Who is the Better NBA Player: Wizards Wall or Bulls Rose

| by David Berri

Who would you rather have, John Wall or Derrick Rose? 

Both players played one season of college basketball with John Calipari at Memphis.

Both players were the first player chosen in their respective draft.

And both players are already considered by many people as star point guards.

But which player is more productive?

The two played each other on Saturday and Rose was somewhat more productive (despite not shooting particularly well). But one game is hardly much of a sample. What we need is a sample that is much, much bigger. 

For Rose, we have such a sample. Rose has already played 167 NBA games, so we have some idea what kind of player he has been in the NBA. As for Wall… well, his entire NBA experience only consists of eight games (a sample that is eight times bigger than a single game!). And eight games isn’t much. But I am going to throw out the numbers we have so far (because those are the only numbers we have).

The following table reports what John Wall has done across his first eight NBA games. It also reports what Rose has done this season, what Rose offered last season, and what an average point guard gives an NBA team.

The two players have many similarities. Both players have been below average this season with respect to shooting efficiency and turnovers, about average with respect to rebounds, and above average with respect to assists and getting to the free throw line. The primary difference is that John Wall is very good at getting steals and Rose is below average in this department. As a consequence, Wall has so far been an above average NBA player (although in my conversation with Andres Alvarez and Arturo Galletti yesterday, Andres noted that Wall has been inconsistent). 

And Rose…okay, Rose is still about average.  Yes, I know. He’s an all-star. He stars in commercials. But his production of wins is about average (something I have noted before). And this is because he has yet to be consistently above average with respect to any aspect of the game (besides taking shots). This year – again, after just eight games — he is offering quite a few assists. This production, though, is offset by poor shooting.  If he could offer the assists and better shooting, then he would be above average. And if this happens, I would then say “Rose is now above average”. For now, though, Rose is just average.

His team, though, is better than average.  As we can see below, this is primarily because of the play of Joakim Noah, Keith Bogans, and Taj Gibson (a trio that is projected to produce nearly 40 wins). The team is also projected to receive 11.1 wins from Rose and Ronnie Brewer. But the trio of Noah, Bogans and Gibson are leading the way so far (and Noah is easily the most productive player for the Bulls).

As of now the team is projected to win about 54 games. This projection should go up

a. once Carlos Boozer starts to play.

b. if Luol Deng starts producing (as he has done in the past).

If the Bulls do manage to approach 60 wins this year, we can expect Derrick Rose to be considered a star by many more people. After all, Rose is the team’s leading scorer (primarily because he has decided to take the most shots). But if Rose continues to be average, the team’s success will still be about Rose’s teammates.

What about Wall? Unfortunately for John Wall, his teammates are not nearly as productive. As the following table indicates, Wall is on pace to produce 12.0 wins this year. The rest of his team, though, is only on pace to produce 7.0 wins. Yes, without Wall the Wizards could be historically bad. 

And remember, Wall eclipses Rose because of Wall’s ability to get steals. If Wall was average with respect to steals, Wall’s WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] would fall from 0.179 to 0.112 and his projected Wins Produced would fall from 12.0 to 7.5. And the Wizards projected wins would fall from 19.0 to 14.6.

Those steals, though, have happened. And if they continue – and if Wall continues to perform as we have seen so far (and yes, the sample is still just eight games) – then Wall will be above average and the Wizards will approach 20 wins. The team can also be better if Andray Blatche and Yi Jianlian get back to what they were last year. Yes, both players were below average in 2009-10. And yes, I think some fans thought each player was going to get better. But both have been much worse. If each can get back to just being bad, the Wizards might approach 30 wins. 

Of course, that assumes every player who has improved stays improved. And that… okay, really we just have eight games. So we really can’t say too much. What we can say is that

  •  John Wall has been above average (primarily because he is good at getting steals).
  • the Wizards have not been very good.
  • and the Wizards will need more productive players if the team wishes to above average.

And if Wall stays above average once better teammates arrive – and Rose stays about average – then I think people will see Wall is the better player.

Of course, that is a bunch of ifs. And Wall still has only played eight games (have I mentioned the sample size yet?).

Let me close by noting that neither Wall nor Rose are as productive as the top point guards in the game. Recently Chris Broussard and Ric Bucher debated whether Chris Paul or Deron Williams was the “best” point guard in the game (insider access required).  Bucher took the position that Williams is better than Paul. The numbers, though, suggest this isn’t even close. Not only is Paul the most productive point guard (with Rajon Rondo coming in second), Paul is also the most productive player in the game (on a per-minute basis). Meanwhile, Williams is not even the most productive player on his team this year (see the automated WP numbers from Andres Alvarez for each player’s Wins Produced and WP48 this season).

One reason Paul is so productive is that he limits his turnovers. Andres Alvarez reported the following quote from Paul that illustrates his attitude towards turnovers:

“As soon as the game’s over, I want to know how many turnovers I had,” Paul says. “My job is to run the team and get us as many possessions as possible. When I turn the ball over I take possessions away from us.”

Perhaps someday Wall and Rose – who turn the ball over about twice as often as Paul – will adopt the same attitude. And when that happens, we might say that Wall and Rose are among the top point guards in the game.

- DJ