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Examining John Wall's fit with the Los Angeles Clippers

Examining John Wall's fit with the Los Angeles Clippers

It's been a minute since we've seen John Wall play consistent basketball.

He's logged just 72 regular-season game appearances — nearly 2,400 minutes — across the past four seasons. Injuries have derailed an electrifying career, one that's seen Wall shine as one of the most explosive point guards in basketball history.

Roster context — the Houston Rockets were young and bad last season — played the largest role in Wall's absence last season. Complicating matters was his lucrative deal, too large for contenders to take on in realistic trade packages, but also too much for Wall to agree to a contract buyout.

Until now, at least.

Yahoo's Chris Haynes dropped the bomb on Monday night, reporting that Wall and the Rockets were nearing agreement on a buyout. He eventually got it, giving back a little over $6 million back in exchange for his free agent status. That status will likely be short-lived, as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Wall is bound for the Los Angeles Clippers.

It's important to note that Wall isn't the early-2010s-Wizards version of himself. He'll be turning 32 before the 2022-23 season begins, and has injury mileage on his legs. Even the most recent version of Wall saw him put up solid counting stats — 20.6 points, 6.9 assists in 32.2 minutes — but with awful efficiency. A 44.9% clip from two, paired with a 31.7% clip from deep — on a career-high 6.2 attempts, no less — is not what you want from your lead guard.

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The good news for the Clippers is that they don't need Wall to do as much as he was tasked with during his last season in Houston. Remember, Wall joined the team under the assumption that he'd be James Harden's running mate. Harden was on the team for all of eight games before being shipped to the Brooklyn Nets.

WHAT HE BRINGS

This a pretty fun fit on the surface.

With the understanding that he's going to be dropping in the hierarchy, it's easy to envision Wall bouncing back from an efficiency perspective. The jury's out on if Wall will start or come off the bench (more on that later), but this is arguably the best shooting talent he's been surrounded by in his career.

It's hard to overstate how bad Wall's context was the last time we saw him. 

Houston's most used lineup with Wall featured Kevin Porter Jr. (31.1% from three), Jae'Sean Tate (30.8%), Christian Wood (37.4%), and Kelly Olynyk (39.2%). And of that frontcourt pairing, only Olynyk was actually treated like a legitimate threat when spaced off the ball.

And yet, the Rockets generated nearly 1.13 points per possession (PPP) on trips featuring a Wall pick-and-roll with that lineup on the floor, per Second Spectrum. That's a darn good number.

That isn't close to perfect spacing; Wall-Wood or Wall-Olynyk ball-screens seem good on their own, but think about defenses cheating off of Porter or Tate at the same time.

Still, Wall was able to make it work.

Now, envision Wall running ball-screens with Ivica Zubac, an underwhelming leaper, but a brutal screener with solid touch around the basket. Zoom out, and think about the spacing those two will have. Instead of dealing with help defenders sagging off of non-shooters like Tate at the nail, Kawhi Leonard may be in his place. Or Paul George. Or Luke Kennard. Norm Powell, Marcus Morris, Robert Covington. Nicolas Batum if he's brought back. Hits a little differently, right?

It should.

In relation to the star wings, think of the Boston Celtics for a moment. As referenced many times on The Dunker Spot, Marcus Smart's ability to generate paint touches is wildly important. Not only does it help him scramble defenses, but Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown also have the benefit of attacking scrambling defenses instead of being the ones to bend it.

Wall could serve as a better version of that, no longer tasked with being the offense; rather, being a drink-stirrer of sorts. He remains a very good passer, and should be able to jump-start some fast breaks for a Clippers team that didn't run a ton last season. As long as he's able to generate paint touches, good things should happen when he's on the floor.

QUESTION MARKS 

Though the spacing should make life easier for Wall, he still comes with his own limitations. He's simply fast now, instead of the blinding blur he was during his prime. The spacing in Houston was suboptimal, but it's worth noting that teams became increasingly comfortable switching screens against him and daring him to shoot. 

A large portion of that is Wall's shaky jumper, particularly off the bounce. But quietly, he didn't blow past bigs with the same verve. Second Spectrum tracks blow-bys on drives, as well as the percentage of drives that end in a blow-by. Wall's 18.8% blow-by percentage during the 2020-21 season ranked 54th out of 69 players to log at least 500 drives. For reference, that number was at 23.6% during Wall's last All-Star campaign in 2017-18.

The jumper point still looms large though. He drained just 32.4% of his pull-up twos during the 2020-21 season, per Second Spectrum. He was worse on threes (29.1%). Off the ball, Wall is a "fine" catch-and-shoot threat. Dating back to the 2017-18 season, he's knocked down roughly 37% of his catch-and-shoot triples.

Considering the volume and his actual jumper — a bit of a slow load up and low release — he's still below the threshold of teams treating him like a real threat off the ball. He'll have to prove he can knock down shots at a higher clip, as well as showcase some juice as a cutter or occasional screener.

There's also the start-or-bench question. I'm at least a little curious to see if he or Reggie Jackson has a problem with coming off the bench. We've seen that pop up with the younger version of Jackson elsewhere, and Wall was originally hesitant to accept a bench role in Houston last season.

Ultimately, it may not matter. These are both veterans. Jackson has spoken to the mutual lovefest he and the Clippers have, so that may be an easier conversation to have. Wall is coming off a season he didn't play, and is now joining a contender on mid-level money. 

Wall may not be what he used to, but he doesn't have to be. As an additive to an already-deep Clippers team, he should help juice their attack.

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