Can John Wall Follow Brandon Jennings' Example?

With Miami’s Big Three not playing together due to some minor injuries and new Knick Amar’e Stoudemire already stuck in the poor-rebounding and inconstant-scoring zone, most fans are turning their how’s-he-performing? attention to Washington rookie John Wall. The uber-hyped point guard was the obvious #1 pick in June’s draft, and people can’t wait to see how quickly the speedster can turn the Wizards around, so his boxscores are getting checked more than anyone else’s throughout the preseason.

His chief statistical reputation is that he can pile up points and assists in some amazing ways, but those who have looked a little deeper at his year in Kentucky and in the summer league also know he’s had some serious issues shooting the ball and keeping the turnovers at a manageably low level. Most fans know that Wall’s been putting up great preseason pers of 18 ppg and 8 apg, but let’s take a deeper look at his first six games.

For starters, we should examine his overall numbers and consider for a second what they really mean. Wall has scored 107 points to average 18 ppg, but his shooting percentages range from bad to terrible. His FG% of just under 43% (38-for-89) is pretty bad by both league and guard standards. If you look at the league’s top-15 PG’s last year in terms of assists per game (that’s from 5.4 apg up and includes all the guys you’re assuming it does), only one took as many shot attempts per game as Wall is now (15), and he did so at a healthy 49% clip (Derrick Rose, 18 shots per). Of those who shot as poorly as Wall is now, the vast majority were keeping their amount of shots down.

Wall is not a long-range shooter, and thankfully has only attempted 11 from downtown, hitting 1 (9%). As a point guard, though, his decision-making abilities need to be top-notch, which includes understanding that if he can’t shoot deep shots, he needs to shoot less of them. Again, most of the top-15 PG’s who had bad percentages from deep weren’t averaging nearly 2 attempts per game. In fact, the only two who were shooting more than two a game and who also had bad percentages were Baron Davis (28%, 4.0) and Devin Harris (28%, 3.4). Wall has connected on 20 of 28 free throws, which is a 71% FT%. Only one of the top-15 PG’s shot poorer from the free throw line, the notoriously terrible Rajon Rondo at 62%. Remember that Wall made 9-for-11 in his first game against Dallas when Jason Kidd only played 18 minutes. That means that since then he has barely been to the line, connecting on just 11 of 17 (65%) in five games.

When you talk about point guards, you have to consider how well they’re distributing the ball, setting up teammates for good shots, and avoiding turnovers. In this regard, Wall has been a mixed bag. Yes, he’s averaging a phenomenal 8 assists per game (48 in 6 contests), but 21 turnovers gives him 3.5 of those each game, as well. Of the top-15 point guards, only one had 3.5 or more turnovers per game, and that was Steve Nash, who had a 11.0-3.6 A-TO rate on the mile-a-minute Suns. Looking at point guards’ assist numbers strictly from an efficiency standpoint, Wall has a 2.2 A-TO ratio (8.0-3.6). Of the top-15 PG’s, the majority were in the 2.4 to 3.1 range, with only Rose (6.0-2.8 A-TO, 2.1 rate), Stephen Curry (5.9-3.1 A-TO, 1.9 rate), and Darren Collison (5.7-2.7 A-TO, 2.1 rate) dipping as low as 2.2 or below. This is nothing new for Wall, who had a 1.6 rate in college (6.2-4.0 A-TO) and 1.5 in the summer league (7.8-5.3 A-TO).

I hate to say it, but as inefficiently bad as Wall’s numbers look when you consider how often he’s shooting and his high number of turnovers, he’s played far more minutes than the opposition’s starting PG’s at this point, meaning he’s gotten a chance to fill the stat sheet against back-ups. Wall has seen the floor for between 29 and 39 minutes each contest, averaging 36 a night. His opposing starting point guards have played an average of 25 minutes a night, wavering between 18 and 31 in each contest. Additionally, only 3 of those 6 were among the top-15 PG’s (Kidd, Rose, Brandon Jennings), with Kidd being the only one known for playing good defense.

Things aren’t all bad for Wall, though. He has 13 steals through 6 games (2.2 per) and he has at least 1 every game, plus he’s stayed out of foul trouble, getting called for more than 2 fouls only once (5 in 39 minutes against Milwaukee). Keep in mind that Wall is starting his rookie season off, in terms of shooting and turning the ball over too much, much like Jennings did last year. The Bucks’ rook was shooting over 17 shots a game early on, making a terrible 40% of them. He wisened up by the end of the year, limiting himself to only 13 per over March and April; he was still a poor shooter at that point, but he realized his teammates should do more of the scoring. Not only that, Jennings started off with a sub-2.0 A-TO rate through the first month-plus, but he turned things around by the New Year, averaging a 2.5 rate (5.5-2.2 A-TO) in 2010. Considering how similar the playing styles are for these two, it’s not a stretch to say Wall can position himself to put up much more meaningful numbers by the end of his rookie campaign.


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