If someone makes a living evaluating basketball players they should be, like, good at it, right? Well, a recent ESPN Insider article in which Chris Broussard asked a number of Eastern Conference front office people about John Wall's ceiling, may shed some light on how some of the league's more jaw-dropping personnel moves can happen.
Broussard spoke with two league scouts and two executives about Wall. A choice quote from each is below, along with an examination of its validity.
An Eastern Conference executive: He doesn't have good lateral moves in the half court. He's not a shooter, he's not leader, he's not a guy you can build a team around. What he is is a better version of Tyreke Evans."
Is it valid? As a scorer, yes, Wall still isn't a halfcourt player. He was a poor pick and roll player last year, can't shoot and turns the ball over too much. However, unlike Evans, Wall actually does make his teammates better. Wall's career average of eight assists per 36 minutes is almost double Evans' career average. Washington also scored 2.7 more points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor last year, something made even more impressive by Washington's lack of shot creators in the starting lineup for the majority of 2012.
A Western Conference executive: "... a lot of people around the league are blaming the situation in Washington more than they're blaming him."
Is it valid? Yes, very. Who have Wall's best teammates been through his first two full seasons of play? A frequently injured Nene, Nick Young, The Ghost of Rashard Lewis, a disgruntled Andray Blatche, Javale McGee and Gilbert Arenas. Now, compare that to the supporting casts players like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose were welcomed into the league by. More has been required of Wall than the overwhelming majority of his contemporaries, something that has probably had a negative effect on his shooting and turnover percentages while limiting his assists. That said, it's important to not use this as an excuse to write off all of Wall's flaws. There are definite holes in his game, they've just been exposed due to how completely defenses have been able to focus on him.
An Eastern Conference scout: "I see a guy who thinks 'shoot first, pass second.' Maybe that's because he's on a bad team, but I think those are his instincts -- shoot first, pass second. And I think his jumper, or his lack of a jumper, is an Achilles' heel for him."
Is it valid? At first glance, perhaps. Wall's scoring average isn't that high because he shoots a low percentage, but he does take an inordinate number of shots for a point guard. However, anyone who's watched him more than a few times can tell you that he thinks pass first and only tends to force the issue when Washington's offense breaks down. And believe me, that happens a lot when the best one-on-one scorer on the team is Young or Jordan Crawford. Even with all of the extra shots he had to take, Wall still finished last season ranked 23rd in assists per field goal attempt, ahead of Holiday and Deron Williams and only two places behind Mike Conley.
There's a difference between a scoring point guard and a point guard who can score. Wall's the latter, and it's a safe bet that Wall's assists rise and shot attempts fall now that he's playing with Bradley Beal and Nene.
Another Eastern Conference scout: "My general feeling is that Wall isn't a guy you build a team around. He's not a franchise guy. He's a very good player, but I'm getting that Steve Francis feeling. He's a very similar player to Francis. They're damn near identical."
Is it valid? Steve Francis was a great player back in the day (if you're too young to remember the best player to ever come out of Allegany College of Maryland, The Franchise was basically Russell Westbrook without the steadying influence of Kevin Durant) and a comparison to him isn't a bad thing. This would be fine and dandy if Wall played like Francis. The thing is, Wall's a pure point guard and none of the scouts seem to realize it.
Wall, with his career averages of 16.3 points and 8.1 assists per game, is a playmaking point guard. He rarely over-dribbled, at least in the way that bad point guards do, and generally got his assists as a result of a drive and kick to a three point shooter or a pass to a cutting big man for a layup. Last year Wall finished 12th among point guards in assists on shots at the rim per 40 minutes. Sure, he had the ball in his hands a lot, but Wall wouldn't have been able to produce so many of these high-value assists without decent court vision to go along with his physical gifts.
One way of measuring just how pure a point guard is, it's to look at their Pure Point Rating, a statistic that compares assists to turnovers while accounting for team pace and treating turnovers as more costly than assists are valuable. Wall finished 37th in the NBA in PPR last year, right between Kemba Walker and Monta Ellis and ahead of Jrue Holiday and Eric Maynor.
The problem with evaluating Wall's passing using a metric that accounts for turnovers is that he's in a situation in which his turnovers are bound to be high. Wall's still extremely young, is very tall for a point guard and is the focus of his team's offense, all of which push his turnovers up. Fortunately, players turnover rates tend to fall as they get older, especially if they're high usage perimeter players like Wall, and there's no reason to expect that Wall will be any different. Sure, he turns the ball over too much, but it's not a historically inordinate amount.
"Franchise player" is one of the vaguest terms in the NBA. Even if Wall doesn't become a top 10 player in the NBA, he can still function the way a franchise player should. What really separates franchise players from merely good ones is the ability to make their teammates better. There are 50 guys in the NBA who can put up points on a nightly basis, but only a handful can overwhelm a defense enough to make their less-talented teammates dangerous scorers. Wall's not quite there yet, but he's making progress and could very well get to that level.
Point guards, for whatever reason, tend to break out in their third seasons. Westbrook, Starbury, Brandon Jennings, Deron Williams and even Rose all made enormous jumps in productivity and efficiency at the point of their careers that Wall is reaching now. It's entirely possible that he's not a franchise player. However, it's reckless to jump the gun and pass judgement one way or the other on him without seeing how he does this year.
The NBA front office people think Wall's not that great. Wizards fans hope he will be. I'm still on the fence, concerned that his jumper and reliance on his quickness will prevent him from having a long, productive career. And we'll all know soon enough.