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Grading John Wall's Deal With the Clippers

The former Houston point guard will join Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in Los Angeles.

Before he missed the entire 2021–22 season over reasons that had nothing to do with his ability or health, the last time we saw John Wall in an NBA game was April 23, 2021, in a five-point loss to the Clippers. In 40 minutes against a title contender, he finished with 27 points and 13 assists, going 8-for-15 inside the arc, 1-for-7 behind it and 8-for-9 from the free-throw line. In short: Wall looked like who he’s always been, a sensational whirlwind of speed, wit and pressure. The first step and vision were still special.

Now, 435 days later, after he finally negotiated a buyout with the Rockets, the 31-year-old Wall has accepted the Clippers’ two-year $13.2 million for the taxpayer mid-level exception to join forces with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Ty Lue and a deep stable of skilled, versatile, two-way players. It’s a partnership that has the potential to be quite mutually beneficial.

The Clippers were already seen as an early favorite to win the 2023 title even before news of Wall’s decision first broke. For some, this addition fortifies that belief. The rich got richer by signing a former No. 1 overall pick who still can’t be guarded one-on-one to a deal that’s probably below what he’d otherwise earn in a more open marketplace.

That’s not a guarantee it’ll work, though. Wall hasn’t made an All-Star team in five years and it’s been six seasons since he appeared in over half his team’s games. Skepticism is understandable given Wall’s extended leave from the NBA and how awkward his known blemishes may be trying to complement other All-Stars (i.e. he’s a career 32.3% shooter from behind the three-point line). He’s never been the third option on his own team, let alone fourth or fifth or coming off the bench and sitting in the fourth quarter. Wall’s job is to support star teammates as opposed to it being the other way around, and it’s a bit of a mystery how he’ll handle it.

Wall made 38.4% of the 125 spot-up threes he took in 2021. Since 2014, he’s actually been O.K. on those catch-and-shoot threes. But as someone who won’t be guarded off the ball—as seen in the play below—Wall’s percentages are irrelevant in a practical sense. He can’t space the floor, through the regular season or in crunch time of an important playoff game.

But there’s also no need to overthink this. The Clippers would be foolish not to sign someone this good, with that much experience, at the price they’re able to get him just because of ostensible fit issues. It’s a win-win opportunity. Wall can add his pick-and-roll expertise to L.A.’s offense and, in the open floor and halfcourt, shepherd a second unit that would allow George and Leonard to play more minutes at the same time.

And when surrounded by the talent this roster already has, gliding through wider gaps, picking defenses apart with a drive-and-kick gear few can replicate, there will be nights when the Clippers look unbeatable. Wall won’t go up against the opponent’s best perimeter defender and his downhill aggression can help a team that finished 29th in location effective field goal percentage last year.

There’s also a good chance Lue uses Wall as a screener, mitigating some of the space issues he’d otherwise cause standing still on the perimeter. If he comes to embrace the same role Bruce Brown and Gary Payton II have recently thrived in, it’ll be scary. 

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