For the first time since the glory days of Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, the Washington Wizards find themselves in playoff contention more than halfway through a season. Despite being aided by the "Leastern" Conference's struggles, the Wizards are a team much improved. To look at the core of Washington's strides is to look at the man at the point: John Wall.
Wall has been the Wizards' MVP this season, an indisputable fact. In half a season, the former first overall pick has gone from a work in progress to one of the league's best at his position. He is also the franchise's first All-Star since both Caron Butler and Jamison were selected in 2008. Earlier this week, the Wizards crossed the .500 mark for the first time in 355 games. In their 100-90 win over Portland, Washington fans chanted "MVP" as Wall nailed two free throws to secure the win.
As Wall continues his spectacular breakout season, let's dig deeper and examine how and why he has become so valuable to his squad.
He Does It All
This year in the NBA, there are few players, let alone guards, who have consistently put up as balanced a performance as Wall has. Wall is averaging more points (20.0), assists (8.5), and steals (2.1) than any other player on the roster. His 8.5 assists per game are a conference best, and only Kyrie Irving is averaging more points per game among Eastern point guards. His rebounding rate has even increased by .4 boards per game from last year.
For elite point guards, there is always a balance to strike between scoring and creating opportunities for teammates. Wall has found that balance as evidenced by his frequent double-doubles. His 17 such performances in that category is the highest total for a point guard in the East, and the fourth highest at his position in the entire league. Wall has hit career-high numbers in both scoring and assists, which indicates that he is taking "the next step" and carrying his team. He'll even have the chance to add Slam Dunk Champion to his list of accomplishments when he competes for the title during All-Star Weekend.
The Team is Much Better When He's on the Court
Okay, forgive me if this seems blatantly obvious, but Wall's importance to his team's success is absurdly high. While his plus/minus average is only 2.3 points per game, that hardly tells the whole story. Bradley Beal is second on the roster in assists per game, and he's averaging 5.2 fewer dimes each contest than Wall.
The Kentucky Wildcats product has also been at his best when it matters the most. According to NBA.com's ranking of the most "clutch" players in the league, which takes into consideration points scored in the final five minutes of a game, Wall is 3rd overall behind only Irving and LeBron James.
Wall hasn't missed a game this year, so we don't quite know yet what this Washington squad would look like without him. Last year, the Wizards were pretty much a .500 team with Wall in the lineup, going 24-25 in his injury-abbreviated season. Without him, last year's team went a mind-bogglingly terrible 5-28. With Garrett Temple (2.5 PPG/1.3 APG) the current backup point behind Wall, the Wizards and their fans don't want to find out what would happen should the All-Star go down again.
He's Been One of the Most Improved Players in the NBA
This is not to say that Wall was a bad or even mediocre player before this season began. However, there were lingering questions about his shooting ability and turnover rate, as he led the league with 255 miscues two years ago. Wall has made huge strides in those departments, for which he deserves a lot of credit.
In the above graphic from NBA.com, we see that Wall has improved greatly from beyond the arc. He is now an above-average shooter from the right corner, which is amazing when you consider his shot chart from last year:
Entering this season, Wall's percentage's from deep read as follows: 29.6 percent, 0.7 percent, and 26.7 percent. While his current mark of 32.8 percent isn't going to lead the league anytime soon, it's a drastic increase. Wall's added scoring from the perimeter has helped his Player Efficiency Rating, as qualified by ESPN.com's John Hollinger. Wall's PER stands at 20.30, the best amongst all Eastern point guards.
A popular knock on Wall coming into this season was an assist-to-turnover ratio that was not indicative of a top-tier point guard. This year has been a different story. By most standards, a ratio of anything over two is a sign that a point guard is doing his job. Wall's assist-to-turnover ratio currently stands at 2.43, a career-best. He could still work on lowering his turnovers (3.5 per game), but his increased assist rate keeps the offense flowing well enough for Washington to stay in most games.
He also seems to have matured. After drawing a total of 20 technical fouls in his first three seasons, Wall has only been cited for one so far this year. Overall, Wall has taken on the persona of team leader, which is exactly what Washington envisioned when they drafted him in 2010.
All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted