Tag Archives: John Wall

Tipping the Scale: John Wall’s Extension and Bradley Beal’s Rookie Season

NBA contracts aren’t considered, awarded or agreed upon in a vacuum.  Every possible context matters to salary negotiations in today’s league, one increasingly intelligent, accountable and prudent on the court as well as off of it.

Like the ripple effect of a deadly shooter stationed in the weak-side corner or back-line help responsibilities of varied pick-and-roll coverage, the specific terms of a new contract offered by a franchise are examined through every lens imaginable.  What is this player’s market value? What is he worth now? What will he be worth in the future? What’s he worth to us – as a piece of the basketball puzzle, as an ambassador for the team, as a portion of the salary cap?

The questions an organization must ask in determining a player’s value in dollars are immeasurable.  Extremely rare are cases akin to those of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and, in all likelihood, Kyrie Irving: surefire superstars whose overall value and influence can’t be measured financially despite their huge slice of the cap.  Those select few will always get their maximum money, and questions concerning their free agencies or looming ones are limited exclusively to where they’ll sign their next mega contract.

John Wall, he of a just-signed and much discussed five-year, $80 million contract extension, isn’t among that handful of transcendent players.  His new deal with Washington deserves at least study and perhaps scrutiny, like all those that came before him this summer.  Wall’s extension generated so much interest because he’s at the very least close to deserving the distinction that comes with the designated player contract.  That often harsh spotlight combined with his injury history, middling efficiency and awesome finish to last season is the nature of stardom or potential stardom; remember, there are still those skeptical of Houston for awarding Dwight Howard – the league’s second best player as recently as 2011 – a contract worth the maximum.

Unless you’re LeBron or the next best thing, a max-level deal will always generate apprehension.  Some players live up to it, and others don’t.  So the Wizards are certainly gambling a bit with a player as unproven and uneven as Wall.  The extent of that bet depends on their projection for him going forward, which is almost as much about Wall’s teammates as it is his play individually.  In this case there’s certainly no vacuum, with Washington’s above .500 second half, Wall’s public attitude adjustment and a concerted effort to make the playoffs in 2014 all factoring into the 22 year-old’s mammoth extension.

But aside from Wall’s personal improvements, there may not be a bigger contributing factor to his new contract than the changeabout play of backcourt mate Bradley Beal.  Wall won’t ever be able to win by himself, and Beal’s Hyde and Jekyll of a rookie season ensures he won’t have to.  Whether or not reality – well, advanced statistics, game logs and shot-charts – supports the popular narrative that Wall’s return to the court from injury was the direct means behind Beal’s rapid improvement is something else entirely.

The raw numbers support that half-full theory, of course.  Beal began his rookie season in the worst way possible, shooting a combined 35.7% from the field and 28.7% from three-point range through November and December.  For a player whose greatest strength supposedly lied in rare marksmanship, such consistent struggles provided cause for major concern.  Worst, there were even few fleeting bright spots; after making at least half of his shots and scoring at least 17 points in the fourth and fifth games of his career, Beal couldn’t manage those feats again before the calendar flipped to the new year.

Wall was sidelined the first ten weeks of the season due to a September knee injury, of course, leaving Beal stretched too far as a ballhandler and creator.  That much was assumed once news of Wall’s sustained absence surfaced, but Beal’s early rookie year performance came up well short of even those revised expectations nonetheless.

Then Wall made his 2013 debut and everything changed.  Below are Beal’s numbers from before and after Wall returned to the Washington lineup.  The differences, obviously, are stark.

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 1.18.10 PM

By most every statistical measure available, Beal was a new player once Wall was healthy enough to play on January 12th.  The uncomfortable, often indecisive rookie of 2012 was replaced by one that played with a sense of role and purpose in 2013, and the numbers bear that out.  Beal was a far more efficient and productive scorer with Wall available, a fact best exemplified by a more than 10 point rise in his true shooting percentage once Wall made his debut.

But there’s more to the idea that Beal’s turnaround hinged mostly on Wall’s health, and it centers around metrics that indicate the former’s satisfaction playing off the ball alongside a point guard that garners so much attention from the defense.  Beal’s usage rate declined with Wall in tow as did his percentage of baskets made that came without an assist, but only slightly so.  Evidence supporting that belief lies mostly in Beal’s three-point shooting performance pre and post Wall’s return.

The percentages speak for themselves: Beal hit on 10.9% more of his corner attempts from deep and 15% more than his above-break tries after January 12th.  But just as important is the frequency and quality of those shots, too.  Though Beal actually averaged fewer three-point attempts – 4.3 per game versus 4.1 – after Wall’s debut, they were distributed across the floor in a far more efficient manner.  A corner three-pointer might be the most valuable shot in basketball; there’s a reason Beal performed well from there pre-Wall even as he struggled to make shots from anywhere else.  Good thing for the Wizards, then, that 41% of Beal’s three-point attempts with Wall in the lineup came from the corner.  When he was injured, only 37% of Beal’s tries from deep came from that hallowed ground.

