The Washington Wizards have high expectations next season. After finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference and starting the season 5-28 before John Wall’s emphatic return against the Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards finished the rest of the season with a 24-24 and are being considered by many as a playoff team for next season.
This will be the first time in John Wall’s NBA career that pundits expect high success from him on a team level. In order to facilitate this success, Wall will have to be consistent with the superstar qualities that he shows every night. And this consistency also has to show on both ends of the floor.
Over the next few days, I’ll be highlighting some key things that John Wall has to work on in order to become the superstar player that he aspires to be.
This is the first edition, if you will, of this improvement series. In this edition we will he highlighting how John Wall plays on the defensive end, moving laterally and going over or under screens.
Going over and under screens is a very important aspect–maybe even the most important aspect–of perimeter defense in the NBA. With the high volume of pick and roll attacks still steadily increasing around the NBA, its pertinent that Wall learn’s how to perfect this skill.
With his size and length at 6’4 with a 6’9 wingspan, he has the ability to bother ball handlers with his size and length. As an isolation defender, Wall is already a decent player. He allows .88 points per possession according to Synergy Sports technology. That isn’t a bad figure, but it isn’t exactly good either.
He moves well enough laterally and has the length to impede the path of drivers without fouling. Even when he gets beat, its because of his wingspan that he is able to recover and bother shots. Wall is an excellent shot blocker from behind–especially for a guard.
Still, moving through screens is something that Wall struggles with. Whether the screens are on the ball or off of the ball, Wall seems to have trouble managing his length when trying to fight through them. He makes irrational decisions that cost the team a possession and will have multiple defensive lapses when playing through screens.
More often than not, he gets caught up into a screener that he shouldn’t be. Take a look at this snippet from a game against Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Wall gets stuck on Zach Randolph’s screen and gets caught overplaying Mike Conley at the end of the play:
Wall’s first mistake in this play is that he chooses the wrong screen to navigate. Instead of going over the screen and chasing Conley around Tayshaun Prince, he goes through the “gate” seal on the inside and gets hit with a harder screen from Zach Randolph.
He ends up overplaying Mike Conley on the jump shot and allowing him to drive by for a layup. This is not the proper way to navigate screens. Wall was indecisive when choosing which route to take and that is what lead to the failure to stop the Grizzlies on this possession.
Conley isn’t a player who you should play over the screen against, but he also is a player who’s very crafty when running through screens. You can’t allow him to get an open look at the rim or he’ll make you pay one way or another.
Wall shows a different defensive error here when playing against the Sacramento Kings shortly after his return. He affords Jimmer Freddette the opportunity for a wide open three point shot. Take a look:
Wall makes an early decision here to go under the screen to try to prevent Jimmer Freddette from catching an easy pass on a baseline out-of-bounds play. Because Wall assumes that Freddette will continue through his normal route and break toward the elbow and the wing, he goes there early.
Freddette sees this and breaks the route off to the top of the arch. With a solid screen from Demarcus Cousins and a bad play from John Wall, this is an easy three points for the Sacramento Kings.
Giving up open threes is a no-no at any level of basketball, but especially the NBA. Instead of allowing Freddette to roam freely, Wall, again, should’ve trusted his defense here and followed Freddette over and around any screen he may have encountered along the way.
Wall may have seen this play on film and knew what Jimmer’s tendency was here. If that is the case it is a positive sign that he studies tape, however, he should know that Freddette will have options here as to where he breaks his route off at. And he knows that Freddette is a very good shooter and shooters should be chased off of the line a majority of the time.
Moving on to the next play, here is a play that started off well against the Denver Nuggets but then turned sour because of Lawson’s quickness. Take a look:
This is tricky because Wall actually starts this play off very well. He plays Lawson to his left hand and sends him into the teeth of the defense.
However, to finish the play Wall doesn’t stay tight enough on Lawson. This leaves Lawson one on one with Nene–who, obviously, is not the most fluid big man in the world. Take a look to see what I mean:
Wall is at least two strides away from Lawson right now. This isn’t a good thing because it leaves Lawson with too much space to work in and Nene on an island. Wall needs to be up on Lawson because he wants to give Nene some cushion in order for him to retreat into the lane and protect from the drive. Wall can defend a jumper from Lawson, no matter how shifty he is, because of his length.
Wall also has a terrible tendency to spin around off of screens at times against his opponents. He does that exact thing here against the Detroit Pistons when facing Jose Calderon.
Wall spins totally around on the screen and this causes him to lose track of Calderon. You are supposed to keep your eyes on your man when he has the ball at all times. Unless screens are being switched, there is no reason for Wall to completely lose track of Calderon.
He’s got all of the tools and pretty solid fundamentals defensively, but Wall just gets lackadaisical in his coverage on screens of all kinds. The effort doesn’t seem to always combine itself with the choices and the proper plays being made, but he can still improve on this. Its an extremely coachable trait that a lot of young players suffer from when they come into the NBA.
And still, it isn’t to say that he doesn’t have his moments where he looks like an All-World defender. Take a look on how he hounds John Lucas, III on this lay up:
He plays Lucas perfectly all the way to the rim. Lucas makes a tough shot, but Wall’s defense was where it should be at on that play regardless of the result. We saw effort, sound decisions and tenacity on that play. If he can do that more consistently, he’ll have an All-Defense team spot waiting in his future.
That play was only one example of instances where Wall has played tremendous defense. The tools are there, but the mentality needs to be set in stone for him on every possession. It also takes proper conditioning and injury prevention to be a tremendous player on both ends of the floor.
I’m sure that if Wall puts in the work required, he can be in the upper-echelon of two way players in the NBA.