Can We Trust John Wall in Fantasy for 2020-21?
We’re back with the second edition of Deep Dives, and in case you missed it you can check out the first edition about Kevin Durant right here. I’ll be posting these every Monday and Thursday for the foreseeable future, and I’ll tweet out some stats about upcoming editions on Twitter @MikeSGallagher.
It’s been a while since we saw John Wall out there. He suffered a left heel injury in December 2018 and did try to play through it at first with seven games since it was first reported on Dec. 10, but then on Dec. 29 it was announced he was going to undergo a debridement and repair of a Haglund’s deformity and a chronic Achilles tendon injury in his left heel. On top of that, Wall suffered a ruptured left Achilles heel injury at his house in February 2019 and surgery was announced on Feb. 12.
Wall’s bad luck on left-leg injuries has been a lengthy trend, but before we get to that, let’s track the timeline of his Achilles injury.
- He was still using a scooter in April 2019
- In July 2019, owner Ted Leonsis said Wall wasn’t expected to play in 2019-20
- He started shooting jumpers and was running on an elliptical in September 2019
- Wall was throwing down reverse dunks in warmups in December 2019
- Wall started doing 3-on-3 and 4-on-4, and 5-on-5 work in January 2020
- In February, GM Tommy Sheppard confirmed again Wall wasn’t expected to play in 2019-20
The Wizards are expecting Wall to be a full go for 2020-21 training camp, and the NBA possibly pushing the season back could help Wall get close to a 22-month recovery period from his Achilles surgery. Plus, it’ll be almost a full year from when he was going through 5-on-5 work. While that’s more time than Kevin Durant and close to three times the recovery needed for Rudy Gay a few years ago, there are still some other underlying concerns about Wall’s return.
One of the main concerns on Wall is that he misses a ton of games. Even before he missed all of 2019-20 and 50 games in 2018-19, he missed 41 games in 2017-18, and he had another season in 2012-13 with 33 games in street clothes. Add all that to how he’s going to be 30 in September, and there’s certainly a lot of risk in drafting him in fantasy.
In the 2017-18 season, Wall had left knee surgery to cost him two full months in January to March, and he wasn’t cleared for back-to-backs to finish up the last few weeks of the regular season. Wall also had PRP treatment on his left knee in November that season and missed three weeks. Wall also appeared on the injury report a handful of times between the PRP and surgery for his left knee, so it may have been bothering him throughout the season. Wall also missed the first 33 games in 2012-13 for a left knee injury, which was deemed a “non-traumatic stress injury.” He also had surgery to both knees after the 2015-16 season, and the surgery was deemed “far more serious” to his left knee. With concern about his left Achilles and left knee, it’s certainly fair to question how that leg will hold up through a season, and of course there’s risk of an over-compensation injury to his right leg.
Excluding those injuries above, Wall had been fairly durable, playing in at least 77 games for each season in 2016-17, 2015-16, 2014-15 and 2013-14. However, even his performance had really tailed off in the last two injury-filled seasons from what was the best year of his career in 2016-17. Besides not being 100% for a good portion of that, there are a whole lot of other factors that stood out. From a superficial standpoint, here’s a look at his averages since the 2013-14 season (via NBA.com, all stats mentioned in this column are via NBA.com/stats).
The one area he clearly fell off was at the charity stripe. Wall had usually hung around 80 FT% from 2011-12 to 2016-17, but plummeted to 71.6% in his last two seasons combined. Interestingly, he was way worse at home, making just 68.2% at the line in his last two seasons (76.4% on the road, was 80.1 and 80.0 home/road in 2016-17). He was also worse in the second half of each of the last two seasons, but there was a mild trend that Wall was a better shooter at the line in the first half when he was healthy (2015-16 was only the year with better second-half FT%).[[ad:athena]]
Wall also really took a hit in steals at 1.5 and 1.4 per game over the last two years. Nobody had more total steals than Wall in 2016-17 and he had a three-way tie for the steals-per-game lead at 2.0 that year (Chris Paul, Draymond Green). Sure, some of that is because of the two-minute dip per game, but he was still at just 1.6 and 1.5 per 36 in the two down years compared to 2.0 in 2016-17 -- also was at 1.8-1.9 in three previous years to 2016-17. As a guy who won’t help in FG%, hurt in TO and not be great on 3-pointers, Wall really needs to thrive in steals to put him in the early-round neighborhood. Pace could help with the Wizards sitting fifth in 2019-20, but it’s not like they were slow with Wall. His 100.4 pace in 2017-18 would put him fifth and his 104.1 in 2018-19 would be second in team rankings in those seasons.
Speaking of pace, another non-superficial stat where Wall wasn’t the same was his output in fastbreak. In 2016-17, he was fourth in the league in transition points per game at 6.3 while shooting 56.5% on that play type, but in 2017-18 he dropped to 5.2 at just 49.0 FG% and even worse at 4.5 points per game at a woeful 45.5% (19th percentile on PPP with his turnovers) in 2018-19. That 45.5 FG% on transition plays was by far the worst that year among the top-25 players for points per game on that play (Robert Covington at 47.8% is closest). Even before his 2016-17, he was still at 56.4 in 2015-16, so an 11% decrease is a major concern.
As you can also probably infer, the percentage of points in which he scored via fast break really fell off. In 2016-17 he had 25.6% of his points scored via fast break and was in the 24-30 range since 2012-13, but that fell to 17.7% in 2017-18 and 14.9% in 2018-19. Per 36 minutes, Wall’s points per game off turnovers hadn’t really dropped off, so getting out and running after a miss wasn’t there as much.