Yes, the metrics agree that Beal’s game changed once Wall was finally healthy, and not just for the sheer statistical better, either.  He was suddenly a more selective shooter, a more effective cutter and something much closer to the player archetype he was billed as coming into the draft – a skilled marksman that doesn’t need the ball to succeed.

But there’s another layer to Beal’s 2013 play, and to best understand his major improvements and project his career’s altered trajectory, it’s one that needs to be peeled.  How did he perform with Wall on and off the court from January 12th and so forth? The numbers tell an interesting story, and one that shines new light – if not lighter or darker – on Wall’s extension.

Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 1.14.28 PM

 

The general takeaway of the above: Beal’s second half turnaround had less to do with Wall’s return than it did him hitting and clearing the proverbial rookie wall (no pun intended) – that development just happened to coincide with the assumed health of Washington’s star point guard and, now, franchise player.

Beal’s numbers with Wall on the floor are indeed slightly superior to those he compiled while Wall rode the bench.  But that difference is negligible, and his progress in those instances compared to the pre-Wall period is the best indicator of his whirlwind rookie season as well as his future success.  And while Beal’s play alongside Wall is an obvious harbinger of success, too, the degree of his coming ascendance appears steeper when he’s on the floor alone as the Wizards clear top offensive option.

So Beal’s rookie season was more than one of halves; it was actually one of thirds.  Pre-Wall, with Wall and without Wall, he was a different player.  How much certain strategic changes and the overall health of the roster played into his rapid rise is a consideration for those most familiar with Washington’s season.  But these numbers tell a story just as encouraging for Beal and the Wizards going forward as does the one with Wall as his knight in shining armor.

But given Wall’s recent re-up, Washington has a problem.  It’s a good one, an issue which they’d rather put up with than not have at all, but still something that bears watching as this roster ripens over the next two or three seasons.

Wall is the Wizards’ surefire ‘guy’ now, and not just because his is the face of the organization’s reclamation efforts.  Under the parameters of the new CBA, teams are allowed one designated player for a five-year extension on a rookie deal that’s already on the roster.  Wall is that player for Washington, even though the last 25 games of Beal’s ever-encouraging rookie season indicate he’ll likely be just as if not more worthy than his teammate of that distinction when the time comes at the end of the 2015-2016 season.

Unless David Stern and the league’s Board of Governors grant Washington the same confounding exception they did Oklahoma City with respect to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (not happening, obviously), the Wizards are running the risk of antagonizing Beal.  That was mostly beyond their control what with the language of the CBA, and electing to save the designated player tag for Beal – the inferior player, for now at least – with Wall eligible for it risked alienating the latter at a time this franchise finally had an opportunity for stability.  Just ask Minnesota how that very decision worked out with Kevin Love.

A bird in the bush is worth two in the gander, the saying goes, and Washington was almost forced to play things out that way as a simple result of timing.  Wall has two years on Beal in development as a player and salary cap entity; this bet was the safest one, and it was probably the smartest, too.  The possible negative trickle down of saving the tag for Beal was simply too much, what with likely disenchanting Wall and the possibility that his evolution stalls.  The Wizards’ bet is insured by the fact that Beal – at just 20 years-old – is a noted professional that understands the business side of basketball, and whose relationship with Wall is constantly championed by both sides.

But more important than salary cap ramifications of Beal’s rise are those that occur on the floor.  It’s clear now that he can thrive with or without Wall by his side, as evidenced by the numbers laid out above.  Should his talents and overall influence eventually eclipse those of Wall, how will each player react? Washington’s case is a rare one, with two players that could conceivably emerge as the team’s best player on different timelines.  The complications gleaned from that possibility are numerous and varied, but it’s another good problem to have nonetheless.

For now, at least, Washington is sitting pretty.  Wall’s extension was necessary for the short and long term goals of this organization, and the justification behind it – be it his individual merits, how pieces like Beal fit around him or factors contributing to public perception – is obvious regardless on which side of the fence you sit.

But Beal’s rookie evolution isn’t what it seems on the surface, and positions the Wizards for additional possibilities going forward that most don’t assume.  For the future sake of both backcourt stars and the franchise as a whole, let’s hope they realize it.

Follow Jack Winter on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

Another $80 Million Brick In The Wall

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.

Image by zoomar via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly: Heat @ Wizards

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Robert S. Donovan via Flickr

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the end of the Wizards home win streak at the hands of the starless Miami Heat.

Shane Battier nailed five three pointers and didn’t even bother attempting a two point field goal against the Wizards, continuing to fill his specific role even with Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade in street clothes. He has made a two pointer in only one of his last ten games (21 made baskets, 19 of which have been three pointers). He’s always been a player who has relied on the three point shot, but never at the rate of this season. Here’s a look at the percentage of Battier’s buckets that have come behind the three point line by season for his 12 year career.

