There is no easy way to put this: John Wall failed to come through for the Washington Wizards when they needed him the most in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics.
Yes, he finished the best statistical season of his six-year NBA career during the regular season and if not for his clutch three-point shot in Game 6 the team wouldn’t have had another chance at moving on to the Eastern Conference finals, but Wall was nowhere to be found late in Game 7 against the Boston Celtics. And what’s more, his decisions with the ball flat out hurt the Wizards.
According to Mike Beuoy’s win probability added metric, which calculates how much a player contributed to (or detracted from) a win, only Martin Gortat (minus-14 percent) was less valuable to the team than Wall (minus-13 percent) on Monday night. Bradley Beal, by comparison, accounted from almost half of the Wizard’s win probability by himself (48 percent). Wall ranked 34th overall in the playoffs for win probability added per game.
This is the type of performance that keeps Wall from joining the uppermost tier of the NBA’s elite point guards like Steph Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. And Wall’s shortcoming is traceable to one key element in particular that remains absent from Wall’s game.
Harden and Westbrook were also bounced from the playoffs earlier than they would like, but both are solid MVP candidates, while Wall remains on the fringe of the top tier of NBA superstars, a fact demonstrated by his game scores from the past season.
It’s true Washington’s lack of bench production in Game 7 cost the Wizards, and that lack of production could have added to Wall’s apparent fatigue in the second half of the game. But whether or not he was tired, his overall play down the stretch was suspect — particularly his decisions to fall back on three-point shots when other options were more likely, in a statistical sense, to be successful.
Wall is a gifted passer — only Harden created more points off assists during the regular season than Wall and only Westbrook was better during the playoffs — but his shooting has always been shaky. His effective field goal percentage has improved to a career-high 48.2 percent this season, but that is still significantly below the league average (51.4 percent), bolstering the notion that Wall should pass first if given the option. That’s particularly true when it comes to three-pointers.
During the regular season and playoffs, Wall produced 0.92 points per possession (bottom 40 percent of the league) individually, but saw that rise to 1.34 points per possession (top 10 percent) once you factor in his ability to pass the ball. The Wizards half-court offense goes from 0.85 to 1.28 points per possession when Wall is a facilitator and in transition the team scores 1.5 points per possession compared to 1.13 points per possession when Wall tries to do it on his own.
And that’s what he did in Game 7 and the Wizards lost as a result.
With two minutes to go in the third, Wall drove to the basket off the pick-and-roll, drawing the attention of four defenders, but opts to take the shot himself rather than dish it off to an open Bojan Bogdanovic in the corner, or the trailing Markieff Morris. Bogdanovic shot 43 percent on corner threes during the regular season, which equates to 1.3 points per shot. Wall, on the other hand, shot 34.9 percent in the paint (0.7 point per shot) during the regular season. The better play was to pass to the corner. Instead he misses the pull-up and the Celtics’ game-changing third-quarter run begins in earnest.
Wall couldn’t even convert a wide-open three in the midst of Boston’s 13-3 run in the waning moments of the third, one of three misses from behind the arc in the final 90 seconds of the quarter (albeit one was a three-quarter-court heave at the buzzer).
And while Wall was hoisting three-pointers, a shot he hit at just a 32.7 percent rate this season, he was bypassing better options. Call me crazy, but if you get a 5-foot-9 guard like Isaiah Thomas guarding a 6-foot-11 big man like Gortat, perhaps it makes sense to get your center the ball instead of shooting a contested three over a 7-footer.
Fittingly, Wall’s final miss of the night would also be a three-point attempt with 26 seconds left in the game.
This isn’t to say Wall shouldn’t shoot when he’s wide open, and this certainly isn’t to say that Wall isn’t one of the better players in the league. But as it stands with his current shooting ability, shooting a three is not an option that usually helps the team. His last four shot attempts in Game 7 were all jump shots, while he earned just two free throws the entire game.
You can credit the Celtics for taking away driving lanes. You can blame the refs for not blowing the whistle enough in the Wizards’ favor when Wall did drive. But you can’t dispute that Wall settled too often for a three-point shot that ranks 28th among the Wizards’ most efficient offensive options per the NBA’s player-tracking statistics.
The truly elite point guards in today’s NBA don’t have that issue, in part because they shoot better. Steph Curry shoots over 41-percent from behind the arc. Ditto for Chris Paul. Harden hits at 34.7. Even Westbrook connects at 34.2 percent. If Wall is to join those ranks, he must either improve his shooting from distance or recognize that his three-point shot should be utilized far less in key situations.