Washington Wizards: John Wall, Nene, and a Reason for Cautioned Optimism

April 21, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Washington Wizards center Nene (42) against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Perusing the basketball web into the earliest hours of the morning before bed last night led me to this video of John Wall casually playing one-on-one against Tyrek Coger, a marginal division one prospect from the high school class of 2013.  There’s nothing to be learned from that clip, but it encouraged me to dig deeper into Wall’s brief, up-and-down, two-year career as the point guard of the always-mercurial Washington Wizards.

Wall’s game didn’t take the jump many thought it would last season.  He still couldn’t hit a jumper to save his life, his high turnover rate from his rookie year spiked just a bit more, and even his assist rate dipped, too.  Wall’s PER jumped to a very solid 17.77, though, and his defensive rating and per-36 minute +/- were much better.  So even though he didn’t develop in his sophomore season the way hyper-athletic point guard predecessors Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook did, Wall was still a better overall player his second year in the league than he was in his first.

By far the most problematic area of Wall’s is his glaring, glaring lack of a jumper.  He shot just 3-42 (7%) from three-point range last year, and an absolutely abysmal 29.7% from everywhere on the floor outside the restricted area.  Wall doesn’t just need to find a perimeter shot, he needs to find an in-between and closer one too.  But those things can be developed, and Rose and Westbrook are as good an example as any of that.

So what struck me most in analyzing the numbers of Wall and the Wizards in general last season was the impact the trade for Nene had on the team.  Getting rid of the influence of Javale McGee and Andray Blatche this season should help Wall, but even more so is adding that of the veteran Brazilian center.  Nene played just 11 games for Washington last year due to injury but thrived when he was on the floor.  His personal numbers and the overall effect he had on a young Wizards roster is glaring to say the least – see for yourself.  All that even translated into wins for the Wizards, too, as Nene went 7-4 in a Washington uniform including five consecutive wins to end the year.  That needs to be taken with a grain of salt because of the small sample size and state of the league at the time (hello tanking!), but it’s worthy of mention nonetheless for an organization so badly needing just a glimmer of hope.  And maybe better than all of that is the early synergy developed between Washington’s two best players.  Wall and Nene had an undeniably positive influence on each other last season, evidenced by their individual and team-wide statistics when the two of them played together.

So there’s reason to be sort of excited for the Wizards this season.  Surrounding Wall with legitimate NBA talent that plays hard and the right way is a good enough start, and given the way he played with Nene last year and how his game seems to fit on paper with prized rookie Bradley Beal it’s easy to imagine Wall breaking out in his third season whether his jumper improves much or not.  And if it does, don’t be surprised to see he and the Wizards perform well above preseason expectations.