Battier

 He’s not the best player on the Heat, but he could be the most irreplaceable. Miami’s stars can cover for each other if one goes down with an injury, but the combination of defense and long range shooting from Battier is rare. Battier was a big reason why the Heat won a title last year and they will be counting on his nightly contribution (pigeonholed as it may be) in a big way.

Speaking of role players, Chris Anderson is another player who is in the perfect situation. Despite increased minutes, The Birdman failed to record a bucket in Washington. The Heat have lost only three games with Anderson in the lineup, and he has averaged 122% more baskets per 48 minutes in those games than in the 35 games Miami has won with him protecting the paint. Anderson enters every game with minimal pressure on the offensive end, allowing him to impact the game in other ways. Miami’s role players may not get the attention of their trio of Hall Of Famers, but without the strong play off of the pine, the stars would be putting up better numbers for a worse team.

Recall that last season John Wall produced one of the all time worst 3P% for a starter (7.1%). The Wizards point guard has showed more discipline, at times, this season, allowing him gain explore his potential. In April, Wall is averaging an outstanding 32.3 points in games in which he doesn’t attempt a triple (winning two of three). Unfortunately for Wizards fans, Wall wandered outside of the three point line against Miami, lowering his probable output. He is averaging 17.7 in such April games, with the Wizards yet to emerge victorious. He will not turn 23 years old until September, making his ceiling limitless if he can figure out the three point shot.

AJ Price played more than 28 minutes, nearly assuring the Wizards of a loss. Since Valentine ’s Day of 2011, AJ Price’s team has lost 16 of 17 games in which he attempts at least 10 shots, and given his career average of 0.3571 shots per minute, 28 minutes is the cut off. He isn’t a very efficient scorer (37.7% career FG%), so it follows that the more shots he takes, the less likely his team is to succeed.  Price is a nice insurance policy for Wall, but he seems to be destined for a career reserve role, as the 26 year old has been unable to prove himself as a reliable PG option. Maybe a position change would help, but with Wall and now Bradley Beal occupying both backcourt slots in Washington for the foreseeable future, it would have to happen for another team.

Filling Cracks In The (John) Wall

This was supposed to be a more promising season for the Wizards. A playoff appearance, though extremely unlikely, was not out of the question. Of course, this was before John Wall’s injury kept him out of the lineup for the first 33 games of the season, forcing Washington to start the likes of (gulp) AJ Price at the point.

The problem the Wizards face is similar to Philadelphia’s: they haven’t been given enough time to properly evaluate their supposed star and how the team, as currently constructed, fits around him. There have been several promising signs, however, since Wall’s return. For one, the Wizards are 18-15 following Wall’s return to the court. Hardly good enough to push them back into playoff contention, but when you consider the Wizards were 5-28 without him, it’s a fairly drastic improvement.

Bradley Beal, whose rookie campaign got off to a rocky start, has arguably benefited the most. Pre-Wall, Beal, lauded for his jump shot coming out of Florida (despite mediocre percentages, was only shooting 32% from three, including a disastrous 25% from the above the break 3, per NBA.com. His mid-range game also suffered to the tune of 37% shooting from 16-24 feet and 27% from 8-16 feet. Since Wall’s first game on January 12, Beal’s percentages have increased dramatically, especially from the corner three, where he’s shooting a blistering 56%, a meteoric rise from his 39% mark, the small sample size caveat notwithstanding.

While Wall can’t take full credit for Beal’s emergence, he’s certainly playing a vital role, as his vision, passing, and ability to penetrate into the lane results in better looks for his teammates. Consider this: John Wall, in the thirty games he’s played, has assisted on just as many of Beal’s baskets (30) as Jordan Crawford (16) and A.J. Price (14) had before his return. Often, we measure a point guard’s worth by his ability to make teammates better. While this is somewhat of an antiquated notion, insofar as it’s not the only way to gauge a point guard’s value, it still holds some credence. Wall’s value, in this regard, is undoubtedly high.

Wall has also had a clear, positive impact on the team’s overall performance. Simply put, the Wizards were an awful team without their starting point guard, and their 5-28 record only begins to tell this woeful tale. They were last in the league in offensive rating at 93.2, with 93.2 points per 100 possessions, and further compounded that atrocious offense by shooting a league-worst 44.8 eFG%. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the Wizards were 13th in defensive rating, allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions, though a good defense does a team little good if they can’t score. Both of those areas have improved with the reintegration of Wall into the Wizard’s lineup. Their offensive rating is now 99.9 (still near the bottom of the league, but an improvement nonetheless,) while their defense has become downright suffocating, with a rating of 97.1, second only to the Pacers during this timeframe.

