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History shows it will be hard for John Wall to get back to All-Star form

NBA: Boston Celtics at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Forget the contract. It’s expensive. It’s painful. It’s pointless to talk about beyond acknowledging its existence because there’s nothing the Wizards can do about it.

Forget the blame game too. Ernie Grunfeld is gone. Almost anyone who’d get hired to run an NBA team would have made the same move. The same summer John Wall signed the extension, I spent seven minutes on the #SoWizards podcast with Ben Becker ticking off a series of reasons why giving Wall a supermax extension was a bad move and concluded by saying, “I’d have done it too.”

What matters now is what production the Wizards can get from John Wall when he’s able to get back on the court. This is a critical evaluation because it will drive how they prioritize building the rest of the roster.

To get a sense for how Wall might perform over the next few years, I researched (with the help of some friends on Twitter) NBA players who dealt with a situation similar to Wall’s — All-Star level performers who missed at least half of their team’s regular season games in two or more consecutive seasons because of injuries or illness — and then returned to full-time action.

Right away, notice this omits players who suffered a serious injury and never made it back to full-time action. Think guys like Brandon Roy, Isiah Thomas, Yao Ming, Greg Oden, Clark Kellogg, and Brad Daugherty. They’re not part of this analysis because there’s not much to be learned except for something we already know: Wall might not recover and he may never return as a full-time player.

These criteria also leave out some good, but not All-Star level guys who fit the injury and time-missed pattern, as well as players who suffered major injuries but missed significant time in only one season such as Paul George and Gordon Hayward. That’s because by the time Wall returns to action he’ll have missed at least half of the Wizards’ regular season games in three consecutive seasons, and I’m trying to get a read on what effect injuries plus extended time missed has on a player.

The following players met the criteria:

  • Tracy McGrady
  • Elton Brand
  • Bill Walton
  • Alonzo Mourning
  • Grant Hill
  • Tiny Archibald
  • Kobe Bryant
  • Fat Lever
  • Derrick Rose
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas
  • Antonio McDyess
  • Bernard King
  • Ron Harper
  • Gilbert Arenas
  • Bill Cartwright
  • Sean Elliott

For this analysis, I used my metric, Player Production Average. In PPA, average is 100 and higher is better. If you’re so inclined, feel free to run a similar analysis using other metrics. The results likely will be similar. This group had an average peak PPA of 188 (Wall’s is 165); a 167 PPA in their last full season before the injury that put them out of action (Wall: 165); and a three-year PPA of 160 (Wall: 153).

On average, when these players got back on the floor, their production dropped 91 PPA points from their peaks; 70 points from their last full season, pre-injury; and 62 points from their preceding three years. In other words, All-Star level performers who suffered injuries and missed at least half their games in two or more consecutive seasons returned to action at or below league average.

Several of the players improved somewhat in years two and three after their extended absence, but every player experienced a drop in production whether comparing post-injury performance to peak, last season pre-injury or their pre-injury three-year average.

The biggest drop off was by Gilbert Arenas, whose PPA fell 132 points to below replacement level. Next biggest was Tiny Archibald at 101 points. The smallest decline belongs to Alonzo Mourning, whose production fell just three points. However, Mourning’s last full season before his kidney transplant was one of his worst (PPA: 135), and the drop from his three-year average was 42 points.

Availability wasn’t a major problem for most of the players in this group: while they appeared in fewer games after returning from injury, they still averaged 73 games in the first full season of their comebacks, and 71 in the three-year average after their injured periods.

Applying average effects to Wall suggests he’s likely to be a below average producer (PPA: 87) when he returns. What might be the final three years of his career projects to rate around 90. That would make him a useful player in the right role, but it would be unwise to plan for him to return at or near All-Star level. As such, the Wizards would be smart to search for a starting-caliber point guard if they hope to compete for a spot in the playoffs over the next four seasons.