As the regular season comes to an end this week, and stars begin to rest around the league in preparation for the playoffs, one question will dominate NBA conversation: Who is the league MVP?
Stephen Curry? James Harden? Russell Westbrook? Lebron James? Chris Paul? Anthony Davis?
Strong cases can be made for all of them, and no one would argue that ONE of those guys is this season’s MVP. Your choice basically comes down to what you prioritize as the most important quality/qualities an MVP should be. Best player on the best team? Player who dragged worst team to best record? Best player? Most efficient player? Most dominant force? Most Vines generated? Most memorable season? Most clutch? Really, it’s a subjective combination of everything. And I’m not here to make the case for any of them (and truth be told, I still haven’t made up my mind). I’m here to ask a different question:
Where would the Wizards be without John Wall?
In a word: NOWHERE.
Of the top six candidates for MVP, five of them are perimeter players who do the majority of the ball handling for their team, and the sixth is widely accepted to be an extraterrestrial.
So just how does John Wall compare to the five guys who fill the same role for their team as he does? Michael Smith and Jamelle Hill would tell you that Numbers Never Lie.
Creating points in the NBA is about more than just making shots. Of course, actually putting the ball in the basket is the simplest way to think about scoring. But setting up teammates to score is equally important, and can be equally versatile. All assists are not created equal.
They call him #OptimusDime
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) April 4, 2015
An assist can lead to a lay-up, or a more valuable three (or a corner three, a John Wall and James Harden specialty). A would-be assist can be negated by a foul, a foul that is then cashed in with a free throw or two. Thus, simply stating that John Wall is among the league leaders in assists is a nice fact, but doesn’t say much about what he’s REALLY doing.
Similarly, passing up a great scoring opportunity to generate an assist on a lower percentage shot (The “Rondo”) isn’t reflected too well by your standard assist numbers either. The secret is finding a balance that creates maximum scoring for your team, both by scoring yourself or setting up your teammates. Chris Paul does things one way, while James Harden does things another way. Both do things a great way.
The chart below reflects total points created by the five perimeter MVP candidates, and John Wall. (NOTE: Points created by assists includes threes, and points off of free throws from would be assists, per NBA.com)
Wait, this was supposed to be pro-John Wall! That chart is NOT pro-John Wall! Patience. You gotta take what the column gives you.
John Wall may not create more points than any of those guys, but John Wall also plays for the Wizards. The Wizards also don’t create a lot of points. Here’s another chart!
Hmmm. Do you see where this is going? Wall may not play for an up-tempo, high scoring offense, but that shouldn’t have any impact on how we assess his value. Scoring or creating a ton of points for your team is nice. But being responsible for a huge percentage of your team points is a better reflection of value.
By these numbers, John Wall’s impact on his team is comparable to all of his MVP worthy peers, albeit for a slower tempo, less explosive, less nationally televised team. The homers among us may even scream “JOHN WALL FOR MVP!, WHY NOT JOHN WALL FOR MVP?!”
But we’re not all homers. When someone has the ball as much as Wall does in the Wizards offense, you’re bound to have inflated numbers related to how important you are to your team right? I mean, Westbrook and Harden are lauded for their ability to “carry their team” but couldn’t we just as easily call them “Ball-hogs”? Maybe Wall just passes up scoring opportunities for forced assists, but is an equally ball-dominant player.
Let’s find out!
Usage is defined by NBA.com stats as “the percentage of offensive possessions that a player uses while on the court.” In layman’s terms, it means, “how much does this dude have the ball?” If you need to know what high “usage” looks like, just know this: Russell Westbrook leads the league in usage. So if you’ve seen a Thunder game, you know what a league leader in usage looks like.
Naturally, higher usage will lead to increased production. The more possessions you spend trying to score or get assists, the more you will score or get assists. Hog the ball, boost your stats. So the haters would assume that Wall just generates lots of points via shot or assist because he has the ball all the time. The haters may hate the reality.
If you didn’t just say “WHOA!” then you don’t realize what you’re looking at. John Wall ranks FIRST in assist percentage while ranking 30th in usage. Only Chris Paul is more impressive, ranking 2nd in assist percentage while ranking 57th in usage. Only Chris Paul, the best point guard of his generation. Only Chris Paul, arguably the best point guard EVER. Only Chris Paul, the Peyton Manning of the NBA.
These numbers tell you what the knowledgeable, and not necessarily homer, observer sees: John Wall is not just an awesome passer and an awesome playmaker. He’s also an awesome teammate, an unselfish passer AND an unselfish player (there’s a difference). He doesn’t pass because of highlights or stats, but because of incredible vision, talent, and basketball IQ. If you don’t believe me, trust Grantland’s Zach Lowe:
Like I said, I’m not here to discuss the league MVP. I’m not here to tell you that John Wall should be in the conversation. I’m not here to tell you that he shouldn’t be in the conversation. I’m here to inspire a different conversation, whether with your friends, with your colleagues, or with your enemies. Where would the Wizards be without John Wall?
At the bottom of the division? Worse than the Knicks? Tanking like the Sixers? Floundering like the Kings?
You already knew John Wall was the engine driving the Wizards. You didn’t need a columns worth of stats to know that. You already knew John Wall was the Wizards Most Valuable Player.
But did you realize just how awesome this guy really is? Did you realize that putting him in the MVP conversation wouldn’t be crazy? Did you realize that even with the Wizards ups and downs, naming John Wall among the league’s top three point guards would be a whole lot less crazy than NOT naming him among the league’s top three point guards.
In this absolute roller-coaster season, we’ve heard fans clamoring for a coaching change, for more threes and less twos, for more Otto and less Martell, and for #KD2DC. But at this regular season’s end, before the playoffs begin, let’s stop talking about everything we want, and take a moment to truly appreciate what we have.
We’ve got John Wall in DC. And John Wall is pretty damn great.