Less clear than Wall’s impact on the team is what type of player he is, or will become. His strengths, such as his blinding speed and unteachable vision, are undeniable. Just as undeniable, however, are his weaknesses. He is a terrible shooter, especially from long range, having hit just nine three-pointers (out of a combined 65 attempts) in the past two seasons. His mid-range game isn’t that much better, save for the right elbow, an area from which he’s shooting nearly 51% this year. Perhaps most troubling of all Wall’s scoring deficiencies is his inability to finish at the rim. He’s having his best year of shooting at the rim, yet that best still only translates to 55% shooting. That’s not terrible by any means, and is on par with guards of similar speed such as Ty Lawson. But to be the star Washington needs him to be, he needs to be a better finisher, not to mention all-around shooter.

To be fair, Wall has been stellar as of late. He was recently named the Eastern Conference Player Of The Week, and for good reason, as he averaged 26.3 points, 11 assists and 5.7 rebounds while also shooting 59 percent from the field over a remarkable three game span. Streaks like these lead many to believe that Wall can become the elite star Washington envisioned when they drafted him first overall in the 2009 draft. Yet herein lies the problem for the Wizards, one that ensnares the franchise in a Timberwolvesian bind.

One the one hand, the Wizards have John Wall, whom they drafted to be not just the point guard of the future, but the franchise cornerstone as well. On the other, there’s Bradley Beal, the promising rookie who continues to grow and impress, showing not just range, but a smooth all-around game and a maturity that belies his actual age. Both are young, both have the potential to be special, yet the Wizards can only give a five-year max contract to one of them. Do they give the prized contract to Wall, in hopes that his recent play is less flash in the pan and more sustained sizzle? Or will his shaky health (due, perhaps, to his inefficient running gait), lead them to save the max for their prized rookie? At least one report shows the first situation to be more likely, but nothing is for certain.

Beal and Wall’s aforementioned budding chemistry, combined with the frontcourt presence of Nene, makes for a tantalizing three-man combination. Okafor and Ariza most likely aren’t franchise mainstays, but they’re consistent enough to make a playoff appearance likely. If, (that lovely qualifier), Wall is able to sustain his current performance, then the future in Washington is, though not quite bright, certainly brighter than just a few short years ago.

Statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com

Small Sample Size Theater: Cartier Martin

In this weekly piece I will take a look at a player who wasn’t on the court very long but had a measured impact on the final result. The chosen player may have a negative or positive impact, but either way, the player played a crucial role for his team in the past seven days.

Toughness was inserted into his DNA while playing at Kansas State under Frank Martin, and now Cartier Martin (no relation) is making an impact for the Washington Wizards. He appeared in four of five games this week tallying 41 minutes, and the Wizards were better because of it. His statistics have been a bit hit or miss (missed 13 of his first 14 shots in March, but made six of 11 to end the week), but the Wizards simply perform better with him on the court. Not once this week did they lose ground when Martin was on the floor, and they actually outscored their opponents by six points over the last two games.

The Wizards aren’t a good basketball team (.328 winning percentage entering the week), but they have won five of the last six home games in which Martin has appeared. For the season, Martin has nearly as many steals (16) as turnovers (17), something that is crucial for a role player looking to increase his role. When John Wall was out with an injury, Martin’s playing time increased (22 minutes per game in December) but without a play-making guard, Martin clearly wasn’t comfortable and the Wizards struggled (2-11 in December games when Martin played). Some players are great in short spurts (small samples if you will), and Martin seems to fit that role perfectly. Here’s some numerical proof that less is more when it comes to the former Wildcat.

Winning Percentage

At 6’7″ 220 pounds, Martin has the size and floor stretching ability to be a viable role player on a good team. He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season wraps up, and there are a handful of teams that could use the swing man for a handful of minutes on a nightly basis. The Trailblazers, for example, could use some depth. Maybe the Jazz would pick up the fifth year man if they lose their front court this off season. Martin isn’t going to score 20+ points off the bench, but he provides capable and productive minutes in spurts. He has an NBA frame and, in small doses, he can provide value to teams that are already playoff caliber.

John Wall + Jump Shot = AHHHH

Photo by trojanguy on Flickr

 

Here’s my favorite NBA quote from this past week that didn’t involve Michael Beasley doing ballet:

John Wall: I didn’t have to shoot jumpshots when I was in high school; I just ran past everybody and just dunked and did whatever. So this whole summer that’s all I’m working on is my jumpshot. I wanna take the next step to being a superstar, to be an all-star, that’s my goal this year, so I’m working on my jumpshot and everything else.

Via John Wall Makes 2,000 Jump Shots A Day, Planning On Entering The Dunk Contest, 10/19/11

I’ve said before that John Wall is the player I’m most excited about watching when NBA basketball exists again. Since then, he’s declared that he’s looking forward to getting another shot at Westbrook and Rose at full health and he intends to be the best point guard ever. He’s also done things in exhibition games that have made me yell things I’m not supposed to print here.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F_zRBsC5BY w=640 h=360]

I’m trying to figure out how you’re supposed to stop a guy with his athleticism, his court vision, his creativity, if you can’t let him shoot.

Oh yeah. You can’t. This’ll be fun.

