By Ben Golliver
A good rule of thumb: if a player's personal highlight reel from a single game lasts more than four minutes, he probably had a career night. That's exactly what we have here: four-plus minutes of Wizards guard John Wall destroying the Grizzlies in a 107-94 home win on Monday night.
Wall, 22, exploded for a career-high 47 points, shooting 13-for-22 from the field and 19-for-24 from the foul line. He added eight assists, seven rebounds, one steal and one block in 45 just to round out his absurd contributions to the box score.
Only two players this season have managed more points than Wall: Stephen Curry, who went off for 54 points in a February loss to the Knicks, and Kevin Durant, who tallied 52 points in a January overtime win over the Mavericks. Lakers center Dwight Howard is the only NBA player to have attempted more free throws in a game this season when he shot 25-for-39 in a March win over the Magic.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft obliterated his own scoring standards. Prior to Monday, Wall's season-high was 29 points (he sat out until early January with a knee injury). His previous career-high was 38 points during a Jan. 16, 2012, loss to the Rockets.
The Washington Post reported the post-game reaction from Wall and his coach, Randy Wittman.
“I could have 52 if I had made my free throws, but so be it.”
“I was just in the zone. I made my first couple shots and I knew I was in a great rhythm,” Wall said. “My coach and my teammates just rode me, and they just said keep carrying them.”
“I’ve witnessed a lot of games. I’ve played with some pretty good players. I’ve coached some pretty good players. That was an incredible performance for him,” Wittman said. “It felt to me that it was all under control. All within our offense. All within what we were doing. It was aggressive. That was incredible.”
The physical tools have been there for Wall since high school: his quickness, end-to-end speed, leaping ability and timing in the air are all elite. The consistency of his jumper, his lack of shooting range, decision-making and his tendency to play at a breakneck speed have been his limiting factors. This March he's enjoyed the best stretch of his three-year career, averaging 18.8 points and 8.0 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field in 13 games (entering Monday).
His career night had a little bit of everything and he spent a good bit of the night in "everything I throw up will go in" mode. Wall was nine-for-15 outside the paint, including a number of in-rhythm pull-up jumpers over defenders and a pretty step-back fadeaway on the left baseline. With Grizzlies center Marc Gasolout indefinitely with an abdominal injury, Wall was able to attack his defenders relentlessly off the dribble and get all the way to the basket and the charity stripe with regularity.
What really stands out is the consistency with which Wall hit his pull-up and step-back jumpers, as those are tough shots for any guard, especially one knocked for his shooting. Perhaps we shouldn't be shocked, though, as he went five-for-five in his favorite mid-range shot location, the right angle.
That 15-to-18 foot range was a game-changer for Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who honed in on pull-up jumpers last season to improve his mid-range shooting from the mid-30s earlier in his career to 43 percent last year, according to HoopData. Westbrook's numbers in that range have regressed this season, but defenders seem to respect those looks in a way they might not have previously. Having that weapon in the arsenal opens up attacking opportunities, as defenders who are forward on their feet anticipating a stop-on-a-dime pull-up are more susceptible to the blow-by to the hoop off the dribble.
Wall, like Westbrook, is always going to butter his bread at the rim and by getting to the free throw line. Monday night's completely en fuego mid-range shooting clearly isn't a reasonable expectation going forward, but the more methods he has for setting up his higher-percentage looks, the more effective and consistent he will be as a scorer. A respectable jumper will draw help additional attention from help defenders, too, making him that much more dangerous as a play-maker.