John Wall evolves in role as scoring point guard for the Wizards

April 13

Brad, you shoot and I’ll pass (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post).

The prevailing feeling both inside and outside the Washington Wizards locker room is this: the team will only go as far as John Wall leads it.

Such a burden is of course natural for a former No. 1 overall draft pick who signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension last summer. But Wall’s status as franchise player stretches far beyond the figurative sense and into the statistical realm, where his leadership responsibilities have emerged in several categories this season.

With two games left in the season, Wall has positioned himself to finish as the NBA’s total assists leader with 699, which is 21 ahead of Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio. When considering that Rubio plays alongside All-Star Kevin Love and that Chris Paul, who leads the league with 10.7 assists per game, is teammates with high-flying All-Star Blake Griffin, Wall’s position among the league’s top playmakers is that much more notable.

Not only does Wall rank third overall with 17.2 assist opportunities per game (passes to a teammate in which the teammate attempts a shot, and if made, would be an assist), he’s also third in points created by assist per game with 21.2, according to NBA.com’s Player Tracking stats.

In Saturday’s 104-91 win against Milwaukee, it was Wall who sparked the Wizards to a fast start with four first-quarter assists, allowing Trevor Booker and Trevor Ariza to get going on offense. Two quarters later, Wall was at it again, dishing out four assists as Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat helped ignite a decisive 14-3 run. The Wizards finished with six double-digit scorers.

“When we go 25 and (nine in) the assist to turnover ratio, that’s us,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “Ball movement, player movement, a lot of guys being involved…. It’s important to have contributions from everybody. The last two nights, I thought they have really stepped up.”

Wall has led this charge during the month of April. While his scoring average has dipped from his season average of 19.6 points to 15.2, Wall’s assists average has moved up from 8.7 on the season to 9.3 during six games in April. In that span, the Wizards have gone 4-2 and Wall has recorded 10 or more assists in three contests.

While Wall’s two best passing games of the month came when he struggled to find his shot against Charlotte and Orlando, the fourth-year guard appears to be learning that leadership comes in more forms than just scoring.

“I don’t care if they miss 30 in a row, those are my teammates and it’s my job as a point guard to keep finding those guys,” Wall said after recording 15 points and eight assists in Saturday’s win.

Wall’s evolving understanding of how to keep his teammates involved has been especially key this season. The scoring point guard ranks first in time of possession per game (7.9 minutes) and second in touches per game (95.7) behind Charlotte’s Kemba Walker. But even though Wall is averaging a career-high 19.6 points, he also leads the league in passes per game with 70.4.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Wall always makes the right passes or that the Wizards are an offensive juggernaut (they rank 18th with an offensive rating of 102.9). But with the Wizards ending their five-year playoff drought in Wall’s first full season after enduring injuries and the 2011 NBA lockout, Washington appears to be headed in the right direction with Wall at the controls.

“I think he has all the tools to be a great point guard for a long time,” Wizards backup point guard Andre Miller said of Wall. “At his age, you just let me play through mistakes and just watching him and letting him go out and play. Eventually, when he gets older, he’s going to slow down and figure sometimes he can’t move this fast. But I think that’s just a part of growing up. I think he’s there. He’s amped, he wants to be in the playoffs, he wants to accomplish things, and that’s good.”

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