Optimism Abound

Photo via IraGelb on Flickr

See the players’ confidence building. See players developing right before your eyes. That is what a rebuild is all about. A new big three has announced its arrival – Wall, Crawford and Blatche. Big minutes – big productivity – big results. And wins, too. We are short-handed and so players are getting bigger minutes to show the world what they can do. We have two first round draft picks next off season. We have cap space. We are young. We have upside. We are becoming an exciting team to watch. The sun is shining out today.

via Learning to Win, by Ted Leonsis, Ted’s Take

Optimism is an intoxicating thing. We surrender to this siren and let ourselves be led down whatever path our imagination may manifest itself into without regard for the limitations of reality. It’s the same drug that led Washington Wizards fans to believe that a 4-2 stretch in the closing weeks of the 2009-10 regular season was a possible sign of bigger things to come. We know how that reality has played out.

So why is a subsequent 4-2 run as 2011 comes to a close different?

The paradox of the Wizards is their struggles have reached such an extreme degree that otherwise inconsequential events – their recent three-game winning streak – lead to an outpouring of confidence for the future. But unlike last years run, spearheaded by the presence of veterans Mike Miller and Shaun Livingston, Washington fans can extol the growth of the (perhaps prematurely named) new big three.

Defining John Wall as the building block of the future is extraneous. His self actualization as a basketball player seems at once assured and already unfolding in the conclusion of his rookie season. From his realization of the fruitless nature of the race to catch Blake Griffin for post-season accolades, to the very clear improvements he has made in his ability to direct and run the pick-and-roll, his future is bright, even if it is currently overshadowed by a surplus of elite point guards.

Jordan Crawford’s distinctive game, flush with brilliant shooting displays and damning turnover spells perhaps serves as the perfect microcosm view of his team – showing promise within a litany of failures. The burgeoning guard plays with an infectious fervor, one that has left many questioning the mere presence of Nick Young’s scoring singularity on the roster. For those ready to hail the dual playmaker combination of Wall and Crawford as the backcourt of the future, perhaps the high ceiling that was set for Wall, Arenas and Hinrich trio will be enough to create some pause – but what do they have to lose?

Of course the “sage veteran” of the organization, Andray Blatche, has proven if nothing else that you can count on him to frustrate to the point of exhaustion. His most recent four-game run of 27.5 points and 14 rebounds per night only raises the bar further for next season as the 24-year-old is suddenly attacking the rim with a fervor rarely seen in his five-year career. Is it the latest aberration for a power forward who despite steadily improving season after season has seemingly always left something on the floor? Or has the maturing process finally manifested itself in on-the-court production?

JaVale McGee might be the closest thing the NBA has to a pandora’s box. It’s a shame his two-basket, two-ball dunk during All-Star weekend was overshadowed by the Blake Griffin show, as the third-year pro may be the only human being on the planet capable of accomplishing such a physical feat. It’s also telling that to this point, McGee’s potential has been summarized by a series of highlights and individual games rather than days and weeks of performance. He like Crawford accurately depicts the larger frustration of the Wizards organizations, able to reach the peaks with some degree of regularity, but never able to sustain the high.

There’s Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, the two-first round picks in a draft classified as weak but with no discernible certainties and a developing core about as young as we can expect from an NBA team. There’s a laundry list of reasons why this team will never develop beyond the perception of team on the rise – chained to a future as a lesser version of what the Atlanta Hawks once represented, while fans still pine or the hopes of a product more akin to the Oklahoma City model. Yet collectively all of these factors – big and small – culminate in the current state of the Wizards, that hope is a better reality than answers to the endless questions that surround the organization.

Optimism is abound in our nation’s capital – let youth be served.

Of Mental Design

Danny Chau is the sole writer of Plantar Fasciitis, a contributor at Outside the NBA, and an owner of an incredibly distinct and powerful writing voice, even in these crowded days in the NBA blogosphere. We’re thrilled that he’ll be joining us over here at HP from time to time, and know that if you’re not familiar with Danny’s work already, you’ll surely come to appreciate his thoughts on the game as much as we do. -RM

On May 22, 1972, Saul Bellow spoke to an undergraduate class on “Contemporary American Novel” at Frank & Marshall College. He discussed the stylistic implications of his writing, such as his 1964 novel Herzog. “People don’t realize how much they are in the grip of ideas,” said Bellow. “We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.”

A bulk of Herzog‘s text derives from written letters from the main character, Moses Herzog. They are never sent out, and some are addressed to people he’s never met. He writes because he’s spurned the world he lives in: a world he doesn’t understand, and in turn, doesn’t understand him. He writes to put the complexity of his circumstance in perspective.

And considering the obstacles John Wall and his team have faced this season, it’s easy to imagine the young Wall picking up a similar pastime— finding something that can make sense of his injuries, his team, and the realities of the NBA. While he isn’t going through a midlife crisis —nor will he for a long, long, long time— his growing pains are intrinsically linked to his adjustment to the league and the toll that takes on a player’s body and mind.

