"When the opportunity of a lifetime presents itself; you must take advantage in the lifetime of that opportunity." - Eric Thomas
OK, maybe this isn't an opportunity of a lifetime per se. But with Kyrie Irving missing the beginning of the season; this is an enormous opportunity for John Wall to show all media members and NBA fans not located in Washington, D.C. that he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.
Both Wall and Irving are fast. Both are at their best with the ball in their hands. And both guys were drafted with the top overall pick in back-to-back years so it is obvious that these guys would be compared against each other. However, whenever a debate comes up, the lots of NBA writers (Irving received 112 votes in All-NBA voting last season, Wall got 50), coaching staffs (we're looking at you Coach Krzyzewski and the other Team USA coaches), and some NBA fans feel Irving is the better player.
During his first few seasons, the knock on Wall was that he couldn't stay healthy and that he always played at 100 MPH. His development into a star point guard wasn't happening as quickly as people would have hoped so folks started doubting his maturity and wondered if he'd ever develop into the All-Star player we all envisioned.
Just like Wall, Irving's first two seasons were injury-riddled as he played in 51 and 59 games respectively. What's different between the two is that Irving got a pass. Irving's maturity and potential to evolve into an elite point guard were never in doubt even though the Cavs were just as horrendous as the Wizards in his first three seasons. Irving never came close to sniffing the playoffs in his first three seasons and now that LeBron is in Cleveland, he still hasn't had a chance to show he can lead a team to the playoffs as the main guy, but still, most people give him the nod even as Wall has led the Wizards to the second round in each of the past two seasons.
With Irving set to miss the beginning of the upcoming season, John Wall has an enormous opportunity to show that he's the best point guard in the Eastern Conference.
So how does he do it?
First and foremost, Wall must improve his jump shooting. Wall shot an improved 44.5 percent from the field last season compared to Irving's 46.8 percent. Wall has shown a consistent improvement in his jump shot over his NBA career but still has a lot of work to do to prove to everyone he can be a reliable shooter. In particular, he must improve on his pull up field goals attempts. Wall shot 37.7 percent on his pull-up attempts whereas Irving shot 41.9 percent on his pull-up jumpers. 37.7 percent isn't terrible, however it puts him in a group with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Dwayne Wade, Reggie Jackson (ouch), and Eric Bledsoe. That's not bad company to be in, however, none of those guys are considered elite scorers aside from Westbrook.
In addition to improving his shooting, Wall must get to the free throw line at a higher rate. John averaged 4.6 free throws attempts per game last season, the lowest average of his career. Does taking more jump shots rather than driving to the hole reduce the likelihood of getting fouled? Yes. But regardless, Wall needs to stay in attack mode so that he draws more fouls and attempts upwards of six or more free throws per game like he did in his second and third seasons. This will make him a much more efficient scorer.
Oh, and once he gets to the line, Wall has to convert. No more shooting less than 80 percent from the charity stripe.
It's clear that Wall's jump shot and ability to get to the line and score efficiently are what's holding him back from getting a seat at the elite point guard table. If Wall can continue to improve his jump shot, get to the line, and convert on those free throws; it will be harder to ignore the other obvious benefits Wall brings as a passer and defender.
If Wall can take that next step and become a guy who averages 20 points and 10 assists per night this upcoming season and lead the Wizards to a 2-seed or 3-seed, that will only strengthen his case as the top point guard in the Eastern Conference while Kyrie Irving continues to play the Scottie Pippen role to LeBron James.