Disappointing seasons don’t just hurt team reputations, they hurt player reputations too. One of the worst effects of the Wizards’ disappointing season has been how John Wall, the Wizards’ five-time All-Star, has become a polarizing player once again.
At the end of last season it seemed like this conversation was over. He was named an All-NBA Third Team performer and led the Washington Wizards to their best performance since 1979. People weren’t questioning his talent or his ability to lead a team. He had established himself. It was up to the rest of the organization to raise their game and build around him so the Wizards could take the next step.
That didn’t happen. Beal, Porter, and the bench made improvements, but the team as a whole struggled, including Wall, who was limited by injuries most of the season.
Then “Everybody Eats” threw another wrench into things. The Wizards got off to a great start after Wall underwent knee surgery. They won 10 of their first 13 games to keep their season alive and showed some energy after a listless first half of the season. Of course, the team wound up losing 11 of their next 16 before Wall returned, but by then it was too late. The idea that Wall was holding the Wizards back had already taken root.
Talking heads and the Twittersphere have been at it; Is Wall selfish? Does he dominate the ball? Why doesn’t he pass the ball to Otto Porter more? Should the Wizards trade him before his supermax kicks in? Is he a leader? I’m not here to defend every single point, but just to point out how quickly the tide has turned against him after it looked like he had finally silenced his critics
Where is the logic in using a 13 game sample without Wall to discredit an amazing 41 game sample with Wall last season? As I noted earlier this week, the Wizards played at a 58-win pace for half of last season.
We have a half-season where the entire starting lineup ate and ate well, while Wall was still finding opportunities for himself. He averaged 18.4 shots per game over that stretch along with 11.4 assists, which seems to indicate that he and his team can eat at the same dinner table. He doesn’t have to play a Rondo-style game for him or the team to be successful.
Wall is the only All-NBA level talent on this roster. There are players who have elite traits but Wall’s ability to draw the focus of a defense creates scoring opportunities that the rest of the roster simply can’t, no matter how well they move the ball.
So why does he keep getting so much vitriol? Frankly there are aspects of his game that don’t reconcile with what is valued in today’s game. He is a high turnover player, he takes bad shots too often, and he doesn’t shoot them well. That’s a trifecta of bad traits which are easy to quantify and criticize.
He’s also is very transparent (which you’d think would be welcome in this organization) and speaks his mind. He has openly talked about the need for a third star, an athletic center, and additional roster help. He also hasn’t shied away making brash statements. When you add in the extra scrutiny that comes with being the face of the franchise and a supermax player, it’s only natural to expect the hot takes to be fired his way.
Of course, there are still ways Wall can get better. While he should continue to be aggressive looking for his own offense, he can refine his shot selection. He also played too slow at times this year. For a player as fast as he is, there’s no reason he should be near the bottom of the list of starting point guards in average speed. When he walks the ball or stands still off the ball the Wizards become much easier to defend.
The team can also help him by providing better support. Other players need to be ready to assume some of his responsibilities and take difficult shots before Wall is forced to take nearly impossible shots at the end of the shot clock. The roster in general could use more multidimensional players who can take pressure off Wall to create so much of the offense.
This plays sums up my issues w/Otto. Beal is out, the Wiz are down 2, & he gets the ball vs Lowry, a player he has a foot on. He could have shot it over Lowry or worked a screen & roll. Instead he gives it back to Wall who is forced to create something out of nothing. pic.twitter.com/OwaXmTMH80— Oz (@OBtoojiveforyou) April 23, 2018
Scott Brooks needs to get better too. Wall is being criticized for Brooks’ lack of a Brad Stevens type system, a criticism which should actually fall on the lap of the Wizards’ $7 million per year head coach. The natural question is did “Everybody Eats” show what Brooks’ offense is capable of without a player who demands possession of the basketball, or what it just a natural extension of who was left on the roster? As we saw, the results were positive and during the 10-3 stretch of basketball which came immediately after Wall sat, the team averaged 310.2 passes per game, nearly 30 passes per game higher than their average per game prior to that point and averaged 110.4 points per game. After that stretch the passes continued to go up, but the scoring dropped to 104.7 points per game and the team went 5-9.
The last eight games without Wall (including games he sat as part of back to backs) were particularly telling. The Wizards averaged 311.9 passes per game but went 1-7, averaging 97.3 points per game. There just wasn’t a correlation between the extra passing and a more efficient offense.
That’s where we turn back to Scott Brooks. Wall has been asked to make something out of nothing a lot in Brooks’ system. As a result, there will be times where he’s forced into bad decisions or difficult shots. He’s been asked to be an agent of chaos and while there are times it works spectacularly well, there will be other times where it leads to unforced errors. It falls on the head coach to incorporate the good elements of Everybody Eats with Wall’s unique ability.
Lastly regarding the supermax, common sense says having less room under the luxury tax does make it more difficult to build around Wall. That being said, on a team where $47 million is allocated to Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi, Jodie Meeks, and Jason Smith, his impending extension isn’t the team’s biggest problem.
The Wizards need to be better around Wall and the task will be more difficult when the Supermax kicks in but we’re also moving towards a period of slower cap growth with fewer teams having money to spend. The opportunity should be there for the Wizards to right some of the wrongs of the summer of 2016, but it will be up to the front office to get it right, not blame Wall for putting them in that position.
John Wall has his flaws, and he may not ever be the best player on a championship team, but neither he or his contract should be the focus of what’s wrong with the Wizards. The team has put him in a position where he has to initiate the offense, initiate the defense, be a team leader, and the unofficial team spokesman as the front office hides in the shadows. It’s not much different from what LeBron James is asked to do every day for the Cavaliers.
The organization needs to do a better job of putting him in a position where he can succeed and in turn they need him to return to the level of play he set for himself in his All-NBA season and ideally improve on his weaknesses. They need that John Wall if they have any aspirations of contention in the Eastern Conference. Don’t let Linsanity…I mean “Everybody Eats” make you forget that.