Earlier today ESPN released some more of their NBA rankings for the upcoming season. The ESPN NBA Rank is a tradition that the ESPN Truehoop blog has carried over the last few seasons where they rank the 500 best players in the NBA.
Today, they narrowed things down to the top 20. John Wall came in at 21st on their ranking. To give a bit of context, Wall was ranked ahead of Kobe Bryant, Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert. All of those players aside from Bryant had some sort of playoff experience last season–Bryant didn’t only because of an Achilles injury.
Some of the names that will be ahead of Wall are James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Deron Williams and Derrick Rose. In other words, Wall is right on the cusp of being considered an elite player by pundits.
The public perception of Wall can sometimes be a bit overwhelming or underwhelming depending on who you talk to. His flaws stick out like a sore thumb while his strengths are more hidden, but yet, still effective. His court vision, speed, athleticism and driving and kick ability are among the best in the league. But his lack of a jump shot as a point guard has plagued him throughout his short career. Health has also been an issue with Wall.
So does Wall truly deserve this ranking? Let’s examine the numbers starting with the statistics that everyone likes to use. After a 5-28 start before Wall’s return, the Wizards finished with a record of 24-25.
In that 49 game sample, Wall averaged 18.5 points per game and 7.6 assists per game. Per 36 minutes Wall averaged 20.4 points per game and 8.4 assists per game. Some pretty productive numbers when looking at their face value. But let’s take that a step deeper and compare it to the competition.
Using basketball-reference’s play index, I looked to see how many players averaged at least 18 points per game last season, dished out at least 7.0 assists per game and shot at least six free throws per game last season. Here’s what I found:
Wall was one of five players to fit the statistical criteria set for my query. The other four were LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Deron Williams. Three of those players were All-Stars last season and all four have been at some point in their career. This isn’t to say that Wall is an All-Star or that he deserved to be one last season–it’s to provide context on what kind of season he had last year in regards to production.
Now, when looking at Wall’s initial sample of 49 games, we can see that there is a clear split in his production from month to month. Take a look:
Wall’s numbers fluctuated from month to month, but in the final two months of the season he performed at a very high level. Throughout the last 20 games of the season, Wall has a true shooting percentage of 54%, averaged 24.2 points per game, 8.0 assists per game and 8.5 free throw attempts per game. Those are numbers that are reflective of an MVP run.
He was playing arguably the best basketball in the league at that point in the season. That essentially earned him the $80 million contract that he signed earlier this offseason.
The question is whether or not Wall really ranks among the NBA’s best. Even though that stretch was a relatively small sample of 20 games, I’d say that it shows enough potential for me to go ahead and say that he does. Of course, that is debatable. What do we make of the former stretch that Wall had where he couldn’t buy a bucket? He shot 38% from the field in February and was an offensive liability at times.
It all depends on how you look at it. If you look from a glass half full perspective, Wall is totally one of the top players in the NBA. If you look at it from a glass half empty perspective, Wall is not going to be what ESPN’s NBA ranking says that he will be.
Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. Only time is going to tell us. Still, this season is going to be a very exciting one for Wall and the rest of us in D.C.