It’s no secret that Wall has been nursing a few injuries, limiting his explosiveness and assertiveness on the court. What could have been a dazzling campaign thus far has been sullied by ailments of the knee and foot. He has all the physical gifts of the ideal point guard, but with a wounded body, he’s found it difficult to translate fully his mind’s commands. Shifting in different directions takes a split second longer, enough for a defender to react accordingly. A quick sprint down court becomes a stroll, as he slowly directs a woefully inefficient offensive team. The NBA life has introduced new challenges for Wall. The ability to manage injuries and play them out over a season has been chief among them.

For a young player placed at the helm of a wounded franchise, it must be frustrating to play at half-capacity in an act of preservation. For someone who has gone through the past few years being classified as a physical marvel, Wall has been forced to use his intelligence more than his athleticism. While it’s not something he’s used to, it hasn’t been an area of concern. Just listen to his post-game comments. He understands the game. He is fully cognizant of his gifts, but more importantly, of his shortcomings. His middling defense, especially on the pick and roll, is in large part due to his inexperience in dealing with league-caliber point guards. But he has time to learn personnel. He has time to work out the flaws in his jumper, and to make sounder decisions on both ends of the floor. Time, at this stage, is Wall’s greatest ally.

People’s lives are already filled with mental design of one sort or another. If you don’t have it yourself, your environment has it. If your environment hasn’t got it, your government has it.                                                                                                                                                                                                             – Saul Bellow

We know what we expect from Wall. We can only imagine what he expects of himself. It’s just tough to watch Wall grow so much in acumen all while playing without his awe-inspiring extra gear. It’s frustrating because it’s clear that the injuries have tampered with his aggressiveness. But he’s learning ways around these handicaps.  He’ll be better for it. There is a world of brilliance waiting for him once he gets his legs under him.

Though, it seems silly to discuss the problems of an NBA rookie point guard who is fifth in the NBA in assists with a touch over nine a game, the most of any rookie since Damon Stoudamire in 1995-96 (9.3 a game). It all seems silly when just a few days ago, Wall helped his young team top the big bad Boston Celtics in large part due to his late game heroics.

But our expectations are warranted. That’s just the type of talent we see in him. We’ve recreated the John Wall from his year at Kentucky in our minds, and infused the incredible playmaking ability he’s shown thus far in D.C. This John Wall has the ability to blast any defense to sand. This John Wall is getting into the paint at will and absorbing contact. This John Wall will show up very soon in the present, but in our minds, he’s already here.

Traversing through visions and ideas means overlooking reality at times. We are arrested by Wall’s potential —so much so that we’ve overlooked the incredible strides he’s made in his game since November. With another half of basketball to follow, Wall has time. Time to heal, to grow, to bring our salient visions to fruition.

WELCOME TO DRAFTOCALYPSE: BULLS WIPE THE SLATE WHILE WASHINGTON… WE HAVE NO IDEA

The Chicago Bulls have a deal in place that would move Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick to the Washington Wizards, freeing up enough cap space to pursue two maximum-salary players on this summer’s free-agent market, sources with knowledge of the Bulls’ plans said Thursday.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Washington would send to Chicago in the trade.

via Sources: Chicago Bulls to send Kirk Hinrich, No. 17 to Washington Wizards – ESPN.

Okay, Chicago did what they wanted to. Deng or Hinrich had to go. And despite the fact that Zach Randolph, Tracy McGrady, and Jerome James have been moved inside the last two years, everyone thought they’d have a hard time selling one of the best perimeter defenders in the league who can actually run an offense and whatever Deng is. Deng’s a pain, but he’s not a terrible pain. So now they have almost, but not quite enough to go after two max free agents. If they can ditch Deng, they can fill out with whatever they want. Mission accomplished, for a team so often derided for their decisions.

But Washington? What is Washington doing? What in God’s name is Grundfeld up to?

Look, you’re not going to find a bigger Kirk Hinrich fan than me. I went to Missouri, and I still love the dude for crying out loud. Terrific defender, plays hard, knows how to manage an offense, and has some pretty solid turnover numbers.

That said…

YOU’RE DRAFTING JOHN WALL FOR GOD’S SAKE!

You have John Wall and Gilbert Arenas and you’re looking for a combo guard with pure point instincts who struggles from the arc? What? For $11 million? What? What is going on? Are you mad? Are you high?

Did Kahn take over your hive? Did he conquer it with the cunning use of flags? What’s the thought process here?

You’re going to think there’s more to this. I certainly do. How can there not be? They’re going to package the 17 and something else to get into the top 10, and take Ekpe Farouq Monroe Aldrich? Is this part of the Arenas equation?

