Our 2022-2023 player season preview series continues with point guard John Wall, the Clippers’ big signing in free agency.

Basic Information

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 210 pounds

Position: Point Guard

Age: 32

Years in NBA: 12 (but didn’t play in two seasons)

Key Stats (2020 Season): 20.6 points, 6.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in 32.2 minutes per game across 40 games played on 44.9% shooting from 2, 31.7% from three, 40.4% overall, and 74.9% from FT.

Contract Status: First year of a 2 year, $13M deal

Expectations

Expectations for John Wall in 2023 are in the eyes of the beholder. Optimistic fans might note that Wall had the entire 2022 season off to rest and recover from his various injuries, that he seems to already be close to Clippers’ superstar Paul George, that he was an All-NBA level player just five years ago, and that his strengths fit some of what the Clippers have been lacking in the Kawhi Leonard-George era. The pessimists might say that Wall has played the equivalent of just 1.5 seasons across the past five years, that his defense has slipped greatly, that he’s not great off-ball on offense, making him a poor fit next to the Clippers’ stars.

Regardless, expectations for John Wall in the 2023 season are that he will play rotation minutes for the Clippers either as a starter or coming off the bench, will add a healthy dash of open-court athleticism and playmaking, and will allow Reggie Jackson to lower his minutes load after a strenuous 2022.

Strengths

John Wall’s passing has always been his strongest attribute as a basketball player, and yet one of his least discussed. His playmaking was fully unlocked by his blazing speed in getting to the rim, enabling endless kickouts to three-point shooters, but even with diminished (though still great) athleticism he remains a top-tier passer. In his heyday, he was one of the best pick and roll runners in the league, and should still be able to make some magic happen with Ivica Zubac in their shared minutes. When he plays on the small second unit, he should kill it in five-out lineups, sending passes to the corner, wing, and even top of the arc from under the rim for open threes.

Even with age and numerous leg injuries, Wall might still be the fastest player on the Clippers with the ball in his hands. The Clippers have mostly played slow in the Kawhi era, as he’s their best player and likes to play at a staid pace, but adding some pace with Wall could help diversify their attack somewhat. Fastbreak buckets are immensely valuable, and there’s no doubt Wall still boosts the Clippers in that regard.

The Clippers have also struggled with getting to the line in the last few years, and that has always been something John Wall has brought to the table. He averaged 5.3 free throws per game with the Rockets a couple years ago, which would have ranked tops on the Clippers last year. Considering all the shooting around him, Wall should have plenty of room to drive, opening the way for more slashes and free points at the line.

Weaknesses

John Wall made an All-Defense team back in 2015, but his play on that end has fallen a lot in recent years. He’s no longer the terrifying force on-ball that he used to be, or provide the insane highlight swats and steals that he did in his prime. Instead, he’s merely serviceable on ball, and prone to gambling for steals both on- and off-ball in ways that compromises his team’s defense. Hopefully with less of a burden offensively he can focus more on defense and improve to at least average there, if not better, but that’s certainly no guarantee for a speed-reliant point guard who just turned 32.

For a player who clearly possesses an unbelievable understanding of the game (like many greats, Wall can break down single plays in detail well after games are over and obviously can read the court live), he has frequently struggled with shot selection and overall decision-making. Early in his career, he was very fond of pull-up midrange jumpers, which he was fine at but which are low efficiency looks. In recent years, he’s traded those in for pull-up threes, which are smarter mathematically but which he’s not good at. On the Clippers, Wall has to know his role as, at very best, if all pans out well for him, the third option offensively, and more likely further down than that. There simply can’t be many pull-up jumpers for him of any sort unless it’s a game the Clippers’ Big Two are resting or really off.

Finally, on a similar note, Wall will need to improve his off-ball offensive game if he’s to play a lot alongside Leonard and George. This actually doesn’t mean his catch-and-shoot game, as Wall is mostly fine as a three-point shooter off the catch. Instead, this refers to overall activity and cutting. When he didn’t have the ball in DC, Wall frequently just stood around behind the arc. No movement, no cutting, no crashing the glass, nothing. While being ready for kickout threes and drives is great, he can be so much more, even without the ball in his hands. So far, he hasn’t been, and as we’ve seen with Russell Westbrook, it’s very difficult to get stars to change their games, even late in their careers.

Summary

John Wall is a high floor, low-ish ceiling player for the Clippers in the 2023 season. If he’s healthy, adapts his game to the Clippers’ needs, and still has a lot of his athleticism, he could be a game-changing force and a key piece to a championship run as a leading point guard distributor and point of attack defender. There’s also the chance that he’s not healthy and barely plays, or does play but no longer can impact games much outside of simple floor-manager point guard duties. The bottommost downside is that he’s not good, but doesn’t see his own on-court issues, and causes a locker room stir by pushing for playing time and a larger role. That latter part seems unlikely given everything we’ve heard – but you never know. Hopefully John Wall brings highlight plays and strong point guard play to the 2023 Clippers in their quest for a championship.

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