One of The Official Narratives of the 2015-16 Washington Wizards season is that point guard John Wall is terrific, but is getting sideswiped by a substandard supporting cast. Last month, The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg lamented that, “The saddest thing here is that the Wizards might be in the process of sacrificing a year of John Wall’s prime.”
In Michael Lee’s excellent article at Yahoo!, Wall echoed Steinberg, saying: “I ain’t trying to waste a season.”
Adam McGinnis and I touched on the subject during our podcast last week.
Alas, as is the case with many Official Narratives, there are problems.
- On a per-possession basis, Wall isn’t Washington’s most productive player. That honor goes to center Marcin Gortat. Because Wall plays five more minutes per game than Gortat, Wall leads the team in total production.
- Wall is not an elite player.
- The overall production difference between Wall (Washington’s top producer) and Gortat (second in total production) has been vastly overstated.
- The quality of Wall’s “supporting cast” isn’t bad.
Wall’s PPA (see below) is 148 this year. Among players with at least 500 minutes this season, he ranks 54th. Among point guards, he ranks 11th. Wall has had stretches of dominant play, but his performance continues to be plagued by the same bugaboos he’s had throughout his career: turnovers, poor shot selection and poor shooting. Gortat, by the way, ranks 29th in PPA.
Wall isn’t an elite player. For the past few seasons seasons (including this one, most of the year), he’s rated as a top 8-10 point guard and a top 40-50 player overall. That’s very good, but well short of the impact from elite point guards and elite players. He could be great — he was in December, for example. But his performance game-to-game is a mix of fantastic and horrible. Which averages out to very good, not elite.
The average PPA of top total producers for each team is 179 — 31 points better than Wall. Among those top 30 producers, Wall ranks 24th in per possession production — ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Nerlens Noel, Gordon Hayward, Tyson Chandler and Jordan Clarkson.
The average top producer has provided 22.0% of his team’s production. Wall is about average at 21.8%.
The average gap between a top producer and his team’s “number two” is about 4.5%. For Wall and Gortat, it’s 2.7%. Want a player who actually fits The Official Narrative? Try New Orleans where Anthony Davis has a PPA of 189, provides 26.3% of his team’s production, and (at 13.2%) sports the biggest drop to his team’s second most productive.
Since you’re wondering, the top five in total production shares:
- Stephen Curry, GSW — 29.6%
- Russell Westbrook, OKC — 26.7%
- James Harden, HOU — 26.4%
- Lebron James, CLE — 26.3%
- Anthony Davis, NOP — 26.3%
And, here’s the top five in drop-off to “number two”:
- Anthony Davis, NOP — 13.2%
- Stephen Curry, GSW — 12.7%
- James Harden, HOU — 8.5%
- Kawhi Leonard, SAS — 8.3%
- Kyle Lowry, TOR — 8.2%
Wall and the Wizards are 20th.
That’s all fine, you might be saying, but The Official Narrative isn’t necessarily that Wall’s “Robin” sucks, it’s that the roster lacks depth. That lack of depth means Wall has to carry a heavier load than other franchise leaders. Unfortunately, this is also wrong.
For this question, I calculated minutes-weighted PPA (mwPPA) for each team — after deducting the production of its top player. mwPPA provides a handy way of measuring the relative quality of each team’s roster.
The league average “supporting cast” posted an mwPPA of 92. The Wizards rank 14th so far this season with a 93. Since you were wondering, here’s the top five in supporting cast mwPPA:
- SAS — 124
- GSW — 121
- ATL — 107
- OKC — 105
- BOS — 104
So, to recap:
- Wall isn’t elite.
- The gap between Wall’s total production and Gortat’s is smaller than average for a number one to a number two.
- The Wizards “supporting cast” is mediocre, not terrible.
The real problem for the Wizards is in that first bullet. Their problem: they don’t have an elite player.
Player Production Average
The ratings below are from a metric I developed called Player Production Average (PPA). In PPA, players are credited for things they do that help a team win, and debited for things that don’t, each in proportion to what causes teams to win and lose. PPA is pace neutral, accounts for defense, and includes an adjustment based on the level of competition faced when a player is on the floor. In PPA, average is 100, higher is better, and replacement level is 45.
League-wide PPA scores through games played 3/14/16 are here.