As the season has gone on, it is becoming increasingly clear that John Wall has emerged as one of the top point guards in the league. Whether it's his improved jump shot, his passing ability, his defense or his emergence as a prober of defenses, Wall has become a household name and a legitimate MVP candidate in the nation's capital, building on his season last year where he emerged as the Wizards leader.
Even with his noted improvement last season, he has been even better on offense this season, thanks to a few tweaks in his game. One of those tweaks is his shot distribution.
One of the aspects of John Wall's game that we and others criticized the most was his tendency to shoot a lot of mid range of jumpers. Wall has been working on that shot for years, but there were some questions on whether he went too far to the extreme in terms of making that shot a staple of his game to the point where it hurt his efficiency. However, strangely enough, a higher percentage of Wall's attempts have come from mid range this year than they did last year, and he's taking less significantly less threes. Here are the shot distribution charts:
45.1 percent of Wall's attempts this year have been from mid range, as opposed to 39 percent last year, and only 14.1 percent of his attempts have been from 3-point range, as opposed to 22.2 percent in the previous season. Yet, Wall so far is having a career year in terms of field goal percentage, eFG percentage and true shooting percentage. What gives? Is taking less threes and operating more around the mid range area actually helping Wall's game? Well, there are a couple of factors to consider here.
1. Wall is a better mid range shooter:
Even despite his improvement, there is no doubt that John Wall was a below average mid range shooter last season. He shot 36.6 percent, below the league average of 39.5 percent, from there on a whopping 6.4 attempts a game, one of the highest rates in the league. This season, Wall has upped his improvement from that area tremendously, as he is shooting 40.4 percent, which is just above this season's league average of 39.9 percent. One of the biggest problems with Wall's mid range shooting last year is that it constituted such a big part of his game despite the fact that he wasn't actually very good at it. He's now made himself a legit threat, and intuitively, shooting better improves your efficiency.
2. Wall is taking his shots closer:
Per NBA.com, 37.2 percent of Wall's mid-range jumpers have been in the 8-16 foot range, compared to 26.9 percent last year. He's shooting shots closer to the basket, and that in turn, is raising his percentage. Now, of course, we shouldn't discount the fact that Wall has improved on those jumpers significantly, either. He shot 31 percent from 8-16 feet last year, compared to 49.5 percent this year.
That is roughly a jump from Elfrid Payton (31.7 percent from 8-16 feet), to Steph Curry (50.8 percent from 8-16 feet). Still, it makes sense why his efficiency in general would improve. If he's making a concerted effort to shoot higher percentage shots from mid range, then he'll make more of them, hence improving his efficiency.
Wall has also drastically improved at playing in the paint. He's increased the percentage of shots he's taking in the painted area outside of the restricted area from 8.2 percent last year to 9.9 percent this year. He's shooting 43.9 percent in that area this year as opposed to 26.2 percent from that same area last year.
He's improved his floater game and has been able to finish through plays with contact this season. Here's an example from a game against Orlando earlier this season.
3. Wall is getting to the rim more:
Three pointers are all the rage in an analytics-driven NBA era, but what's often forgotten about them is that, quite simply, they are farther away from the rim. This means that when the shot is taken away, there is more opportunity for defenses to recover and cut off driving lanes.
Getting to the basket is a strength of Wall's and it is made easier when he is closer to the basket. Most defenses will cede mid range jumpers, but defenders, being humans with recency bias, can sometimes react to a player that's hot from out there. In Wall's case, when he gets the defenses to bend in this respect, he has a much easier path to the rim and more opportunities to drive and get to the free throw line. He'll pull out a slick hesitation move, including his newly added "lasso" or "yo-yo" dribble, and sneak by the defense.
Wall still may take a bit more midrange jumpshots than one would like, but he's increased his productivity at the rim because of shots like that one. Here's another look at a sweet hesitation move against the Boston Celtics. Wall baits Olynyk into closing out a bit and blows by him.
Moves like those are the reason for his uptick in free throw rate in comparison to last year (.295 to .326), drives (6.5 to 6.8), and points per game off drives (4.1 to 4.4). The changes may seem small, but they add up and make Wall a more dangerous player.
Overall, it seems as if cutting down on threes and dieting more on mid range jumpers would be disastrous for a player's efficiency, but for Wall, it's worked wonders. He's improved significantly as a mid range shooter, and he's using that to his advantage to bend defenses to his whim close to the basket. We just scratched the surface by talking about improvement in his own scoring efficiency, without talking about the fact that Wall's threat to drive to the rim opens up opportunities for his teammates and maximizes his assist opportunities.
Wall's game is starting to resemble that of Chris Paul, another mid range maestro who probes defenses primarily with the threat of his killer jumper. There are some things Wall could improve on to become more efficient: cutting down on 16-23 foot jumpers early in the shot clock, driving to the basket more often than he does, and making more of an effort to draw fouls.
Take a look at how Paul darts down the middle of the floor after getting a screen and then pull up in the big man's face with his patented fade-away jump shot.
And here is Wall pulling up in a similar fashion over Tyson Chandler after delivering his own hesitation dribble in the same area.
Those are some of the things that separate Wall and Paul. Though their games are very similar at this point, Paul has pretty much mastered the style of play Wall is seemingly trying to emulate and has `used it to become one of the more efficient point guards of all time. Paul's shot distribution is eerily similar to Wall's with the exception of less shots coming at the rim and more coming from three.
But when we take a closer look at the production between the two there are some stark differences. For example, the midrange represents a similar portion of Paul's offense related to Wall, but Paul hits those shots at a much more productive clip. Here is Paul's shot percentage from each of those areas:
And now lets take a look at Wall's:
Paul is far more productive than Wall at this point, but he is one of the best three or four point guards of all time depending on who you ask. It's hard to ask for Wall to be as productive, but seeing him mirror his style with a few tweaks is a pretty good sign.
The general change in his game to cut down on threes and operate almost exclusively around the mid range area is one that has been a success, and should dictate the rest of Wall's game as he progresses throughout his career. Lets hope he's able to master it and become just as productive as Paul.