Bullets Forever suggest this could be part of the Bring Out Your Dead Strategy, which is actually rather brilliant. Unfortunately, as they point out, the BOYD strategy is dependent on expiring contracts.  What’s amazing is that Hinrich’s deal continuously gets more poisonous as time goes on. The development of the Free Agency Summer of Doom, the impending lockout, the drafting of Wall, the drafting of Rose, everything builds towards Hinrich becoming less and less valuable, despite the fact I would donate significant body parts to get him on the depth chart in front of Mike Conley.

This has got to be an Arenas-related move. It simply has to be. Either that or they’re flipping Hinrich like a Vaudeville theater.

Now I kind of hope they draft Aldrich. Just for giggles.

NBA Draft Day Best and Worst Scenarios For The Top 10

For the most part, I hate predictions and I hate trying to make mock drafts. It’s so much work that can be completely obliterated by one single trade or Moment of Kahn.

But in honor of the NBA Draft tonight, I just can’t hold my excitement. I have to do some type of predicting so I bring you the best and worst case scenario for each of the top 10 picks in the draft. Here is my version of a Mock Draft:

#1 – Washington Wizards
Best-Case Scenario: John Wall. Wall is seriously coming into the league with a gas can and a book of matches. He’s going to burn this place to the ground. He’s quicker than just about everything. He has fast-twitch muscles in his legs that resemble pogo sticks. He has great reach and can finish with the best of them. He’s going to be a very incredible defender. No, he’s not a great shooter but that’s not necessary right away to be successful as a point guard in this league. The Wizards needed a rebirth after the Gilbert Arenas fiasco last season and are getting that tonight. Enjoy, District of Colombians.

Worst-Case Scenario: Someone cut the phone line. Really the only way the Wizards can have a bad moment here is if the phones don’t work, time runs out on their pick and Philly gets to swoop in and make their selection first.

#2 – Philadelphia 76ers
Best-Case Scenario: Aside from faulty AT&T service from Washington, the best-case for Philly is still to grab Evan Turner. Turner is one of those Brandon Roy-type of players that can do it all and do it all well. He’s probably never going to be a Top 5 player in the NBA but he also probably won’t be far from it either. Turner will be a triple-double waiting to happen once he gets handed the reigns. He gives the Sixers a lot of different options on the floor until the Sixers decide what to do with Iguodala.

Worst-Case Scenario: Doug Collins being the next head co… Oops! Ok, maybe the Eddie Jordan hire wasn’t great. Personally, I think he was a pretty good coach in Sacramento and for the most part when he was Washington. But the fit seemed pretty bad in Philadelphia after a short time there. The problem for the Sixers is they have no direction. Switching coaches three times in three years is not a recipe for success. And now they’ve hired a guy that had a rough go of it the last time he was in charge of a team. This has disaster written all over it.

#3 – New Jersey Nets
Best-Case Scenario: Derrick Favors. Favors seems to be the smartest pick here even though I don’t think he’s the best player available. He’ll play much better next to Brook Lopez than DeMarcus Cousins probably can and he’ll be very active on the glass. Favors can probably become an All-Star caliber power forward in the East and help continue to develop a nice young core with Harris, Lopez, Lee and Favors to entice a top-level free agent this summer. While I don’t think Favors is in that category of being able to change the game in any way, he seems like a great fit and a nice prospect for Nets fans to watch grow.

Worst-Case Scenario: Those Wesley Johnson rumors were ugly and that’s the worst-case scenario for the Nets at this point. Wesley isn’t a bad player. He just shouldn’t be the third pick in any draft. Plus, with Wes being the pick at number three it probably would have meant Carlos Boozer was going to be the target in free agency this summer. Sure, you’re be improving a team that barely won 12 games this season but not enough to make fans want to give a damn.

#4 – Minnesota Timberwolves
Best-Case Scenario: David Kahn forgets what day it is and doesn’t accompany the Wolves front office in making a selection. Look at the damage he’s done over the last couple of days. He claimed that it would be hard for him to screw this draft up (without realizing that those were verbal daggers into my eardrums). Then he almost traded Al Jefferson for Zach Randolph. You know, David… if you don’t want me to be a fan of the team, you just have to say so. No need to drag all of the other fans into this. Just ask me to leave.

Worst-Case Scenario: David Kahn remembers what day it is. HE ALMOST TRADED AL JEFFERSON FOR ZACH RANDOLPH!!!!! This is astounding to me. What’s the best year Zach Randolph has ever had in this league? And I’m not talking pure stats but an overall sense of worth. It had to be last season and the Grizzlies didn’t even make the playoffs. Kahn was about to put Randolph and Love together in the frontcourt with Darko Milicic as the hand that rocks the cradle. How was this ever considered? Some GMs have a knack for the NBA Draft and the others run my favorite team. UGH.

#5 – Sacramento Kings
Best-Case Scenario: DeMarcus Cousins. There isn’t a better option for the Kings. He’s more important on this team than even Evan Turner could be. The Kings need a monster inside. DeMarcus Cousins is easily capable of being that monster. With the way I saw Coach Westphal handle different things this past season, I think he can deal with Cousins’ legendary temper. Yes, there is a good chance that Cousins will be a malcontent in his first go-around with the league and might need a change of scenery at some point to reform. But if that doesn’t happen and he just gets it right away, the Kings would be set with a phenomenal post player and an unstoppable guard.

