NBA Draft Prospect of the Week: John Wall

NBA Draft Prospect of the Week: John Wall
Dec 16, 2009, 01:54 am
John Wall’s freshman season feels like one big highlight reel thus far, starting with his very first game against Miami Ohio in which he knocked down a terrific pull-up jumper to win the game for Kentucky.

That continued with more late-game heroics against Stanford in a tournament in Cancun, keeping his team in the game to force overtime and win a game they probably shouldn’t have.

The legend only grew after that as seemingly the entire basketball nation tuned in to CBS on a Sunday afternoon to watch him carve up North Carolina’s defense with some incredibly athletic plays in transition, only to see his value magnified as his team fall apart the moment he was forced to leave the game with a minor injury.

As the stage got bigger—this time in Madison Square Garden—Wall’s notoriety continued to grow, as more clutch second half play and a season high 25 points gave his team yet another big win against a very tough UConn squad.

Needless to say, Wall has done everything that’s been asked of him and then some, both on and off the court, and is at this point the run-away favorite to be drafted first overall in June, regardless of who is making the pick. The question now becomes, just how good can he become in the future? And what does he need to do to get there?

Plenty of words have already been spent on the athletic gifts of John Wall, both here and otherwise. He’s in a class of his own in college basketball as far as his quickness and explosiveness is concerned, as he’s shown on countless occasions with some incredible highlight reel plays.

After all, how many NCAA teams have a set play in their offense for a backdoor cut and alleyoop lob intended for their point guard? We called Derrick Rose the “most athletic point guard we’ve ever evaluated at the college level,” and feel strongly about the fact that Wall is every bit his equal in that category, if not better.

A place where Wall might still be underrated though is in his passing ability. Not only does he rank 6th amongst all draft prospects in assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted, but more notably he ranks 8th in assists per field goal attempt ratio.

This is an interesting stat to evaluate Wall by because it compares the amount of assists he racks up with the number of shots he takes, which could be a good way to rate how unselfish he’s been. Right now he stacks up favorably in that category with the collegiate numbers posted by the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Ty Lawson, and absolutely blows away what Derrick Rose did as a freshman.

More important than the numbers is the fact that Wall is clearly showing excellent instincts as a passer, both with the creativity in which he gets the ball to teammates in different spots on the floor—he’s more than just a vanilla drive and dish point guard—and also with the willingness he displays to get others involved.

This is exactly what you want to see from a modern day NBA point guard—the ability to take over as a scorer and shot-creator when needed, to go along with the selflessness to want to make everyone around him better.

Another area in which Wall has been better than advertised is with his play on the defensive end. Not only does he have the physical attributes required to be a lockdown defender—with his terrific size, wingspan and lateral quickness—but (unlike Derrick Rose) he also shows the type of aggressiveness and intensity to take advantage of his tools.

The huge number of blocks and steals he generates immediately jumps off the page at you, but seeing the way he absolutely smothers his opponents on the perimeter with his length and his ability to cover ground and contest countless shots around the basket each game is far more impressive.

The scariest thing about John Wall right now is that as good as he is—he’s clearly the frontrunner for NCAA player of the year honors—he’s still only scratching the surface on how good he might become down the road.

The most glaring weakness we can recognize revolves around his ability to operate in the half-court. According to the data we have at our disposal, Wall’s field goal percentage in transition situations sits at an amazing 77%. Once he’s forced to play in the half-court, though, his field goal percentage plummets to just 40%. Similarly, he’s been able to draw fouls in the half-court on just 10% of his possessions, as opposed to 27% in transition.

Wall’s ball-handling skills in tight spaces are currently not up to par with his amazing athleticism. His ability to change speeds and directions when creating his own shot out of a stand-still position is just average right now, as he tends to struggle if he can’t just blow by his defender purely with his first step. He overwhelmingly favors driving left (doing so in 71% of his possessions), and is mostly relegated to either passing or pulling up off the dribble if forced to drove right.

Because he’s a far better slasher at this point than he is a shooter, defenses tend to sag off him and force him to beat them with his still-erratic pull-up jumper. He’s been showing major improvement with it as the year’s moved on, though, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses in this area.

Due to Wall’s struggles and those of his teammates in the half-court, he is exceedingly turnover prone, ranking fourth amongst all draft prospects in turnovers per-40 minutes pace adjusted, at 5.2. He’s forced to carry an awfully big share of Kentucky’s offense—27.2% to be exact—and it’s clear his decision making skills still need work, something that will likely come in time with experience.

Improving his perimeter jumper should help, and Wall has already looked a little better than anticipated in this regard, making 7/19 3-point attempts, some of them coming from fairly deep, sporting solid mechanics and shot-making ability (particularly in the clutch) that leaves plenty of room for optimism regarding the future.

Despite his obvious weaknesses, Wall’s talent level has consistently been high enough to overcome any issues he’s faced thus far in the NCAA, which is in no part due to his superb intangibles.

Beyond making more clutch plays in his first nine games than most college basketball players make in four years, Wall has shown a competitive will to win that hints at great things to come in the future.

His court demeanor is excellent, knowing how to fire up the crowd and his teammates with his constant energy level, but not getting too high or low in any moment of the game, showing outstanding poise for a 19-year old.

The more up and down style that is played in the NBA will favor him—ask Brandon Jennings--as will NBA teams’ huge reliance on the pick and roll, an area Wall has shown fantastic potential in. In the limited amount of possessions we’ve been able to take in of Wall playing pick and roll, he looked far more natural and comfortable than he has in the dribble drive motion offense.

It’s possible that as the season moves on Kentucky as a whole and Wall in particular will improve in this area, though. The type of chemistry he can develop with Patrick Patterson, who is looking more and more like a top-10 pick with each game that goes by, will be key.

Right now Wall looks about as close to a can’t miss prospect as we’ve evaluated in this our 7th NBA draft. It will be interesting to see who lands the top pick in June and how they decide to approach the draft. Most of the top candidates (Utah [via the Knicks], New Jersey, Minnesota) don’t appear to have a glaring need for a point guard at this juncture, but Wall is likely just far too talented to pass up.

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