To pay John Wall $80 million for 5 years of his current level of production would be culpable negligence in the assault and battery of a team’s salary cap. To evaluate Wall’s New Deal along said lines, however, is a Kingfish-sized mistake.
The recently signed contracts of Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick underline a shift in player evaluation among front offices. With defenses increasingly intricate and elite offenses ever more reliant on a few, key, efficient spots on the floor, players outside the limits of the Eight Immortals of NBA Taoism find value in the efficacy of their skill sets and the ways in which they dovetail with their teammates. Korver and Redick stand as a priori examples of the 3-and-D wing who provides floor spacing and a systemic, if not cutthroat, defensive presence, with a dash of secondary or tertiary ballhandling tossed into the mix. A healthy Tyson Chandler is the prototype for a monstrously productive pick-and-roll partner on the one end and a behemoth of cordoned movement and corralled bodies on the other.
The Triforce of Courage in this synergy of skill sets is the lightning quick athleticism, Turing-based intelligence, and Hubble Ultra Deep Field 3D-level field of vision combination of an elite point guard. The current ruleset, with its lack of hand-checking, furthers the advantage of a primary ballhandler who can get to the right spots on the floor at the right time, and who can put his teammates in the right situation when they’ve put themselves in the wrong spots at the wrong time. In a neverending cycle that would make Ouroboros blush, the better Wall’s teammates are — particularly on the wing and in the middle — the better and more valuable he will be, and the better and more valuable his teammates will be in turn. Wall, isolated and bereft of context, might not be worth $80 million in the sense that he creates value on his own. Instead, the Wizards are willing to take a gamble on the expected value of the team and Wall rising in lock step. As Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, Jr. come into their own, there’s every chance that the presence of Wall will increase the marginal value they produce over their already undervalued rookie deals, and sooner than they might otherwise have grown. If Jan Vesely can become the big man he has the potential to be, or if Washington looks to acquire a more polished big before the trade deadline, then Wall’s value continues to grow. This is a gamble not just on his growth*, but on the growth of the players around him and the ways in which Wall can influence that maturation.
*Let’s be honest — it’s also about paying someone who is, by all accounts, a good locker room guy to stay somewhere that could really use a facelift when it comes to its image around the league. Paying Wall a premium now, instead of letting him dangle in RFA, sends the right message. The value of such a decision is (currently) impossible to quantify, but it stands to reason that it has at least some value in the eyes of players to whom that kind of thing matters.
And Wall is young, just shy of his 23rd birthday. If he had a jump shot to go with that bevy of basketball ability, he’d be Chris Paul, and this contract would be a no-brainer. But simply because Wall isn’t much of a shooter today doesn’t mean he can’t develop a reasonable jump shot, enough to make defenses think twice on just a few possession per game; those possessions, in turn, give rise to edges that didn’t exist before, and points that were missed in the past. Every increment, every percentage point, is a rise in the value of the player and the franchise. And Wall’s impact as a passer isn’t far off from Paul’s. All the caveats of sample size and lineup data taken into consideration, both players’ teams saw a similar drop (3.9%) in their effective field goal percentage between when their star point guards were off the court. Wall isn’t Chris Paul, but if he can become a reasonable, lesser facsimile of Jason Kidd in his prime, his contract becomes much more palatable, particularly as Washington improves the talent — and system, one would hope — around him.
There might come a day when John Wall is worth much more than he’s being paid, depending on any number of factors within and outside of his and his team’s control. More likely, perhaps, is that Wall will be paid more than his on-court numbers would justify in the eyes of many. And, of course, he might end up as the perfect pot of porridge, with a Goldilocks contract and a home to call his own (minus the bears). It’s a cascade of “what if’s” and unknowables that leads to healthy skepticism and a slight wave of confusion. In the truest sense, Washington has offered this contract based not on the past, but what the future might hold. They know what they expect, and they e put a price on those expectations. It’s a gamble not just on Wall, but on the way they’re building their team. For Wall’s contract to make sense for the team, they’ll need to win a coin flip or two along the way. Fortunately for them, Wall seems capable of stacking the odds in his — and their — favor.
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