Graphic Detail: John Wall’s Overlooked Improvement

John Wall’s season is already misunderstood.

February 24, 2012; Orlando FL, USA; Team Chuck guard John Wall of the Washington Wizards (2) drives against Team Shaq during second half of the BBVA rising stars challenge at the Amway Center in Orlando. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Picked in the preseason by seemingly  every basketball writer as 2012’s Most Improved Player, huge things were expected of Wall in this, his second NBA season.  We saw the blazing speed, keen court sense, Pterodactyl arms, otherworldly athleticism, and supreme competitiveness last year when he was a rookie, and surmised Wall was a reliable jumper away from becoming one of the league’s best point guards.  It was an extra-long offseason, after all, and he’d spend tireless, repetitive hours in the gym honing his shot.

Not to mention the whole “the best thing about rookies is that they become sophomores” saying, or something like that.  We’d seen this before in his contemporaries, too; Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook used their second year in the league as a springboard to their current status as superstars.

If there was ever a time for an analyst to bolster his record of preseason predictions, this was it.  Wall was a shoe-in for MIP.  The jury’s reached a verdict.  The fat lady’s singing.  The Oscar goes to…

Then the season tipped off.

Wall’s December and January splits: 16.1 PPG/5.2 RPG /7.1 APG/39.7% FG.  Washington December and January record: 4-17.

All of a sudden, Wall’s bandwagon was empty.  The numbers were bad and the losses were worse, yes, but it’s like the basketball world forgot he was playing with the likes of Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford and while still biking through the NBA with training wheels.

Wall, it was clear now, would not only fail to win Most Improved Player this season, but also to develop into the top-flight point guard and perennial MVP candidate everyone was so sure he’d eventually become.  Wall was an athletic marvel that didn’t know how to or couldn’t develop the skills to play.  Not unlike mercurial teammate Javale McGee, actually.

Of course, those jumped-to, ill-advised conclusions about Wall were wrong, but you haven’t heard anything about it.  The NBA world’s been too swept up with Jeremy Lin, Derrick Rose’s back, and most recently Kobe’s head and face to correct a depressing if compelling narrative about one of its brightest stars failing to live up to new expectations.

And it’s a shame.

Good thing Wall’s markedly improved play over his last ten games is the profile of this week’s Graphic Detail, then.

Season on left; Since 2/6 on Right

With 31 points on 11-18 shooting on February 6 in a win over Toronto, Wall began his upward trend.  Over Washington’s last ten games, he’s averaged 20.5 points per game and shot 49.6% from the field, far above his season-long numbers of 16.9/42.5%.  How’s he doing it?

Avg. PG in black; Season in blue; Since 2/6 in red

The most common critique of Wall’s game is his inability to hit shots consistently from the perimeter, and despite a summer of work that’s still a valid concern.  Why he struggled so much from the field this season prior to February 6, though, was he couldn’t convert from 15′ and in.

For the season, Wall’s connected on 34.4% from 3-9 feet and 40.6% from 10-15 feet.  Since that fateful Canadian night, though, he’s shot almost 16 points better from the former spot and nearly ten higher from the latter.  Clearly, Wall made an adjustment to his shot from these short, sometimes confounding distances and the results have paid off.

Season in blue; Since 2/6 in red

The one aspect of Wall’s game that have lived up to preseason expectations all season are his assists numbers.  Still, we thought it worth showing that he’s improved in that aspect, too.

Rose (in red) – November and December '09; Wall (in blue) – January and February '12

Note: Points Responsible For = PPG + (APGx2).  Not entirely accurate of a specific assist’s worth (not all of them lead to just two point baskets), but telling nonetheless.

Check that out.  Maybe that puts in perspective how expected Wall’s unexpected struggles should have been.  The reigning league MVP endured a tough beginning to his second year, too.  By the time 2010 was over,  Rose was averaging 25 points per game and leading his young Bulls to the playoffs.

While Wall won’t follow in the footsteps of his superstar predecessor by leading Washington’s band of me-first chuckers to the playoffs, don’t be surprised if he not only maintains his current level of play, but builds on it as 2012 winds down.  It might not add up to a Most Improved Player Award, but will no doubt restore faith in the legions of basketball people that gave up on him way, way too early.

Advanced statistics courtesy of













Hardwood Paroxysm