Here is a simple question: Can we separate how a player has performed from how we think he will perform in the future? For example, I think it is possible to simultaneously argue
- Kevin Durant did not perform well in the 2007 summer league.
- Although Kevin Durant was named Rookie of the Year in 2008, he did not perform well during his rookie season [2007-08].
- Kevin Durant is one of the most productive players in the game today.
Each of these statements is consistent with the objective evidence. Yet some people seem to think that the third statement above contradicts the first two statements.
One senses the same story could play out with respect to John Wall. To illustrate, consider the following from Kyle Weidie of ESPN’s Daily Dime. Weidie has written a review of John Wall’s summer league performance that stands in stark contrast to the statistical analysis offered by Ty Willihnganz. Weidie’s review notes the following about Wall:
- … (Wall) performed better than expected in those areas which don’t require physical talents, such as leadership and communication.
- … this kid has proven he has the unquestionable mental capacity to succeed.
- … In his first game action since the NCAA Tournament, Wall averaged 23.5 points, 7.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals over four contests.
Thus far, Weidie’s review is quite positive. In the 9th paragraph of the discussion, though, Weidie finally notes the factors that cause Wall to be listed so low on Willihnganz’s rankings:
- But he’s clearly not without faults. Wall shot 37.7% from the field and made just 1 of 8 3-point attempts.
- Turnovers have also been an issue. Wall surely doesn’t want to be like his childhood idol, Allen Iverson*, and give the ball away at a rate of 4.4 times per game his rookie season.
So Wall is a leader and communicator. And he can score and get assists. But he had two problems in Las Vegas. He missed a significant portion of his shots and he kept giving the ball away.
The turnover issue is something we also saw in college. And unfortunately, turnovers matter in basketball. When you give the ball to your opponent before you score, you don’t help your team win.
So at this point we can say this about Wall. His physical skills suggest that he has a great deal of potential. But so far, that potential hasn’t translated into actual production. Wall was not particularly productive in college. And he wasn’t productive in summer league.
Now it’s very important to emphasize what I am saying. I am not saying – and I repeat, I am not saying – that Wall will never be a great basketball player. What I am saying is that in college and summer league he was not a great basketball player (again, I am differentiating what Wall has done from what he might do in the future).
And I am trying to emphasize that ignoring missed shots and turnovers for eight paragraphs paints a misleading picture of Wall’s actual performance. Missed shots and turnovers really matter in basketball.
Yes, it is possible that in the future Wall’s shots will fall and the turnovers will stop happening (and it is possible this won’t happen as well). But until that happens, one shouldn’t tell us how great Wall has been. He hasn’t been good (and yes – once again—that doesn’t mean he won’t be good in the future).
Let me close with one last note… some might argue that people are simply impressed with Wall’s potential. And Durant’s improvement “proves” that people are able to see past low levels of production early in a player’s career. The counter-argument to that line of reasoning is the long list of players in NBA history who people claimed had “potential”, but who never developed into productive players. In sum, there are no guarantees with respect to John Wall. He may someday be a productive point guard. He might also turn into the next Stephon Marbury (or Allen Iverson). At this point, I am not convinced people really “know” Wall’s future in the NBA.
* – one should note that it is a good sign that a player who hopes to be a future star does not wish to be like Allen Iverson. I suspect, though, that if Wall puts up the same numbers Iverson put up in 1996-97, Wall will be named Rookie of the Year in 2011.