The New York Knicks play a home game today, and they are staggering towards another season of indifference. They have plenty of problems, but foremost on that list is that they are below average defending opposition point guards. Derrick Rose would struggle to defend an open door, and the next time Brandon Jennings makes a stop it will be the first. That spells trouble for the Knicks in this contest, as they welcome one of the league’s premier point guards to Madison Square Garden. Washington floor general John Wall is as pure a point guard as there is in the league, but has long garnered scrutiny for supposedly being a ‘bad teammate’ or a disruptive influence. It’s time to cut the crap and recognise him for what he is – an elite point guard worthy of at least being in the NBA MVP discussion.
Much was written in the off-season about Wall’s relationship with Bradley Beal, with most scribes suggesting the two couldn’t stand the sight of each other and that it would impact their ability to play together. It’s a well-worn road, the narrative that teammates who aren’t best buddies cannot co-exist, but it’s rubbish. Dennis Rodman would have very few teammates with whom he formed friendships (Luc Longley being a rare, and intriguing exception) but was one of the great defensive forwards of his time and a star player in championships at both Chicago and Detroit. He played with the most competitive beast of all time, Michael Jeffery Jordan, and didn’t find an issue because MJ knew what Rodman was, an elite player and not someone he needed to hang out with off court.
Need another example of someone who didn’t care for making friends? OK then, how about Stephen Jackson, a journeyman swingman probably best known for being Ron Artest’s swingman during the infamous “Malice at the Palace”, the night on which the interactions between NBA players and fans changed forever. For those of you that are not familiar with this dark day, or wanted some grainy footage to refresh your memory then check this out.
If you haven’t heard from Jackson lately, he is fast becoming one of the best interviews in the NBA ‘family’ as evidenced by this cracker with Michael Rapaport where he touched on many subjects, including smoking weed before games. He also mentions that he was all about winning, and not interested in being chummy with friends or foes. He was there for business, and that was the beginning and end of the story.
On Jackson – reading and listening to these article makes you realise one thing is tough to dispute, the dude is REAL! And that ‘realness’ is reflected in his standing as a teammate - Tim Duncan named him his all-time favourite teammate…digest that for a second, Tim Duncan was as far from Stephen Jackson as anyone could possibly be, yet them made sweet music on court and also bonded off-court.
So back to Beal and Wall – does it really matter whether or not Wall is the perfect teammate? I wouldn’t have thought so, as long as they continue to (A) stay on court, a problem for both players and (B) complement each other as back-court buddies. The Wizards have arguably the worst bench in NBA history (no, really, it is putrid) and yet they sit 2.5 games back of the Celtics for the two-seed in the East. Marcin Gortat, Bradley Beal, Marcus Morris and Otto Porter are solid citizens but this side goes as Wall goes, and this guy looks intent on taking them deep into the playoffs.
He is averaging career-high numbers in scoring, shooting percentage, assists, steals and real plus/minus all while registering his highest ever usage, and ranking in the top 20 in player impact estimate. Oh, and he also has a career-high offensive rating, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. One of the few areas in which he is not on track for a career year is turnovers, but it’s only natural that he gives it away more often given his top-10 usage rate.
His defense is the source of plenty of discussion, as pundits weigh up the value of steals against the raw numbers put up by his opposite numbers on offense. However, take a look at those top 10 usage players (the others are Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid, Demar DeRozan, Isaiah Thomas, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kahwi Leonard and Damian Lillard) and you will see that he has the fourth best defensive rating, ahead of all but Westbrook, Embiid and Davis. Given his team plays at the third-fastest pace among that top 10, there can be little doubt he is playing defense at a very high level this season.
If you are not convinced, then here is some more food for thought – Wall rates fifth in the league in fast break points per game, second in both steals and assists and fifth among all guards in points in the paint. Wall is getting better as the season progresses – the Wizards are hot, having won 11 of their last 13 games and Wall has double-doubled in seven of those games. This current hot streak seems sustainable, although new coach Scott Brooks may face the challenge of having to manage minutes as the season goes on. As difficult as that would seem given the horrific state of the Wizards bench, it is a real concern given Wall’s injury history. Washington are one of only two teams on which all starters average more than 30 minutes a game (Minnesota is the other) and while all their starters are key, they can ill afford to lose Wall – he has missed just two games this season, and the Wizards would want to ensure good management (rather than good luck) are responsible for that number staying low.
Now, as a former #1 pick it shouldn’t be a surprise that Wall is very, very good but his value to his team is borne out by his plus/minus record in their wins. In Washington’s 27 wins this season, Wall has not had one negative plus/minus rating while he has tallied a positive rating in just four of the 18 losses suffered by Washington. To say that Wall is the barometer for his side would be an understatement; both Harden and Westbrook have a handful of negative ratings in games their side has won this season, so Wall has a very valid argument as the most-relied upon (and maybe most valuable) player in the league.
Even if he doesn’t poll a vote in the MVP, or get anything but a ripple of media attention he remains as valuable as any player in the league and a man behind which the Wizards can finally become relevant again.
Written by Steven Paice