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How John Wall is Becoming a Wizard with the Ball

John Wall is one of the NBA’s top point guards. His teammates – and the numbers – tell why.

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Pass-first.

Aggressive.

Involved.

The same words were echoed among the Washington Wizards when describing John Wall. In his fifth NBA season, the 24-year-old point guard is establishing himself as one of the best at his position. His stat line tells a story of individual excellence; the Wizards’ 21-8 record tells a more significant one.

Wall has the Wizards winning, a statement that couldn’t be said in years past, with a style of basketball that has the entire team reaching success.

“John is literally becoming one of the best point guards in the league, if not the best right now,” Marcin Gortat said.

Beyond is 17.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, Wall’s biggest contributions to the Wizards come when the ball leaves his hands. This season he leads the NBA with a 46.4 assist percentage, up from 39.2 percent last year. He is tied with Rajon Rondo and Ty Lawson for most dimes per game (10.3) after averaging 8.8 last season.

Wall’s assist ratio has climbed from 28.5 to 33.5 since the previous season. While his 3.8 turnovers a game are an area in which he can improve, his assist-to-turnover ratio has increased to 2.70 from 2.44.

“I think we’ve got a great chemistry moving the ball,” Wall told Basketball Insiders. “Our big men are setting screens, guys are running the floor, and it gives me the opportunity to get into the paint and make defenses have to collapse to me. I’m just finding guys and they’re doing a great job of finishing the plays.”

Wall leads all players in points created by assists per game (24.3) and free throw assists per game (1.2). When it comes to potential shots, he ranks second to Lawson in assist opportunities (19.4). His teammates have the trust that he will get them the ball.

“I couldn’t ask for a better point guard, honestly, because he just makes my job easy,” said Bradley Beal, who can attribute 40 of his 74 assisted field goals (54 percent) to Wall. “All I have to do is just find a way to get open, find an open spot for him and be ready to catch the ball and knock it down. That’s just who he is. He’s a pass-first guy and he always wants to get his teammates the ball. Whenever he does that, we’re a good team.”

Wall’s talent was projected to have a high ceiling as the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Five years into his career, he is continuing to grow. He has made adjustments from one season to the next that are noticed by his teammates.

“I think he’s creating more,” Gortat said. “First of all, his changing speed is great. He hadn’t done that before too much. I think he’s more patient. I think he learned where certain guys like to get the ball and in what positions. Also, he became a better passer. I think his passes are sharper and more direct into the pocket. The chemistry we have is much better.”

Martell Webster began to notice a change in Wall last season as the Wizards headed to their first playoff appearance since 2008. Even though he is capable of running up the scoreboard, Wall is looking for his teammates to get open before his own attempt. In the first 29 games, he is dealing out 69.9 passes per contest (fifth in the league).

“Him having 14 assists and 10 points is big; it doesn’t need to be 40 points and 10 assists,” said Webster. “He’s been doing a great job of getting his teammates involved and taking the shots that come to him. It’s big building that trust with your teammates early because in the postseason, they’re going to be able to perform for you. If we’re in a rhythm knowing that John is a pass-first point guard, it goes a long way. It started last season, but it’s really come into effect this season.”

Wall said the biggest key for his teammates is to get out and run with him. Once they get down the court, he will take care of the rest.

“That’s the main thing, keeping up,” said Wall. “They trust me as a point guard and know that I’m a willing passer. I want to get those guys going and get those guys shots.”

For the early years of his career, Wall had championship-winning point guard Sam Cassell on the coaching staff. Cassell departed this summer, but one of the most experienced floor leaders is still on the roster. Wall has been able to learn firsthand from 38-year-old Andre Miller, who is still playing smart basketball in his 16th season (4.0 points, 3.1 assists, 0.9 turnovers in 12.4 minutes).

“It helps me seeing him play, the different speeds he changes, not taking risky passes, making sure when somebody is open it’s an efficient one,” Wall said of Miller. “We have a great partnership, a great friendship. I enjoy having him as my backup to give me breaks. When he’s playing well, I tell coach leave him in extra minutes, I don’t mind getting the extra rest.”

Miller and Wall don’t sit down and go over plays for hours at a time. In fact, Miller says, they don’t talk too much about basketball. Rather Wall learns from Miller in the moment, competing in practice and observing during games.

“In order for this team to be successful, we’ve got to move the ball around,” said Miller. “John does a good job as far as keeping everybody involved and staying aggressive at the same time. We’re just trying to keep our turnovers down and everything will work out.”

After the Wizards reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, Wall is focused on helping them earn home court advantage this year, one pass at a time.

“He’s really taking his time with everything,” said Beal. “He’s being a vocal leader, making sure everybody’s in their spot, holding guys accountable for their mistakes as well. That’s what we need him to do. He’s a floor general out there. We’re all following behind him. We go as he goes.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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