It's taken four years to come to fruition, but the best athlete playing the point guard position has officially taken the reins as its' best defender.
It seemed preposterous that John Wall, the 6'4" point guard with world-class speed and a vertical leap higher than 95-percent of the league didn't have a stranglehold on the title. There hasn't been a matchup he's faced in his brief career where he wasn't either towering over, or at the very least, holding a distinct physical advantage over his counterpart. And for the better part of his career, he's been able to ply his trade in a system that's seeking its' third straight top-10 finish in defensive rating.
But the time has come. Washington has managed to lose two All-NBA caliber defenders in the span of two years, yet somehow find themselves fifth in total defense, allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions, better than any of their last three seasons.
Filling that void has been Wall, who's undertaken a much larger-than-expected role following Trevor Ariza's departure. He knows his team can ill-afford to see him ball-watch excessively, or get beat off-the-dribble - two afflictions that have plagued him since his rookie season. He still has those occasional blips, but they're fewer and farther between, and they don't seem to have the same demoralizing effect like in year's past.
Instead, he's morphed into a human wrecking ball on defense. Team's have loads of trouble running very standard pick and rolls against him because he seems to never be out of a play. With his near 6'10" wingspan and superlative speed, it's allowed Washington to defend such plays without having to bring an extra help defender into the fold.
That's Kris Humphries, surveying the play from the weak side, and exactly where he should be if he were to rotate over to bump the roll man diving to the rim. Wall is in no man's land -- unsure at this point if he should continue to chase Oladipo or back off and fight like hell to keep O'Quinn from getting a free run to the rim.
Oladipo, meanwhile, is running out of real estate. He's not going to finish at the rim with Marcin Gortat draped all over him, and his first outlet pass has already been taken away by Wall, who ran step-for-step with O'Quinn's roll to the hoop. His second outlet, which would be the corner, isn't available to him either since Humphries was spared from any help-side duties.
All he can do at this point is "midget" the play or loop around to the other side, but at this point he's trapped along the baseline. He salvages it somehow by getting it to his big under the basket, but Gortat is right there to contest.
The Magic try it again a minute later, this time involving Channing Frye in their double-screen set that Phoenix used to run so successfully, but it's to no avail. Wall again veers into the passing lane while Gortat funnels Oladipo under the basket, eventually leading to another trap that forces a three-seconds violation on the offense.
You'd think not having a help defender under the rim would have some sort of an underlying effect on their interior defense, especially against teams that stretch the floor with four shooters that would otherwise force Humphries to defend on the perimeter a great deal, but it's not the case. The Wizards are giving up just over 20 field goal attempts per game at the rim per NBA.com's stats page, good for the fourth lowest figure in the league, and opponents are converting 50-percent of those looks, another top-10 mark. They may lack a high-level rim protector, but they make up for it by corralling ball handlers and limiting trips into the lane.
That starts with the point guard. John covers ground so quickly, and he makes it tough to ever set a good screen on him because he's strong enough to absorb any contact while not getting bumped completely off his path.
The Clippers ran him off a pair of staggered screens up top and he still managed to recover and pin Chris Paul's layup against the backboard.
Watch it again. The second Wall comes off DeAndre Jordan's screen, he crowds Paul, and Paul reacts by lowering his shoulder into John's chest. But just as that happens, Wall manages to contort his body enough to avoid getting hit by Blake's screen, allowing him to keep pace.
He could've just as easily died on Griffin's screen, knowing there's no real impetus to chase CP3 around the floor with Nene in perfect position for the switch. But he's cutdown on short circuiting these type of plays this year and it's because he's bringing more energy and effort. It seems trite to say, but it's been transparent throughout the year, and it's a big reason why the Wizards aren't succumbing to those infamous "trap" games where they historically play down to their competition.
He's become the archetype for point guard defenders in today's game. When he locks down, he makes it so difficult to get by him. Chris Paul learned pretty quickly last Friday that he wasn't going to power his way to the hoop.
When he locks down, his reaction time is on full display, and he can make some of the best ball handlers look foolish.
And it's become commonplace for him to make one or two jaw-dropping plays a night.
He's finally found his niche. He may never develop into a consistent jump shooter, but why does it matter when he can beat you up in every other facet of the game? Save for the turnovers, there's nothing hampering him right now, and he knows now he can dominate without scoring.
There's plenty of great defenders out there -- Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Kyle Lowry just to name a few -- but none that come close to being the destructive force that John Wall is. He's on another level right now, and is poised to spearhead the Washington defense to yet another strong season.