Wizard On The Rise: Don´t Back Against John Wall
John Wall's return has seen the Washington Wizards turn what appeared to be another disappointing season into one filled with optimism for the future. Today on the blog Adam Digby takes a look at how the Wizards' point guard has turned his club's fortunes around.
Having ended the previous game as a spectator, John Wall exploded for a career high 47 points as Washington recorded a comfortable win over the highly fancied Memphis Grizzlies. “I made my first couple of shots and I knew I was in a great rhythm,” he told reporters after the game and, with him in the line-up, so is Washington.
Wall’s shooting included 13 of 22 from the field, and 19 of 24 free throws. He also added eight assists and seven rebounds in a performance that showed just how badly the Wizards had missed him in the first half of the season. Since his comeback from injury on January 12, the Wizards boast a 23-19 record and a winning percentage (.548) that, if they had maintained for the whole season, would see them comfortably among the Eastern Conference Playoff teams.
“That was an incredible performance from him. We jumped on it and he carried us. It felt to me that it was all under control. All within our offense, all within what we were doing,” - Wizards coach Randy Wittman
The difference, almost the only difference, is the return of the third year guard, a player who has almost single-handedly transformed the team and the direction in which it is heading. Averaging a team-high 32.0 minutes per game since his return, he has helped them to some huge victories over high flying teams such as Denver, Houston and both LA teams. Just last week he was instrumental in a win over the Lakers, recording game high 24 points as well as 6 rebounds, 16 assists and 3 steals in a stellar performance.
The overall No. 1 pick in 2010 only made his season debut in a 93-83 win over the Atlanta Hawks in early January despite being expected to miss just two months when the injury was diagnosed back in September. Owners of a 5-28 record prior to his return, the Wizards were regularly blown out. They suffered some lopsided defeats to a variety of teams including a 32-point loss at the hands of Detroit and a 16-point beating from the lowly Charlotte Bobcats.
That those losses came during two separate twelve game losing streaks appeared to mark yet another miserable campaign for a franchise that had not finished a season above .500 since 2008. Indicative of their struggles without him, the game prior to his dismantling of Memphis this past week, Wall was ejected against the Golden State Warriors for two technical fouls. The team slid to a nine-point defeat in a perfect reflection of how they had fared without the former Kentucky Wildcat.
But even beyond his personal input he has, like any good point guard should, vastly improved those around him. Washington's offense has never been ranked better than 25th in the league in terms of points per 100 possessions, yet Wall is able to make the most out of his teammates. He continues to find the open man, recording almost eight assists on a roster where no other player averages more than 13 points per game.
The Wizards have risen to be ranked 11th in the league in net efficiency (points scored versus points allowed per 100 possessions) since Wall's return, according to NBA.com's stats tool, and fourth in the Eastern Conference behind only the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, and New York Knicks. Those numbers above all others highlight his importance to the team and, given the progression of Bradley Beal, and the surprising outburst from Martell Webster (owner of a superb 62.6 true shooting percentage this season), there could be much more to come from Washington next season.
While his offensive numbers are fairly consistent with his previous seasons, he has begun to improve on the other side of the ball. The defensive improvement is barely noticeable in his stats where his 0.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game are in keeping with his career averages; however, his footwork, positioning and timing have shown significant improvement.
This is in no small part due to seeking advice from a surprising source, as Wall sought out former Defensive Player of the Year, Gary Payton, for help. “He tweeted me and asked for my number and I called him and we've been tight ever since," the former star told Grantland last week. "He's a kid I like because he called me to ask me how to get better at playing defense and how to become a good point man."
The Wizards have put together one of the best records against the spread in the NBA this season, at 43-30-2 (58.7%). It is the best ATS record of any team in the Eastern Conference and third best in the league overall.
What is most noteworthy, is that prior to Wall's return, the club were 17-14-2 against the spread, but since his return the Wizards have caught the oddsmakers by surprise, posting an amazing 26-16 record against the spread at near 62%. This included a run of 9 straight covers immediately after Wall's return to the lineup and 14 of their first 17.
With Gary Payton firmly in his corner and the franchise sure to improve the quality of those around him, you could do far worse than join them in backing Washington and John Wall.
You can follow Adam on Twitter: @Adz77
And read more of his work at ESPN.com