We'll be evaluating each Wizards player, as well as coach Randy Wittman, in this series.
Previously: Bradley Beal | Trevor Ariza | Trevor Booker | Marcin Gortat | Al Harrington | Randy Wittman | Drew Gooden | Andre Miller | Nene | Otto Porter | Glen Rice Jr. | Kevin Seraphin | Chris Singleton | Garrett Temple | Martell Webster.
The franchise took a leap of faith with John Wall last offseason, designating him their five-year max player a year before they really had to do so. From the looks of it, it was an easy decision by Ted Leonsis, one that paid off ten-fold as Wall turned in an All-Star year while leading the team into the playoffs for the first time in six years.
What were our preseason expectations?
I can't think of many players under more pressure to succeed than Wall. He finally put it all together in his third season, but it came in just half a season of work and only after he was cleared to play following a very serious stress injury in his right knee. There were real concerns over his frantic playing style and whether he'd hold up over the course of a full regular season and playoffs.
How did his performance square with those expectations?
A 2-7 start to the season will induce a lot of panic. The Wizards were drubbed in the opener against the Pistons, and Wall took a lot of heat for Will Bynum's 19-point outburst. They squandered a 10-point lead in a loss to the then 2-0 Sixers two nights later, and Wall was rendered ineffective after a brilliant first half as he suffered through back spasms. A loss to the Heat and a Randy Wittman bomb later, things looked incredibly bleak.
But then something weird happened: Wall went 5-8 from long distance. in the next game You'd have to go back to his rookie year to see him come close to that many attempts. He made the Sixers pay for helping off him, and while it served as just a blip for the first month or so of the season, it posited something much bigger in the grand scheme of things. Wall needed to be taking multiple threes a game, if only to keep defenses honest.
And in March, those early-season attempts bore fruit. He shot over 45-percent from three, and the more inattentive defenses began to go over some of his screens. That's unheard of for a player than made a combined 15 threes in his previous two seasons. But when you're that hot from the field, defenders will go with their instincts over the scouting report, and it opened up the rest of John's game.
He was among the league leaders in almost every statistical category when it comes to passing. He led the league in total assists, fourth in total passes per game, and third in points created by his assists per game.
But they're not without their caveats. Wall was just 37th in drives per game per NBA.com's SportsVU data despite his blazing speed. He settled for jump shots when he didn't need to and prematurely passed it off instead of taking the ball to the basket. Maybe it helped him play every game of the season, but it certainly hurt an offense than often sputtered along for long stretches without anyone drawing in the defense.
Nothing was more closely examined than his defense. It's always a hotbed for discussion among the top players in the league, especially ones that shoulder a load as heavy as Wall's. It's not practical to expect maximum effort out of him when he sparks so much fast break opportunities. I thought Randy Wittman did a good job of masking some of his deficiencies against quicker guards by deploying him as a ballhawk more on the weak side. There were games where he played lockdown defense, like the half against MCW or his breakout performance against George Hill in the playoffs, but there plenty of more performances like the opener to Will Bynum and the Pistons that leaved you disappointed.
How did he step up (or down) in the playoffs?
Wall's shooting regressed in his first taste of the playoffs. His field goal percentage dipped to 37-percent, and he made just 7 threes in 11 playoff games.
The more concerning issue came with how he was being used. The offense ran through Bradley Beal for large stretches of fourth quarters, and Wall was left stranded along the perimeter. He's never been much of an off-ball cutter, and the Wizards offense was often constricted to one side of the floor with little motion and misdirection.
And Wall took a lot of jumpers. Over 56-percent of his attempts came from midrange or three, and when he did drive to the hoop, he was often stymied by George Hill cutting him off. It just didn't look like he had the same burst he did during the regular season.
Final Grade: B+
I don't know if you can classify this as a leap into superstardom, but it was a huge leap. He looked more confident shooting threes and emerged as an elite passer by all accounts. He's developed a niche within Wittman's defensive schemes, and with an improvement from Beal, could potentially be more devastating as he switches onto both guard positions on defense.
This was his first taste of the playoffs, and he just so happened to go up against the two best pick and roll defenses in the entire league. I won't let that detract from what was a stellar season.