March 26, 2012 The Sophomore Wall
It’s been no secret that over the past 4 games, coinciding with the introduction of Nene to center, John Wall’s play has been flat out sub-par. Both aesthetically and by the numbers, Wall has not performed like the #1 pick. During the four-game stretch he’s shot a woeful 28.4% from the field, and made only 15 of 51 shots. On the outside, that’s really not a good sign about his cohesion with Nene since three of the four games were with him on the court. Nonetheless, perhaps there is a reason deeper than the standard “Wall and Nene don’t work that well with one another,” response that is guaranteed to come up in a bar.
The first thing I usually prescribe for a problem is looking at things logically; that unfortunately involves numbers and rational thinking, which doesn’t always get applied to sports. And I get it; people don’t get “Wale Ovechkin” tattooed onto their thighs (true story) without some sort of vested emotional interest in Washington D.C. sports. Naturally, people are going to have a hard time separating fact from emotion, but let’s try to do that anyway. So without further ado, here’s the first thing that jumps out at me in trying to solve this problem: Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and the Atlanta Hawks.
All three of these squads were playoff teams last year, and all three are going to occupy a slot this year as well. Boston has three Hall of Fame players who, while older than dirt, could still take it to the Wizards if they were wearing Orthopedics and had a walking cane. Indiana is a match up nightmare, with size at every position as well as skill. As for Atlanta, I’m pretty sure they’re Lord Voldemort to Wizards because they’ve beaten us 14 times in a row and show no signs of letting up. The reality is that when teams like Washington go up against playoff caliber opponents, no matter how well we play it probably won’t be enough. John Wall is simply a piece of the 12 man puzzle, not responsible for shouldering the load.
Another factor? His unfamiliarity with the rotation. Throwing Nene into a lineup mid season certainly has helped the Wizards, as we’ve been far more competitive with him on the court; there is still an adjustment period. Wall has the ball in his hands on just about every play, so it’s his job to become comfortable with all the players around him so he can find them when they’re hot, and conversely avoid them when they”re not. Nene has been on and off, and part of that is probably because Wall hasn’t fully meshed with him on the court yet. His turnover to assist ratio has actually gotten a lot better: for the 11 turnovers Wall has, he’s also got 29 assists. He’s calmed down quite a bit from the days of running with JaVale.
Keep in mind that with Nene on the Wiz, the floor has opened up for everyone. He’s a steady presence down low and while he doesn’t command a double team, he does require help defense, which leaves a man open a lot. Unfortunately, if that’s Wall he’s probably going to miss the shot because he’s an awful shooter. It’s actually one of the main noticeable differences in his game lately. In fact, in the 10 games before Nene came on the team Wall only shot one three pointer. With Nene? He’s already taken 4. That may not seem that much, but Wall has only taken 27 three pointers all year. Call in the Baby Effect, whatever. The fact is that Wall has taken more long two’s and three’s than previously.
Which brings me to the potentially scary part: What if John Wall is shooting badly because Nene and Kevin Seraphin clog the lane in which he is so good at driving towards? Despite not rebounding too well for his size, one thing Nene succeeds at is offensive rebounding. Seraphin is the same way, as evidenced by the 7 offensive boards he grabbed against the Celtics. Seraphin and Nene are not stretch 4′s or 5′s, they’re quick moving ogres. JaVale tended to lag behind and wait for the oop, and Andray, well, literally never stayed in the paint. Even Trevor Booker extends out to the top of the key. Perhaps it’s a bit more difficult for Wall to find open lanes (as weird as that may sound for a speedster like Wall) because of the added paint presence. That’s all I’m saying.
Do I think it’s going to be a major problem? Not really; Wall isn’t the best shooter in the first place, and if he wants to start shooting more he’s going to suffer for it statistically. The Wizards have been far more competitive lately, and everyone has played better (look at Jordan Crawford!). It may just take Wall a little longer to adjust his game accordingly. He’s a very good player, and very good players figure out how to work with other very good players. The Great Wall of Chinatown is unselfish enough for things to work out just fine.