John Wall is already an All-Star point guard and one of the best in the league at his job.
He sees things that other players cannot. He knows how to thread the needle with passes that most point guards couldn’t even dream of. He’s probably the fastest player in the league from end to end and in the halfcourt.
He consistently creates opportunities for corner threes, the most valuable shot in the modern game, at a better rate than almost anyone else in the league. He also continues to be one of the league’s leading assist men.
But for Wall’s game to continue to improve, he has to trust his teammates to make him better just as he does for them.
Wall is a solid scorer. He’s averaged 18 points per game over his career on 43 percent shooting from the floor, but his scoring is more about volume than efficiency. Wall has averaged 15.3 shots per game over his career. But he’s never had an offensive rating over 104.6, according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool. His career true shooting percentage is just 51.3 percent, which is right around league average.
Last season, Wall averaged 19.9 points with a 51 percent true shooting percentage and a 47 percent effective field goal percentage. Despite these average numbers, Wall has one of the highest usage percentages in the league at 28.6 percent. He also led the league in touches with 98.7 per game. Yet, he only scored .206 points per touch.
Wall’s scoring totals and efficiency aren’t a huge deal. His game centers around feeding teammates valuable shots and finding quick opportunities in transition behind his speed. But the Wizards have never had an offense in the top half of the league in terms of points per 100 possessions. Much of that is due to the coaching philosophies of Randy Wittman, but Wall’s inability to consistently find his jump shot and his struggles with scoring efficiency don’t help matters here.
To improve his individual offense, and the team’s offense, Wall needs to be able to play off of the ball more. Wall has to be considered a threat when someone else is handling the ball.
Both Bradley Beal and Otto Porter have proven themselves as capable ball handlers in pick and roll situations. Porter has a knack for creating space and hitting elbow jumpers off of screens. Beal likes to use rescreens and different cuts off of handoffs to create space for jumpers and, to a lesser extent, some of his drives.
But there are times when the lane becomes muddled because of a non-threatening John Wall standing in the corner or above the break without immediately cutting with the ball. Here’s one example:
Beal gets the ball to work from the wing and initiates a side pick and roll from Jared Dudley moving toward the center of the ball. Jimmy Butler, Beal’s man, sags back on Dudley enough to open up a bit of a lane for Beal. But Derrick Rose is able to close the lane immediately with his help off of Wall.
It’s easier to help off of an opponent when you know the player is too far away from the play to do anything useful offensively. Even when Wall is in the corner, players are willing to live with the ball being kicked out to him because of his inconsistent jumper.
Let’s be clear: Wall’s catch-and-shoot ability is not bad. It just isn’t good either. According to NBA.com’s player tracking tool, Wall scores 2.9 points per game on 2.6 catch-and-shoot opportunities per game. And all of his catch-and-shoot opportunities come from the three point line.
So it makes sense that teams are willing to live with Wall shooting outside jump shots rather than guarding the pick and roll in a two on two concept. But there are more ways than one to be effective off of the ball.
In spot up situations, defenders have the tendency to ball-watch. They’re paying attention to the ball handler and waiting for an opportunity to help. Wall could make himself accessible by backcutting when defenders do this.
The Wizards could either throw in scripted players to work him open like the one in the video above, or Wall can work off of the ball himself when opponents sneak over to help on other action.
What isn’t clear here is whether Wall is actually good in converting these opportunities. He shoots about league average at the rim at 55 percent and is one of the fastest players in the league. He should be able to work himself open quite well. But it isn’t a role he’s been asked to play up to this point.
On top of the easy looks at the rim Wall gets from his speed in transition, he should be one of the best finishers in the league. But he isn’t. That’s something that may just be an issue he’s not able to work through.
According to NBA.com’s Synergy tool, Wall only had 12 scoring attempts on cuts throughout the season. In those attempts, he scored just .94 points per possession — not a high mark at all.
A similar situation works itself out with Wall playing off of screens. He only logged 23 shot attempts working off screens this year and scored just .79 points per possession.
So it looks like there is a lot of work to be done with Wall in these opportunities. But should he find a way to make it a useful part of his game, he’ll be able to catch defenses off guard as a scorer. His teammates will have to do a lot more work with the ball, but for Wall and the Wizards to improve, he’ll have to trust them to succeed.