Now in his fifth year, Wizards PG John Wall is having the best season of his career. He’s drawn accolades from observers around the league, and some Washington fans have even started wondering if he might be a fringe MVP candidate. The MVP talk and the “he’s the best PG in the league” assertions are premature, however. He’s terrifically productive, but there’s still room for significant improvement.
Put away the pitchforks and torches. While Wall isn’t quite where fans want to place him, this is really good news for the Wizards. He’s a phenomenal player whose best days are likely still in the future.
While Wall’s passing and offensive creativity elicits praise, his greatest contribution is on the defensive end. In the defense part of my metric (Player Production Average — PPA for short), Wall rates as the league’s best defensive PG. That’s not a typo. Number one. Top of the heap. Nobody better. That finding is echoed by ESPN’s Real Plus Minus stat. If the season ended today, he’d be on my first-team All-Defense ballot.
As head coach Randy Wittman told the Sports Junkies this morning, Wall has all the attributes of an outstanding defender — size, quickness, speed, strength, length. And while he’s rated as a good defender in my system in previous years, he’s made the defensive leap this season with suffocating on-ball pressure, hard close-outs on shooters, and impeccable timing in the passing lanes.
The Los Angeles Clippers, led by elite PG Chris Paul, struggled to get into their offensive sets early in Washington’s win last week because of Wall’s pressure. Consider this: Paul has 49 total turnovers this season. Six of them came against the Wizards.
By now you’re probably wondering: If Wall’s so great on defense and he’s such a great passer and the Wizards are winning, why don’t you agree he’s an MVP candidate? Why are you about to tell me he’s not a top five PG?
Which brings me back to a junk metric I created last season: Only Good Stuff. In its simplest form, OGS is points + rebounds + assists + steals + blocks.
Wall is among the game’s more active players when he’s out there. He produces lots of OGS — 7th most in the league, in fact. Here’s the top 10 in OGS:
- James Harden — 977
- Anthony Davis — 940
- Stephen Curry — 922
- Kobe Bryant — 917
- Lebron James — 917
- LaMarcus Aldridge — 869
- John Wall — 867
- Blake Griffin — 843
- Kyle Lowry — 361
- Damian Lillard — 835
That’s a pretty impressive group, and Wall sits second among PGs. But, it’s ONLY the good stuff. What if we look at the other side of the ledger — Only Bad Stuff (missed field goal attempts + 0.5 x missed free throw attempts + turnovers + fouls)? Well, Wall’s near the top of that list too — 6th most OBS. The bottom 10:
- Kobe Bryant — 502
- James Harden — 422
- Monta Ellis — 389
- Josh Smith — 387
- Carmelo Anthony — 384
- John Wall — 367
- Tyreke Evans — 365
- Kyle Lowry — 361
- Blake Griffin — 360
- Stephen Curry — 351
So, with Wall (and several other of the game’s outstanding players), lots of good AND lots of “bad.” What if we combine the two? Because the categories aren’t weighted based on how much they contribute to winning, let’s call this last category Unweighted Total Stuff (UTS) — OGS – OBS. Here’s the top 10:
- Anthony Davis — 687
- Stephen Curry — 571
- Lebron James — 559
- James Harden — 555
- Chris Paul — 523
- LaMarcus Aldridge — 523
- Marc Gasol — 512
- Tyson Chandler — 505
- John Wall & Damian Lillard — 501
- Blake Griffin — 484
Enough with the “stuff,” according to PPA (which is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a degree of difficulty factor), Wall currently sits 8th among PGs on a per minute basis. Westbrook, Curry and Paul are clearly the top three. Lillard is next. Then it’s a tight group of Jeff Teague, Lowry, Mike Conley and Wall.
The scores of Wall’s group are close enough that I’d classify them as “about the same” and reasonable minds can differ on what order they should be in. I won’t argue if you want to push Wall to fifth, though I don’t see justification for ranking him higher at this point.
As mentioned above, Wall rates as the best defender — Lowry and Conley rate as average; Teague as a good-not-outstanding defender. However, Wall is the least efficient on offense among the top PGs by approximately 8 points per 100 possessions.
In TOTAL production, Wall currently sits 5th behind Curry, Paul, Lillard and Lowry. Kyrie Irving slips in ahead of Wall for fifth in per game PPA.
What can Wall do to improve? Shoot better and commit fewer turnovers.
How good has Wall been in December? His PPA for the month is 219 so far. If that was his PPA for the season, he’d rank 4th among PGs, ahead of Lillard, but still behind Westbrook, Curry and Paul.
To this week’s PPA update…
PPA is an overall rating stat I developed that credits players for things they do that help a team win and debits them for things that hurt the cause. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes a “degree of difficulty” factor based on the level of competition a player faces while on the floor. In PPA, 100 = average, higher is better and replacement level is 45.
The Paul Pierce signing looks better and better. The last time Pierce was this productive was the 2011-12 season. His efficiency numbers have surged as the SF has found the Fountain of Youth. One potential warning sign is a slip in his defensive impact since the season’s opening weeks. After rating solidly above average earlier in the year, he’s down to average in my most recent update.
Andre Miller is another of the Wizards ancients who continues to perform well. The team plays dramatically different when he replaces Wall in the lineup (they slow by 10 possessions per 48 minutes), but they’re crazy efficient when he’s out there. It seems like every game is a masterclass for how to get to the rim despite running in slow motion.
Statistical tidbit: so far this season, Wall is averaging 14.8 assists per 100 possessions. Miller is averaging 14.4.
Beal and Nenê increased production after a couple rough weeks. I hope Wittman continues to use Nenê off the bench where he can face opponent reserves when Washington is on offense, and anchor a weak defensive second unit.
Kevin Seraphin was up for a second straight week. His rebounding has improved the past couple weeks, though his offensive efficiency remains poor. Among the team’s regulars, he’s in a virtual tie with Miller as the least effective defender.