Despite much hype surrounding Washington's second year point guard John Wall entering this season, the former No. 1 pick has underperformed through his first five games. Wall -- who was runner-up to Blake Griffin for Rookie of the Year in 2010-11-- has looked pedestrian since opening day, over-dribbling his way into unnecessary turnovers and taking errant shots so often that he hardly resembles his 'Dougie-ness of last year. His normally stellar open floor game has been halted by selfish decisions that have left him much too deep under the basket to use his great finishing ability. Meanwhile, his halfcourt game has looked ordinary at best, full of mistakes and poor shot selection.
While it's easy to blame a small sample size or lack of cohesion with teammates, his problems have been too glaring to simply ignore.
Wall is the face of a Wizards franchise desperately trying to re-assert itself in the daunting Eastern Conference. At his best, he is the highlight-reel dazzling playmaker at the game's most critical position; a natural speed demon that makes even the most difficult of plays look eerily easy.
And to be fair, Wall shouldn't take all of the blame for his early woes. The 0-5 Wizards have a very young roster (average age is 25) that still lacks a true identity. JaVale McGee and Chris Singleton are nice building blocks defensively, and both Jordan Crawford and Nick Young could become elite scorers down the road, but they all are still in their infancy stages of development. Rashard Lewis -- who is paid like a superstar -- is at the tail end of a very disappointing couple seasons and nowhere close to the scoring threat he once was in Seattle. Wall is the only proven commodity on a poor Wizards team, and that's a hefty responsibility for a 21-year-old that many people believe should already be a superstar.
The challenges that young point guards in the NBA face are abundant and at times, never-ending. Because of the personnel surrounding him though, Wall faces more challenges than his peers. He has to be equal parts distributor and scorer. Unlike other young lead guards -- i.e. Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison and Chris Paul -- Wall is not only the best passer on his team. He's also its best scoring option -- and that can become extremely confusing and troublesome to his development.
Over the first three games of this season, Wall averaged nearly 5 turnovers and shot a putrid 27 percent from the floor. While he was vastly improved against Boston Monday night, his first week problems hinted at the same efficiency struggles he had as a rookie.
Blessed with a dynamic first step, Wall became a lethal pick-and-roll operator in college (though in limited situations) and has surely showed signs of becoming that same threat as a pro. Lacking a true scoring big man to run it with however (either as a roller or popper), he has been forced to rely heavily on an inconsistent mid-range jump shot, which he is clearly uncomfortable shooting. In pick-and-roll situations last year, Wall's points per possession of 0.666 was in the bottom quarter of the NBA, according to Synergy Sports Technology.
More so than his subpar numbers (which are down across the board), it's the inability to effectively run the ball screen that should worry Wizard fans. No play is utilized more at this level, and if Wall cannot effectively command it, his development as an NBA point guard will be highly stunted. Free agent forward David West signed with Indiana (and Darren Collison), but he would have been the perfect guy for Wall because he can finish in the lane and shoot it out to 18-feet. Instead, he is forced to run it with McGee and Andray Blatche, whose only real offensive value right now is stick-back dunks and alley-oops.
Despite a rookie season in which he averaged 16.4 points and 8.3 assists, Wall's issues with shooting the basketball were still evident. According to Synergy Sports, his 49.4 true shooting percentage ranked him 13th worst among all NBA point guards who played at least 15 minutes per game. As has been the case through his first five games this year, he has settled too often for jump shots as opposed to attacking the rim. That same Synergy metric tells us that 60 percent of Wall's shots last year were jumpers and just 29.9 percent of his shots came around the rim in non-post-up situations.
What this signifies is that he is either over-confident of his suspect jumper or merely doesn’t understand just how gifted a scorer he is. Wall is still a very young player and undoubtedly has plenty to learn about the game's most vexing position. A lack of veteran players around him and void of a scoring big man has played a vital role in his early season struggles, to be sure.
But Wall is way too fast, too quick and too talented to post such inefficient numbers. With the truncated 66-game season, he needs to figure it out sooner than later, or else one of 2011's expected breakout stars will only regress.
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