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How John Wall built himself into the best point guard in today’s NBA

NBA: Washington Wizards at New York Knicks

(Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports)

One year after making his first All-Star appearance, John Wall has been selected as the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

Please welcome our newest contributor, Irfan K, who makes his Hoop District debut by explaining how John Wall built himself into the best all-around point guard in the NBA.


Let’s get this out of the way immediately: I like my point guards to be point guards. Magic Johnson. John Stockton. Rod Strickland. Guys who make their teammates better, pick their spots, and know how to subtly dominate an entire game in the dark, and still take over a game under the spotlight. Guys who control the first 43 minutes, and own the last 5 minutes.

Guys like John Wall.

Now, this is where any non-homer NBA fan should stop me. This is where you should say, “ok, fine, guys like John Wall…but also guys like Stephon Curry, and Damian Lillard, and Russell Westbrook, and Kyle Lowry. And what about Tony Parker, and Mike Conley, and Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose and Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on the same team?” And on and on (I apologize to you Kyrie Irving fans, but I can’t have my point guard doing this to his coach). We’re in the midst of what is being called the “Golden Age” of point guards in the NBA.

And yet, John Wall is the guard taking things platinum.

Guys who make their teammates better. What exactly does that mean? Allen Iverson’s teams won more games with him than they would have without him, so he made his teammates better at winning right? Well, not exactly. Josh Smith’s shooting make his teammates better rebounders just by the sheer volume of potential offensive rebounds he creates, but no one is going to say this makes his teammates better. The answer comes down to efficiency. Making your teammates better means that you put your teammates in position to be their most efficient, to maximize their production in their time on the court, and in turn maximize the team’s performance to maximize wins. The magic is in efficiency. For point guards, the magic is in increasing your teammates’ efficiency, and this is where John Wall’s Wizardry is on full display.

Exhibit A:Three-point shooting

Modern NBA analytics puts a premium on 3-point shooting. Everyone in the league is now evaluating players and playing styles with a focus on 3-point shooting (except for Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, naturally). The Wizards are no different. “But John Wall can’t shoot threes!” Yes, but he sure as hell can set them up. Wall not only leads the league in assists, but he leads all point guards in assists that lead to 3-point shots. There’s a reason Martell Webster is no longer an NBA journeyman, and why Rasual Butler has resurrected his NBA career, and that reason (no offense to Randy Wittman) is John Wall. He puts his teammates in positions for them to be successful, and then puts the ball in their hands and watches them succeed.

Exhibit B: The Corner 3

John Wall doesn’t simply set-up his teammates for 3s, but he sets them up for corner 3s. And based on modern NBA analytics, the corner 3 is the most efficient shot in basketball. And guess who leads NBA point guards in assists that lead to corner 3s? That’s right! John Wall. Remember Trevor Ariza? There’s a reason the Houston Rockets and GM Darryl Morrey, one of the first and biggest proponents of advanced analytics, paid Ariza a lot of money this summer. A big part of that reason is John Wall.

Exhibit C: Fast-Break Points

Fast break points are efficient. John Wall gets a lot of them and creates a lot of them. John Wall is quick, and #QuickAintfair.

So John Wall is a passing wizard? But what about his shooting? And if we’re talking about efficiency, what about his 3 point shooting?

The questions are valid, and although Wall has greatly improved his 3 point shooting, he is no where near the level of Damian Lillard and Stephon Curry, possibly his main challengers for the “Best Point Guard In the League” title right now. Wall is certainly not in their galaxy as a shooter, but neither Curry nor Lillard can distribute nearly at the level Wall does to elevate their teammates’ performance. However, this all brings us to the keystone in the Wall argument..

Exhibit D-fense:

Among all point guards in the NBA, none is as gifted a two-way player as John Wall. He plays hard, he moves his feet, he takes charges when needed, he blocks shots, and he gets steals without gambling (unlike Curry and Westbrook). In a league full of dominant point guards, Wall is rare in his ability to neutralize the opponents’ point guard, and in many cases, their best player. His quick hands frustrate ball handlers, his quick feet traumatize opponents trying to drive, and his explosive burst into passing lanes turn would-be good passes into easy fast break points for Washington. Additionally, Wall is able to balance this defense within the scheme of the team, rarely failing to close out on shooters or miss rotations. On defense, he truly guards, as opposed to being the guard the rest of the team must compensate for. He puts up a wall (pun intended) individually, and contributes to the overall defensive success. Just like on offense, all of the Wizards are better defensively when John Wall is on the court.

This, perhaps beyond anything else, is what brings John Wall to the forefront of today’s NBA point guards. He does not just make his teammates better on one end, but on both ends. On offense he is the great Wall. But on defense, he is a major factor in what is becoming the Great Wall of Washington. Defense wins championships.

Courtesy of John Wall, the Wizards might be closer than we think.

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