According to Michael Lee of the Washington Post, the Washington Wizards began negotiations with John Wall‘s agent, Dan Fegan, last week, and they’re closing in on a 5-year, $80 million extension with their franchise point guard. The deal would make Wall Washington’s “Designated Player,” which is how the fifth year is allowed. Here are five reasons why this is a smart move for the franchise and Wall.
*** *** ***
5. Point guards are the most valuable positional commodity in the NBA these days.
While some probably feel a top-tier point guard is a luxury they can afford to avoidâ€”like, say, the Heatâ€”the rest of the NBA will need a quality point guard if they’re going to have any chance of competing for a title. That’s partially why the Thunder decided to trade James Harden and extend Russell Westbrook, even though Harden might be the superior ballhandler.
Wall might not be an All-Star, but he’s one of the fastest guys in the leagueâ€”if not the fastestâ€”and when you’re trying to get easy buckets in transition, having the supersonic Wall leading your backcourt is a huge plus. But fast-break buckets aren’t the only reason you want a quality ballhandler leading your charges into their offense.
So much of the NBA is now a pick-and-roll league. A guy like Wallâ€”especially if he’s using Martell Webster, Nene, or even another guard like Bradley Beal to run the pick-and-roll with — is invaluable in the half-court sets that predominate the NBA. Locking him up long term just makes sense because you want a solid and sometimes spectacular player at point. It’s a point guard league, we all just live in it.
4. The Wizards are unlikely to land another point with Wall’s skills.
Despite Marcus Smart coming out next year, and Brandon Jennings‘ uncertain future as a restricted free agent with Milwaukee, the league’s top-flight point guards are all signed. The chances the Wizards could land a player of Wall’s skill-set is hard to envision without a lot of luck.
That’s forgetting to mention that we still don’t know how high the 22-year-old Wall’s ceiling as a player might be. The knee injury that forced him to miss the first 33 games last season robbed him of making the strides he might have if he were healthy. But once he did get acclimated to the rigors of NBA life after he was playing again, we saw some incredible flashes of brilliance from Wall, and the Wizards played close to .500 ball with him back. There’s no telling how good Wall will be when he’s back on the court next season, but the Wizards are wise to try and lock him up long term. There aren’t many point guards with his speed and explosiveness in the open court.
3. The Wizards want to grow with the team they have in place now.
There’s been a lot of talk about tanking this offseason with the Sixers, Celtics, Jazz, and others supposedly making deals to get worse so they have a chance for a juicy top-5 pick in next summer’s loaded 2014 NBA Draft class. But not the Wizards.
After lucking into the no. 3 pick in this summer’s draft, and taking Big East POY, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, the Wizards are ready to make a run for one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs as they move on from their yearly lottery trips. They nabbed a nice backup to Wall in Eric Maynor, they re-signed Martell Webster, one of the more underrated 3&D guys in the league, though we’ll see if his hot shooting from last year continues, and now all they need to do is lock down the head domino that affects all those other moves.
Nene is finally healthy, Beal has some experience now, Ariza won’t be expected to take all those godawful jumpers off the bounce (one hopes at least) and his contract expires after the season (so he’s trade bait), Jordan Crawford is finally gone, Emeka Okafor isn’t the dominating presence many expected when he came out of college, but he’s still a solid center and OK interior defender; Jan Vesely might even surprise some people this year.
Basically the Wizards are good right now on paperâ€”though not greatâ€”and the only thing left is securing Wall, so they can compete for a playoff spot and maybe even advance with this group in the coming years. Wall is the final piece, though.
2. They don’t want to lose Wall in free agency next summer.
If Wall isn’t extended beyond his rookie deal by October 31 this year, he becomes a restricted free agent this summer, which could open up offers from teams who fail to land one of the coveted free agents expected to opt-out of their deals in the heralded summer of 2014 (e.g., Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, etc.).
