John Wall started suffering from back spasms early on in the season during the Wizards’ first losing streak. He was questionable for a game against the Miami Heat and has been day-to-day periodically throughout the season.
Wall has let it be known that the back spasms wouldn’t keep him off of the floor and that they don’t bother him enough for him not to play. He’s been seen on the sidelines using heat pads to keep the spasms from flaring up a la Steve Nash.
But still, Wall’s performance shooting the ball has been dreadful this season. He’s coming dangerously close to the more-points-than-shots club early in the season, averaging 15.8 points per game on 15.5 shots per game. That isn’t the All-Star production that Wall was looking forward to for this season. He’s shooting 36% throughout the season and 32% in his last five games. This is something that Wall needs to turn around and fast.
The issue is that Wall hasn’t been penetrating and driving the way that he used to throughout his entire career. Instead, he’s been settling for midrange jumpers and passing the ball in situations where there are clear lanes to attack. This can be a bit disconcerting because the offense is missing the element of his penetration in the half-court. This is why they’ve got one of the worst offenses in the league as it stands today.
Wall is a player who has traditionally driven by anyone throughout his career. He’s been able to finish at an average clip throughout his career in the NBA, but this season he’s shooting poorly there as well. Wall has acknowledged that he needs to attack the basket more if he wants to be successful.
“I’ve gotta get back to attacking the basket, and just settling,” he said as he sat down following the Wizards’ shootaround Saturday morning.
“I think that can happen when you’ve worked so hard on your shot,” Wall said, tacitly acknowledging that he’s trying to prove that he is a good perimeter shooter this season. It has been a burden on Wall since he was taken No. 1 overall by Washington in 2010, only briefly ameliorated with a strong showing last season after he returned from a knee injury.
Wall is shooting a lot of jumpers and his form looks better than it did last season, but he’s still missing. But Wall keeps taking them instead of trying to get into the lane. This could be a result of him trying to make his jumper work, but I think he’s a smarter player than that. Most players in the NBA know to stop taking jump shots when they’re not falling and try to attack–especially when that’s always been your bread and butter.
I think that Wall’s issues on his lack of penetration could be because of his back. I’m not sure if he’s scared to attack because he doesn’t want to injure his back or if it’s that painful for him. It’s still affecting him in his daily living situations, so I suspect that it would be on the court as well.
Ever since he started experiencing lower back pain in the second game of the season, Wall has felt the discomfort come and go. Sharp pain sometimes wakes him up in the middle of the night and the fear of more flare-ups forces him to rest on a heating pad when he’s not in the game.
Again, Wall isn’t letting this facilitate excuses and give him reasons to say that he can’t. But this would be a more than plausible explanation as to why he isn’t going to the rim and drawing fouls at his normal rate.
The numbers reflect this as well. Wall normally starts off well from the field and gets to the rim with no trouble. But as the game advances and simmers on the bench, things progressively get worse for Wall. His shooting numbers reflect that. Below are Wall’s shooting splits, quarter by quarter and half by half.
You can see in the chart provided by NBA.com’s stats tool that Wall’s shooting numbers steadily decrease quater by quarter and half by half. It should be noted that Wall normally sits for long stretches in the second quarter and the fourth quarter. These numbers are all measured per 36 minutes.
For pace adjusted stats, we’ll look at Wall per possession with these same splits.
You can see that Wall’s second quarter and fourth quarter stats fall because of the adjustment in pace instead of using minutes. But his first half numbers are overwhelmingly better than his second half numbers and it isn’t even close. This shows that at the start of games, Wall is a better player. Last season it was the exact opposite and he was far better in the second half of games. That doesn’t mean too much in this case, but it’s food for thought.
Here’s even more damning evidence that Wall is settling more in the second half. Here’s his shot distribution chart in the first half of games this season.
Most of Wall’s shots come from the midrange area–which is concerning. But that’s what the Wizards are being coached to do. Most of their shots as a team come from that area. But you can see that Wall’s shot distribution between the rim and the midrange area is almost even here. Now, comparatively, here is Wall’s second half shot chart.
A big chunk of Wall’s shots go into the midrange area in the second half. This could be him trying to control the pace of the game more, but again, it’s food for thought. Wall could be settling because of the back issue, the pace or defensive adjustments among other things. We’d have to deeply examine the film to find out exactly what’s going on here, but I think that what the numbers have given us shows the discrepancy in Wall’s shot distribution from one point in the game to another.
I think it’s fair to assume that his back could possibly be more of an issue than he’s letting on. He hasn’t played through back pain in his career yet and it’s something that takes time to adjust to. Back spasms can last for weeks or even months if a player doesn’t get an opportunity to truly recover. But this is an issue that Wall needs to correct sooner rather than later if he wants to make that All-Star bid he’s talked about for years now.
There are some things that could help solve this issue if it is, in fact, his back that is hampering him. Randy Wittman could decrease his minutes, but that would mean giving more to Eric Maynor which is less than ideal here. He could also play him longer stretches and give him shorter breaks periodically. Wall misses around five to six minutes in the second and fourth quarters. If Wittman gave him two or three minute breaks in every quarter, that may help Wall establish more of a rhythm and stop his back issues from flaring up too much.
But, of course, those are just theoretical fixes. Nothing has been proven and back spasms are a tricky thing. We don’t even know if this is the real root of the issue. The bottom line is that it has to be solved in some way. Even if Wall needs time off, it’s better for the long term.