John Wall's Season Deserves Better Than History's Dustbin

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As of this morning, John Wall is 16th in the NBA in scoring, at 23.2 points per game. He is second in the NBA in assists, at 10.8 per game. He is second in the NBA in steals, at two per game. He is the only player in the top 20 in scoring who is also in the top 10 in both assists and steals. Also, he is 65th in the NBA in blocks, at 0.6 per game.

That last stat—blocks per game, not one that is usually referenced when discussing guards—is neat, because Wall is the first player in quite some time to average at least 0.6 blocks per game while also averaging more than 10 assists per game. The last guy to do it was Magic Johnson, in 1984. In fact, John Wall and Magic Johnson are the only two players in NBA history to have pulled it off—Magic did it twice, whereas this will be the third consecutive season for Wall. More impressive, this will be the very first time in NBA history that a player has averaged more than 10 assists per game, more than 20 points per game, and at least 0.6 blocks per game. Now, I’m not saying John Wall is definitively greater than Magic Johnson, oh no. I would never say that. Instead, I’m typing it.

The violent ambush block is a not-insignificant part of Wall’s game. We’re not talking about, like, a lot of blocks, but there’ve certainly been enough to make dudes check the rearview on fast breaks. Most of Wall’s blocks are of the spectacular chase-down variety, but he also hasn’t been shy about contesting guys chest-up at the rim, as he did on this vicious point-blank stoning of Serge Ibaka on a dunk attempt:

Even with Ian Mahinmi usurping more and more of Marcin Gortat’s minutes at center, Wall is still by far the greatest and most feared rim protector on the Wizards. Rodney Stuckey knows this:

Look at Stuckey frantically checking his sideview mirror before going wide of the cup and high off the glass in an effort to avoid the cruise missile streaking alongside him. Denied!


Now is a good time to pay attention to Wall. In Washington’s last three games—wins over the Cavs and Lakers and a loss to the Clippers, all on the road—he’s averaged 37.3 points per game on 63.7 percent shooting, plus 11 assists and 3 steals per game, as the Wizards desperately hang onto the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Those are absurd numbers, especially for a pass-first point guard playing in crucial games in late March.

He was incredible in Cleveland:

The Wizards have a plus 4.7 net rating with Wall on the floor this season, and a minus 5.4 net rating when he sits. That disparity—10.1 points per 100 possessions—is much bigger than that of Isaiah Thomas (6.3) in Boston; is far bigger than that of James Harden (2.3) in Houston; and towers over the likes of Kawhi Leonard (1.6) in San Antonio and Giannis Antetokounmpo (1.5) in Milwaukee. This isn’t to blame those guys for having better benches behind them, but to point out just how much Wall means to the Wizards. When Wall is on the floor the Wizards have a net rating that would be sixth highest overall in the NBA. When he is off the floor it plummets to 27th, in the range of the dreadful Phoenix Suns and the permanently rebuilding Sixers.

And he’s been doing it in the clutch, too. In Wizards games in which the score is within five points in the last three minutes, Wall’s usage rockets up to 38.2 percent as he assumes the role of closer, and his True Shooting increases to 54.6 percent. His net rating in these clutch situations this season is a beefy 20.3. And the Wizards have played a hypertension-inducing 49 such games so far this season. For comparison, Russell Westbrook, Lord of the Clutch, has played in 37 such games.

In a season in which the NBA hadn’t gone bananas, John Wall would be a serious MVP contender. It’s just that this season the NBA has, in fact, gone bananas. Russell Westbrook is gonna average a triple-double and also win the scoring title this year. Did you see his line from last night? He got a triple double and 57 points, and brought his team back from a deep hole to secure a crucial win as they jockey for playoff seeding. James Harden is leading the NBA in assists and is second in scoring at over 29 points per game, and on a team with a .689 win percentage. Frankly, every other MVP “candidate” looks fucking ridiculous next to those guys, and Harden even looks a little ridiculous next to Westbrook, whose 2017 season will be remembered as the ultimately transcendent one no matter what bad mistake MVP voters make this spring.


It’s hard to take little old John Wall seriously as an MVP candidate when his accomplishments are stacked up against those of Harden and Westbrook, but it shouldn’t be so hard to take his candidacy just as seriously as that of recent basketblogger darling Kawhi Leonard. Hell, even Isaiah Thomas is getting a look, and he has a lower PER and lower Real Plus Minus than Wall, a lower clutch net rating, and is an infinitely worse and less dangerous defender.

Maybe it’s just harder to take the Wizards seriously. Or maybe we’re just used to Wall’s heroics by now. Or maybe it’s just goddamn Westbrook and Harden, performing so goddamn wonderfully that even a ridiculously efficient season from World’s Best Basketball Player and Reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James pales in comparison, firmly relegating all MVP conversations that don’t start and end with Westbrook and Harden to the realm of dipshit noodling. Even this one.


So, no, John Wall will not win MVP this year. It’s not a shame, necessarily, but putting forth merely superhuman performances in a rare and unlikely year of multiple supernatural performances can leave a player cooling in some unusual, unexpected shade. That’s a shame. John Wall is having a ridiculous, historic season, in the prime of his career, on a very good Washington team near the top of the Eastern Conference. Don’t miss the show. Or, yeah, don’t miss the Westbrook show. But maybe catch the John Wall show on replay! It’s worth it.