Worst-Case Scenario: DeMarcus Cousins comes to the team and the Kings decide to bring in John Calipari to be the new head coach. No, this has no chance of happening. But it crossed my mind when trying to find a worst-case scenario and it was either that or writing about Cole Aldrich here. I don’t really feel like writing about Cole right now.

#6 – Golden State Warriors
Best-Case Scenario: Ekpe Udoh. Udoh isn’t the best player available by any means and he’s probably going to be difficult to watch on offense. But the Warriors need someone to protect the basket and I don’t think you can find anyone better in this draft than Udoh to do that. Udoh can block and challenge a lot of shots throughout a game. With the way the Warriors play defense, he’ll probably lead the league in both blocks and fouls as a rookie. Five per game for each wouldn’t be out of the question.

Worst-Case Scenario: Charlie Bell is your starting center. It’s Nellie’s last year (presumably). You don’t think he’ll go out guns blazing and trying to leave his mark on the game of basketball? Charlie Bell at center does that.

#7 – Detroit Pistons
Best-Case Scenario: Trade up and go get Cousins! I just don’t understand what the problem is here. The Wolves are willing to deal the fourth pick. I know they say they aren’t but there has to be a package available for the Pistons to move up. Prince, #7 and Summers/Daye would most likely get the job done. How could you not pull the trigger on that deal if you’re Detroit? What’s the hold up? Nostalgia? Get over it! Go get your star of the future. It’s the only way for this team to be relevant for the next four years (coincidentally, that’s when Charlie V’s and Ben G’s contracts expire).

Worst-Case Scenario: Last summer. No, they can’t repeat what happened last summer but they also can’t get away from it for another four years. They are stuck in standings limbo as they watch other teams make moves with cap flexibility all around them.

#8 – Los Angeles Clippers
Best-Case Scenario: (Insert Donald Sterling’s demise joke here)

Worst-Case Scenario: (Insert Donald Sterling staying as the owner joke here)



#9 – Utah Jazz
Best-Case Scenario: Still can’t believe they have this pick and the Knicks don’t. Xavier Henry is the best move for the Jazz here. He’s probably a year or two away from truly being a contributor in this league but the idea of him and Deron Williams in the same backcourt together is pretty fun. Jazz really can’t screw this pick up because it’s free talent for them. Thanks again, Isaiah.

Worst-Case Scenario: Re-signing Carlos Boozer to a big deal in order to retain him. Just let it go and give yourself another year to retool the roster into something great. Suture up the wound; don’t slap a band-aid on it.



#10 – Indiana Pacers
Best-Case Scenario: Ed Davis. I’m not quite sure why people are SO high on Ed Davis. I think he’s a nice prospect and will be a very serviceable player in this league. He can probably even be a perennial starter on a good team for much of his career if he continues to develop. But to think this guy is a future star is sort of insane. At the same time, the Pacers need to be smart about this pick. Grabbing some flavor of the month wing player is probably a bad idea. They can probably trade for a point guard and get more of a steady hand than any rookie could give them. Davis gives them some more options inside. Put him next to Roy Hibbert and that’s not a bad big man combo for the next half decade.

Worst-Case Scenario: Grabbing another white player. I know Luke Babbitt and Gordon Hayward are in the mix. And they’d probably be fine selections to add to the scoring punch of this team. But the ruthless and unmerciful ribbing Pacers fans would get from EVERYBODY around the league would just be sort of cruel. It would be funny as hell but it would be cruel.

More Random Predictions:

- David Kahn will undoubtedly make some stupid pick or trade that causes Matt Moore to flood my cell phone, gChat and email with torturous comments. I will then block all communication with Matt until Kahn is fired in 2024.

- The Grizzlies end up keeping all three of their first round picks because of Michael Heisley. They could probably move up in the draft by packaging a couple of them or they could acquire a pretty good player by letting someone like Cleveland get back into the first round. But more likely, Michael Heisley will control his team’s fate and Thabeet the hell out of the fans’ hopes.

- Patrick Patterson will be a little cross-eyed during his interview. It will make me giggle and question his ability to make it in this league.

- Hornets fans will be upset that they didn’t draft Cole Aldrich. The rest of the world will want to slap some sense into them.

- Sam Presti will once again show us how it’s done. It’s really not fair that he’s SO GOOD at the draft and the rest of the league is SO MEDIOCRE at the draft. Somehow, he moved up to the 18th spot and grabbed a decent role player without having to give up much at all. He finds the teams desperate to cut payroll (even though it’s not much at all) and he wipes the floor with them. It’s actually quite impressive to watch.

- We will all enjoy a night of chaos and trade rumor tornadoes. The NBA Draft is one of the best nights of the year for sports. Celebrate it.