One aggressive factor for Wall that didn’t decrease was his performance on drives. In 2016-17, Wall was fourth in the NBA for drives per game, points off drives per game and assists off drives per game. He was also effective at 50.9%, which put his second among the top-12 drivers per game (DeMar DeRozan 54.0). In 2018-19, Wall only had a 0.1 drives per game decrease compared to 2016-17 and shot a stellar 54.1% over those 32 games. That’s a big reason why he was still at a very respectable 44.4 FG% on the year despite a woeful 30.2 3P% in 2018-19. He was also fouled a ton on drives with only James Harden having a higher fouled percentage off drives than Wall (among top 10 for drives per game). Unlike Kevin Durant, Wall really leans on his speed to get by defenders, so he will absolutely need to be explosive at age 30 after Achilles surgery.
As mentioned in the last paragraph, Wall’s FG% corrected itself a bit in 2018-19 despite shooting 30.2% on treys compared to 37.1 3P% and a subpar 42.0 FG% in 2017-18. Tied to the drives stat is how he really went back to shooting at the rim again in 2018-19 with 40.8% of his shots coming at the rim. That’s awfully close to the 39.9% he had in his career 2016-17 season, and a big bump up from 33.9% in 2017-18. Wall had also been near 60% made at the rim over these three years, so that’s encouraging. Hopefully, he can offer similar shot distribution upon his return with his career-high 50.7 2P% in 2018-19 really being the only positive.
So is there anything to his 3P% dropping from 37.1 in 2017-18 to 30.2 in 2018-19? First and foremost, Wall wasn’t really much of a shooter and wasn’t above 35.1% in any of his previous seasons. The main reason why he was so bad in 2018-19 was because of an abysmal 20.6% on pullup treys. He certainly wasn’t good before that at 31.3% in his best year, but Wall somehow made 43.8% of his 80 catch-and-shoot treys in 2017-18. He was still solid at 37.3 in 2018-19, which is about on par from where he was in his two previous seasons before the injuries hit. Basically, he needs that pull-up trey to go away. On top of that, Wall shot just 38.8% on his pull-up twos (134 attempts) in 2018-19, and was even worse in 2017-18 at 31.2% on his 218 pullup twos. Those numbers aren’t even close to his 40.8% in 2016-17 (37.8% in 2015-16). I’m no expert, but from a biomechanical perspective, pulling up to take a shorter jumper doesn’t sound like a move to lean on when coming off an Achilles tear. Maybe he dials those back next season.
Wall didn’t really see any noteworthy decreases in other areas with only a mild dip in dimes and boards per minute, but one All-Star aspect we still have to address is Bradley Beal. In 2019-20 without Wall at all, Beal saw a gigantic 6.1% increase to his usage rate to get him to a top-five 33.8 usage rate (Giannis, Luka, Harden, Trae). Beal didn’t see much of a decrease in his efficiency with a 57.8 TS%, which is a number that even peak Wall can’t touch at his best at a career-high 54.1 TS% in the 2016-17 season -- Wall fell to 52.4 and 54.7 in the last two years. Even in Wall’s two Eastern Conference Player of the Month runs, he was at 57.9 TS% in December 2016 and 54.7 TS% in December of 2015. That December 2016 month is the only full month Wall had with a higher TS% than Beal’s this season, and it was just ahead of him. The point here is that coach Scott Brooks would be crazy to take shots away from Beal and give them to a somewhat inefficient Wall.
Beal’s touch time has drastically increased since Wall’s big year, sitting at just 2.7 minutes per game in 2016-17. Wall also was the leader in touch time that year at 9.5 minutes per game, and it had been trending down at 8.5 in 2017-18 and 7.8 in 2018-19. Meanwhile, Beal upped his to 4.6 in 2017-18, 4.3 in 2018-19 and 4.5 in 2019-20. Beal also ranks second in the NBA in frontcourt touches per game in 2019-20 at 54.4 (Nikola Jokic at 57.8), and no other guard/wing is even close to him (Devin Booker 40.7, Andrew Wiggins 41.0). Beal’s 54.4 also smashes on Wall’s 23.7 from his peak 2016-17 season, and Beal even had more than Wall that year at 37.8. Wall was also at just 23.3 frontcourt touches per game in 2017-18 and 25.7 in 2018-19. Beal needs his touches.
Beal had already broken out in 2018-19 (All-NBA snub!), and it was fairly clear that coach Scott Brooks didn’t want to stagger them much. Wall played just 127 minutes without Beal for just 11.5% of his total, and Wall was not great in that time at a 24/3/11 per-36 line with 5.3 turnovers, a 52.1 TS% and a -12.9 net rating. Beal also had better efficiency without Wall that year despite being unassisted 6.6% more and a whopping 33.8% of his treys coming unassisted compared to 14.8% with Wall -- 2.2% better on treys without Wall. (Note: I’m planning to do a Beal-centric deep dive next month)
On top of the Achilles issue, there are several obstacles for Wall to climb into the top 30 for fantasy value. His left knee might be just as big of an issue, Bradley Beal is a better player and should maintain a 30-plus usage rate with elite frontcourt touches, and of course Wall has declined in several key categories for him to be a fantasy stud. Unlike Kevin Durant who has sky-high upside and not much to worry about besides his Achilles, the negatives outweigh the positives on making Wall a selection in nine- and eight-cat fantasy drafts. Maybe he slides in drafts, but he would need a slew of encouraging reports this fall before I’d consider taking him in the top 50.