Feb. 20, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Washington Wizards guard (2) John Wall takes a shot past Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Wizards 104-88. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
John Wall, with his excellent quickness, size, and court vision, should by all rights be one of the NBA's best pick and roll point guards. However, MySynergySports.com ranked him only 128th in the league as a pick and roll ball handler, with 0.68 points per possession during the 2012 season. For the sake of comparison, Derrick Rose, to whom Wall is frequently compared, ranked 22nd in the league with 0.93 points per possession on pick and rolls last year.
Wall's problems with the pick and roll are largely a result of a shaky jump shot that allows his defender to go under each screen. However, some of his struggles are likely the result of who is on the floor with him. Great pick and roll-oriented offenses tend to feature a great all-around point guard, a quick big man who can set brutal screens and shoot from 15 feet just as easily as he can roll to the basket and good spot up shooters spacing the floor. Washington, for the most part, just hasn't equipped him with those pieces.
So how can coach Randy Wittman put his franchise point guard in a position to succeed next year? The answers after the jump.
A large part of the problem with the Wizards' pick and rolls has been a lack of an ideal partner for Wall. JaVale McGee, although he was successful as a roll man, was rarely involved in pick and rolls, with them making up only 6.9 percent of the offensive plays he was involved in during his time with the Wizards last year. While he was a good finisher around the basket, his poor screening ability hampered Wall's development and more likely than not led to quite a few turnovers, because the poor screens by McGee made it easier for defenders to quickly trap the still relatively inexperienced Wall.
Trevor Booker, Nene, and Jan Vesely are all less than perfect fits, too, as the undersized Booker is still not a particularly skilled offensive player while Vesely and Nene seem to be far more comfortable as cutters rather than typical roll men. Although, in Vesely's case, he may eventually develop into a good pick and roll partner and, as Jordan discussed earlier today, and he has already shown the ability to use his athleticism to score on pick and rolls that a less gifted player might be unable to.
Emeka Okafor and Kevin Seraphin actually are natural pick and roll men, though. While Seraphin has very little in common with Okafor stylistically or physically, they're actually shockingly similar in terms of their effectiveness on pick and rolls, ranking 26th and 27th in the league in points per possession year. While neither is particularly explosive around the basket -- most great pick and roll bigs are -- both have a relatively soft touch and can set good screens.
While Okafor ran the play more often, with 26.5 percent of his possessions last year coming on pick and rolls, Seraphin is the more natural partner for Wall next season. Seraphin is hardly a pick and pop player, still preferring to get most of his points off of post ups, garbage buckets and the occasional pick and roll, yet he's shown flashes of a jump shot. Albeit in very few attempts, Seraphin shot 40 percent on shots from 10 to 15 feet last year, indicating that defenders should at least respect his jumper from this distance. Perhaps even more telling as far as his long-term development, he's a career 68 percent free throw shooter. While this isn't a great percentage, it's acceptable for a raw big man and not that far off from where Amar'e Stoudemire, arguably the best roll man of the last decade, was at the same age. While there's no guarantee that Seraphin develops the kind of jumper necessary to become a truly great pick and roll player, it's hardly inconceivable.
While Washington lacks a pure jump shooting big man to help space the floor for a Wall pick and roll, they don't necessarily need to go small in order to create the requisite space around the basket for a dive man. While Vesely and Nene aren't pure shooters from midrange, they're great at moving without the ball, giving Wall and his roll man an excellent target for an extra or unexpected pass. In fact, when the off-ball movement and passing abilities of Nene or Vesely combine with a Wall/Seraphin (another solid passer) pick and roll with good spot up shooters on either side of the floor, Washington might actually be able to put together one of the league's better pick and roll attacks.
But an improved pick and roll attack won't solely require improvements from Wall and the bigs. Washington's spacing was atrocious last year, with the team finishing 28th in the league in three point shooting percentage and with no jump-shooting big men. Keeping Bradley Beal and either Martell Webster or Cartier Martin on the floor with Wall will help the team's spacing a great deal. Chris Singleton and especially Trevor Ariza lack the accuracy from behind the arc to help space the floor for Wall, although they're a bit more accurate from the corners. Ideally, the pick and roll could happen at the elbow, with Beal spotting up on the opposite elbow and one of the small forwards in the corner.
John Wall is still the Wizards' best player and the team needs to continue to build its offense around him. While he's struggled up to this point with the pick and roll, it's an essential skill for his development from rising star to superstar, and Washington needs to ensure that he has all of the tools in order to run it to perfection. Washington's offense was abysmal last year, and without any pure one on one scorers for their finishers to play off of, they'll be equally bad next year without a vastly improved pick and roll attack.