Now he’ll still be a restricted free agent next summer, so the Wizards will have three days to match any offer another team throws his way, but if Wall isn’t locked up before that Halloween deadline, it could mean there’s some friction between management and Wall or his agent. That’s not healthy, and it might mean Wall plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder this season, neglecting to set up his teammates as much as he has in the past, while jacking enough jumpers to shoot his way out of any slumps that occur. It also might mean he takes the player option and becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.
Wall’s disgruntled play would have a two-fold affect: it could ruin any chances the Wiz have of making the playoffs for the first time since Gilbert Arenas was yelling “HIBACHI” rather than, “check out my gun.” And it could have the opposite affect where Wall plays so pissed off his game is elevated to another level and teams start licking their chops about how they can structure an offer sheet to screw the Wizards out of their point guard of the future (think, Jeremy Lin and the poison pill contract Daryl Morey offered him to leave New York for Houston).
1. Wall seems to have figured some stuff out, and the Wiz don’t want to miss out on a guy that might become a superstar next season, or the year after.
Wall has averaged 16.9 points and 8.0 assists since the Wizards made him the no. 1 overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. After missing those 33 games last season with a stress injury in his right knee, he finished the season averaging 18.5 points and 7.6 assists a game to lead the Wiz to a 24-25 record to close out the season.
There was also a noticeable improvement in the one area of Wall’s game that critics have always pointed to when discussing his bonafides as a franchise player: his jump shooting. This has also been the stone cast at such notable All-Star guards as Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo, the latter of whom still struggles to pull the trigger on his jumper often enough to make him a serious threat if defenders are going below the high screen.
As we’ve already shown you earlier today, Wall is poised to become a superstar. ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss tweeted out the biggest unknown going from last season to this coming one: will Wall continue to see improvement in his shooting, or was last season a fluke?
According to Hoopdata, Wall’s field goal percentage improved in his third year everywhere in the half-court compared with his first two seasons in the league, except a slight dip at the rim and from beyond the arc. Thankfully, he’s attempting less 3-pointers than he did his rookie season, but with practice his range will increase, and he was a solid 6-for-12 on short, corner 3-pointers last season, per NBA.com.
But the midrange, despite being the least efficient shot in basketball, is also where Wall practices his bread and butter. When looking at the Wizards offense last season, greater than 20 percent of their finishes occurred via pick-and-roll, according to Synergy Sports; in the second half of the season, Wall was doing the majority of the ballhandling in those sets. And 14.5 percent of Washington’s finishes came via transition, another Wall mainstay since he can sprint while dribbling the ball a lot faster than most people can sprint without the ball.
When Nene or Okafor sets a pick at the top of the key, Wall is turning the corner right in that 23-16 foot range, and because he’s so fast, defenders have to either hedgeâ€”and ignore the big man rolling to the rim or popping out for the short jumperâ€”or pray that Wall misses an open jumper by defending the Rondo-way, and going under the screen.* There’s a reason the Wiz ran so many pick-and-roll sets when Wall came back: it’s almost impossible to decide how to defend a P&R with Wall as the primary ball handler. He’s so freakin’ fast, it’s hard for defenses not to sag into the paint, deny the rolling big man and dribble drive to give Wall an uncontested 20-footer.
Wall’s shooting in the midrange has improved a lot from his first two seasons, and while he’s still not elite when it comes that area, he’s above such luminaries as Jrue Holiday and Monta Ellis. Among point guards who averaged over 20 minutes a game last season, and appeared in more than 30 contests, Wall attempted more shots from the least efficient place in basketball than any other point, per Hoopdata. While he’s not in the elite category from that distance like Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Stephen Curry, he’s climbing his way to that level and none of those guys can get to the rim like he can.
Whether John Wall achieves superstar status like many of us believed when he came out of Kentucky as the top pick in 2010, is still up in the air. But his progression in the second half last season combined with all the talent around him for a full season next year, means the Wizards should probably bet on Wall moving forward. They should offer the max extension and pray that he continues to progress like he has over the last year.
*Rondo shot 48 percent from 16-23 feet (via Hoopdata), so game planning for him next season might not be so easy, especially if he decides to shoot more now that Pierce and Garnett are gone.
Do you think it’s wise for the Wizards to sign Wall to a max extension this summer?
Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.