John Wall is having an outstanding individual season. He’s averaging career highs in points per game, field goal attempts per game, free throw attempts per game, and steals per game. You can make an argument that Wall is on the way to the best season of his NBA career.
At the same time, there’s an argument to be made Wall is off to the worst start of his career when you view his season through the frame of the team’s dismal start. The Wizards are 7-13, currently holding down the 12th spot in the Eastern Conference.
The frustrations the Wizards have dealt with this season have forced everyone to think long and hard about what ails the team this season. One that seems to pop up from time to time is the idea that John Wall is padding his stats, putting a higher emphasis on making his numbers look good rather than helping the Wizards win.
It’s a nice, convenient theory that helps people make sense of what’s going on this season, but it doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. Here are a few reasons why the “John Wall is padding his stats” narrative doesn’t make sense.
Wall doesn’t have any reason to make his numbers look good this season
John Wall doesn’t hit free agency until 2019. It’s a little too early for him to be worried about trying to earn his next big free agent deal. And remember, thanks to the Wizards’ cap situation, the team isn’t in a position to offer him a contract extension in the near future.
Even if you wanted to make the argument he was trying to pad his numbers to help him earn another shoe deal, you have to remember why people buy shoes in the first place. People aren’t shopping for shoes based on who is improving their per game averages, they want to be connected with winners.
Wall isn’t improving his raw numbers, he’s improving his efficiency
Is John Wall taking more shots than ever? Sure, a whole 1.5 more than last season. But even though he’s shooting more, he’s also making shots at a better rate than he ever has in his career. His three point percentage, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage are all at career-highs this season. He’s also getting to the free throw line at a better rate than he did when the Wizards were making their playoff runs. Granted, he still isn’t the most efficient scorer in the world, but people weren’t accusing him of trying to pad stats when the team was winning even though he wasn’t shooting nearly as effectively as he is now.
And you can’t accuse Wall of hogging the ball either. According to NBA.com’s Player Tracking, Wall is averaging 89.4 touches per game after averaging 98.7 per game last season. As a result, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter have gotten more opportunities to do work with the ball and they’re growing because of it.
The Wizards are still playing really well when Wall is on the floor
If Wall was just out to pad his stats, surely it would show up in how he’s performed with the guys he played with last season. Washington is outscoring opponents by 8.7 points per 100 possessions when Wall is on the floor with the other team’s starters. Last season, the same unit only outscored opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. So the starters are actually doing better with Wall than they were last season.
When you break out how Wall performs with each player as part of a two-man unit, it’s pretty clear what’s going on with the team: The bench just is just awful. Wall is posting a positive plus/minus numbers with every starter and Kelly Oubre. Wall is posting big negative plus/minus numbers with everyone else he’s played meaningful time with this season. The John Wall Effect is strong, but this year we’re starting to see it can’t save everyone.
When a team is struggling like the Wizards are, no one is blameless, including John Wall. He can be too aggressive trying to make plays happen at times, he can inhibit the offense by being too conservative late in games, and his defense has tailed off a bit from what it was a couple years ago. But please, let’s stop acting like John Wall is somehow holding the Wizards back when it’s clearly the other way around.