Wall’s court vision allows him to find shooters all over the court, whether they be sprinting to the corner or trailing the break, and it puts an enormous amount of pressure on defense. His will and ability to get into the lane for dunks and dump-offs makes it even tougher to guard him, and he has also shown that he can and will make the hit-ahead pass to jumpstart the break while he’s still back on the other end of the floor.
His fast break capabilities also play a role in Washington’s improved shot distribution, as transition shots tend to be either dunks. layups or open 3-point attempts. Though he’s arguably at his best when operating in the open floor, even in the half court, Wall is finding ways to make it easier on his teammates.
His ability to break his man down off the dribble and get into the lane to draw multiple defenders is an attribute his replacements just did not possess. Price, Mack and Temple are nice enough (read: pretty bad) players, but none has the quickness, strength or dynamism of Wall at his best. Wall’s most important asset in the half court may be his speed and quick twitch motion. It allows him to split defenders on pick-and-rolls and beat closeout defenders to get into the lane on kick outs.
His athleticism and finishing ability must be respected, and that means he draws multiple eyes any time he enters the lane. He’s creative and fearless with his passes, often finding open teammates who didn’t even know they were a passing option on the play.
Wall’s presence on the court is the difference between 32.5 and 40.9 points in the paint per 48 minutes for the Wizards, the equivalent of moving from last in the league behind the paint-averse New York Knicks to 15th between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Brooklyn Nets. Though again the increased pace plays a factor, Washington’s opponents have not seen as large a jump (36.8 to 42.9).
Whether he’s running pick-and-roll with Nene, Kevin Seraphin or Emeka Okafor or just isolating on his man, Wall flat gets into the paint and makes things happen.
His jumper still needs work, and he still turns it over a bit too much (though limiting turnovers tends to be one of the most improvable skills for young players), but Wall’s simple presence on the court is a huge positive for the offense because of all the different things he brings to the table. Speed, vision, smarts, it’s all there in spades. Becoming a better shooter will only make him more dangerous. He’s already making the Wizards better, and that should continue as the season – and his career – moves along.