Tag Archives: russell westbrook
Being a point guard in the NBA is a lot like being a quarterback in the NFL in that there is an immense learning curve. Point guards, as a whole, just don’t come into the NBA as competent, All-Star level players. The adjustment period from slow, slapping-the-floor-on-defense, laterally inept college guards to the supersonic speed of players like Derrick Rose at the professional level can be lengthy. The intricacies of the game such as clock management, speed changes, transition positioning, and effective pick and roll offense is very difficult to learn in 82 games. That sort of thing is difficult to learn in 164 games, even. There are always exceptions to the rule, but the general trend is that point guards take time.
Take Steve Nash, for example. A two-time MVP, 8-time All-Star, and almost a lock to make it to the Hall of Fame. Nash didn’t even average double-digit point totals until his 5th season in the NBA. Granted, he was injured part of the time and served as a backup for two seasons, but one of the best shooters of our generation shot 36% from the field in his third season. Nash is one of the top floor generals in the game now, even at 38 years old, but he never started out being an absolute monster until much later in his career.
Chauncey Billups was even worse. An NBA Champion and Finals MVP with 5 All-Star appearances took literally eight years in the league before he finally landed a consistent starting job. He bounced around in Boston, Toronto, Denver, and even Minnesota, playing pretty inconsistent basketball because he wasn’t a spectacular shooter. Then he landed in Detroit at 26 years of age, and the ended up beating Kobe, Shaq, and the rest of the Lakers in the NBA Finals. It took him 3 seasons to even shoot over 40% in the NBA, which isn’t necessarily what you want from a third pick, overall.
Jason Kidd, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul, none of those great guards even figured it out until their third season, which brings us to the new rule I’m going to establish in making my case for John Wall taking astronomical leaps next season as a player. The Year Three Rule means that any point guard worth his salt is going to take an enormous leap forward in his third season. If he doesn’t, then that player is going to end up, at best, a floor manager and not a superstar. In establishing my argument for John Wall, I’ll lean on a player who has a very similar history to Wall in Russell Westbrook.
Russ Westbrook, or recently known as the guy who “put da team on his back” and led the Thunder during Game 4 of the NBA Finals with 43 points, is incredibly close to John Wall based on projections. The similarities are almost too hard to ignore statistically speaking (not necessarily aesthetically).
Player A Year 1 (Age 20): 15.3 PPG, 5.3 AST/g, 4.9 Reb, 3.3 TO
Player BYear 1 (Age 20): 16.4 PPG, 8.3 AST/g, 4.6 Reb, 3.8 TO
Player A Year 2: 16.1 PPG, 8.0 AST/g, 4.9 Reb, 3.3 TO
Player BYear 2: 16.3 PPG, 8 AST/g, 4.5 Reb, 3.9 TO
Would you guess Player B, whom you might consider the better of the two, to be John Wall? Not using any advanced statistics at all, these two players had by and large incredibly similar box scores night in and night out during their first two years in the league. The important factor in this is age, as both Wall and Westbrook were twenty years old coming into the league, and thus hold very similar trajectory paths for potential growth. Wall led in points and assists despite having severely inferior talent set up around him. The similarities between the two are so uncanny because, I believe, they have one thing in common: their athleticism.
Both Wall and Westbrook can easily get by being slightly above average NBA players based solely on their unique athletic abilities. Westbrook happens to be a slasher without a conscience who can get to the rim at will and slam on 7 footers any time he’d like to. Wall, on the other hand, has such fast breakaway speed that on any given night he can score 10 points strictly on being faster than everyone else. Their physical attributes are what make them similar, despite being different in type and form. With these skills both players were able to pick up the reigns at a much quicker rate because at that speed, no game is played too fast. Westbrook and Wall were already at the speed the NBA plays at, so they didn’t necessarily have to make that adjustment. Add in the fact they both get to the line about 6 times a game, and you’ve got their averages. It’s not that hard to do (relatively speaking) when you’re Wall and Westbrook-type athletes.
What held these two back in their first two years was their shooting. Neither one could shoot worth a darn their first two seasons, as evidenced by their abysmally low shooting percentages from basically anywhere on the floor. Wall shot 40% and 42% from the floor in years one and two, and Westbrook wasn’t far behind shooting 39% and 40%, respectively. Their True Shooting percentages (which takes into account two pointers, three pointers, and free throws) weren’t all that great, either; Wall was at 49% and 50% in year one and two, while Westbrook struggled around 49% both seasons. For comparison’s sake, Shannon Brown and Jamal Crawford hover around the 50% level consistently, whereas Kyrie Irving was at an ungodly 56% last year. Again, their freakish athleticism allowed them to skirt by without hitting three pointers or long two’s.
The statistical evidence backs this assertion up, too, as the bulk of Wall’s shots came from either getting to the rim (5.3 attempts and 5.8 attempts per game year one and two) or settling for long two pointers from 16-23 ft. (4.2 attempts and 4.4 attempts). Unfortunately for Wall, hitting 30% of shots from 16-23 feet both seasons means your jumper hasn’t improved at all. He settled from jumpers that didn’t go in when he wasn’t slashing, and it’s likely because he knew his game was one dimensional.
Westbrook was the same story: 5.7 and 5.6 at the rim shots per game in years one and two, hitting at a high rate. From 16-23 ft, though, 3.2 and 3.7 attempts per game, hitting only 38% and 37% from that range. The numbers are mildly better, but it doesn’t mean that either player had developed a jumper at that point. Westbrook took less shots from longer range and made more of them, but Scott Brooks will tell you his jumper wasn’t anything to write home about. I’m not trying to force the comparison by any stretch, but it’s true that neither really had a good jumper.
On the brighter side of things, as a passer Wall definitely holds the advantage by a pretty substantial margin, both in per game average and in percentages. Wall’s assist percentages (the estimate percentage of field goals assisted by a player while he’s on the court) in year one and two were 36% and 36.9%, whereas Westbrook was at a very low 27.5% in year one to 38.6% in year two. Again, for a comparison Chris Paul was at 38% and 41% years one and two, but someone like Jrue Holiday was at 24% and 29%. Wall’s usage rate was slightly lower than Westbrook’s too, which means he was a bit more efficient as a passer.
So when all the statistical jargon is out of the way, where does that lead us with how John Wall might progress in year three? Well, assuming he can start hitting his midrange jumper even remotely better, it’s going to be an incredibly good year for Mr. Wall.
Westbrook turned into a supernova in year three; his game literally exploded in every way as he shot to stardom as the best young point guard not named Derrick Rose. 22 PPG, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 23.6 PER (up from 17.6; league average is 15). Westbrook started hitting three pointers at a passable 33% (up from 22% the year before), which was more than enough to open up the floor for him to slash even more. The extra shots at the rim (he upped his number from 5.6 to 6.8) gave him more free throw attempts which led to more points in total. Westbrook started converting 60.4% of his shots at the rim, too. And guess what? John Wall already does that. It’s hard to argue that Wall isn’t already the most effective player in the league at finishing.
Westbrook took the huge leap because he played to his strengths and managed to knock down shots away from the rim at a good enough rate that defenses had to play him differently. If Wall can do that exact same thing, he’s already looking at being ahead of Westbrook in terms of potential. Seeing as those two are so similar, it’s not outlandish to believe that might happen. Wall is a phenomenal talent, and while everyone wants their number one draft pick to come in right away and be a superstar, realistically with point guards that is not the case. As has happened in the past with Rondo, Kidd, Nash, Paul, and Rose, given time, the progression between good guard and great guard will take (at least) until year 3. I’m convinced with Wall that the year three leap is going to be one worth waiting for.