Should Wall Be Part of National Team?

NBA: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards

USA Basketball’s 28-man player pool for international tournaments in 2014 and 2016 got leaked to ESPN yesterday. Wizards fans were pleased to see the name of Bradley Beal on the “newcomers” list, but many were puzzled by the omission of PG John Wall.

SBNation’s Matthew Tynan put Wall atop his list of “snubs” — a list that included Greg Monroe and Chandler Parsons. Around the web and in private conversations, the reaction from Wizards fans runs the gamut from “Wall’s been disrespected” to “well, he didn’t play all that well in that USA Basketball camp last year” to “his game isn’t well-suited to international hoops.”

The discussion of Wall and the international team goes hand-in-hand with the question posed in this RealGM message board thread: Is Wall A Top 5 PG? The answer to that question goes to the heart of player evaluation. In my rating system (called Player Production Average — PPA for short), Wall is the number two PG in the East, but ranks just 10th in the league in doing the things that cause teams to win.

This result puzzles many fans, who watch the games and see the basic (and not very useful) stats presented during game broadcasts. It’s easy to understand why “watchers” hold Wall in such high esteem — he’s an active, dynamic player who does lots of stuff during the course of a game. And those per game stats are good too.

What’s the disconnect? Some fans (and perhaps some talent evaluators as well) pay attention to the good stuff a player does while discounting (or ignoring completely) the negatives. For an example, look at last night’s overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. Wall posted a triple-double — 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and he added 3 steals to boot. The storyline from the game: Wall’s triple-double wasn’t enough because…fill in the blank (the Wizards bench was bad; Nenê isn’t what he used to be; Randy Wittman is a bad coach; Beal is still on his minutes limit).

What’s being left out is that Wall’s triple-double included 20 missed FGA, 6 turnovers, and 5 fouls. In a game where the Wizards produced an offensive rating (points per possession x 100) of 101, Wall’s offensive rating was a dismal 87. And he used nearly 40% of the team’s possessions while on the floor.

To further illustrate, I made up a couple new stats: Good Plays Only (GPO) and Bad Plays Only (BPO). The formulas:

  • GPO = fgm + 0.5 x ftm + reb + ast + stl + blk
  • BPO = missed fg + 0.5 x missed ft + tov + pf

Looking at total GPO, Wall is the number two PG in the league (behind only Stephen Curry) and ranks 12th overall. If we use per minute GPO, Wall drops to 5th among PGs (Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Curry and Michael Carter-Williams are ahead of him) and 27th overall. Hey, top 5 right?

So, Wall does a lot of “good stuff” out there — something that likely explains why he’s so highly regarded among fans, media members and league talent evaluators. Except…these categories aren’t weighted based on what they contribute to team wins, and they don’t include negative side of the ledger. It would be akin to evaluating personal wealth by adding up our paychecks without considering bills that have to be paid.

Turning to the “bills” part of the good/bad equation, Wall has the third highest total BPO (Bad Plays Only) among PGs (Curry and Monta Ellis have higher totals), and the 8th most among all players. In per minute BPO, Wall is 5th highest among PGs (behind Westbrook, Carter-Williams, Curry, and Kyrie Irving), and 15th overall in the league.

GPO shows that Wall makes a lot of good plays. BPO shows he makes a lot of bad ones. In financial terms, he earns a lot of money, but he spends a lot too. That “spending” reduces the “balance” (so to speak) and limits his positive impact for the Wizards. He’s a good player, but he could help his team win more by reducing those negative plays (missed shots and turnovers).

One final point with this GPO/BPO stat — call it Net Good & Bad Plays (NGBP). The formula is simple: GPO – BPO. In TOTAL NGBP, Wall ranks 4th among PGs (behind Paul, Ricky Rubio, and Ty Lawson) and 29th overall. On a per minute basis, Wall ranks 5th among PGs (behind Paul, Rubio, Lawson and Westbrook), but 66th overall.

Keep in mind — there’s no weighting done on these categories based on how these stats contribute to winning and losing. In PPA, which has that weighting, Wall ranks 5th in total production among PGs and 24th in the league (high-minute players logically lead in total production). On a per minute basis, he ranks 10th among PGs and 51st in the league. That’s good, but it’s not elite. And no, it doesn’t warrant being chosen for the U.S. national team.

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5 thoughts on “Should Wall Be Part of National Team?

  1. It seems like your final conclusion that he doesn’t belong doesn’t mix with all of the stats you provided above. The only thing that would mix that thought is your final sentence on per minute basis, which could include many players that don’t play enough useful minutes.

    You ding Wall for being top five in bad plays, but don’t mention that other “star PGs” like Westbrook, Curry & Irving are also top five in the bad category.

    I think the true issue is the perception of Wall compared to his peers. Yes, he is in the top 5 bad, but he is also in the top 5 good and net rankings. He’s also top 5 in your PPA stat. To me, this means he is a top 5 PG or at least close. However, usually he isn’t in the discussion.

    Kyrie Irving is the no-brainer to many as a top young PG, yet he didn’t make the top 5 in good and did in bad. Why don’t you mention him?

    While Wall has definitely improved in areas, he still has a ways to go in others (shooting, turnovers, etc.). But I think his early struggles still cloud minds just as early success made people say Irving was clearly better.


    1. You make some good points. To truly and firmly reach the conclusion that Wall doesn’t belong on the national team, I probably should have compared him to the guys chosen ahead of him. Maybe I’ll do that in a part 2.

      That said, Wall isn’t top 5 in my PPA stat — he’s 10th among PGs (minimum of 500 minutes played). PPA is the per minute measure; total production is the…well…total credits that go into PPA. He’s 5th in the “totals” measure because he plays so many minutes. There’s value in playing lots of minutes, but for the Wizards to improve, they need him to be more productive on the per minute side.

      The real point I was trying to make is that the negative plays matter too. Wall makes lots of good plays, but lots of bad ones too. On balance, he’s pretty good. But, he’s not elite because the good MUST be considered against the bad.


  2. You also didn’t take into account international PGs, which could bump Wall up 2-3 slots. There is also defense, which can’t really be told through pure stats. I would think Wall would rank relatively high on that side of the ball.


    1. My stat (PPA) accounts for defense, but you make a good point about internationals. I’m going to re-look at this question in a (hopefully) more comprehensive way next week.


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