In the beautiful world of basketball, we love offense. We love games in the 120s. Offense drives the news cycle and often drives fandom. However, any way you choose to slice it up, there is another side of basketball: defense.
The top teams have players who make a difference on both sides of the ball. The Washington Wizards, the eighth most efficient defense in the league last season, are a prime example of what really good defense can do for a team. The Wizards have a bunch of solid defenders and a defensive-minded coach in Randy Wittman, but they also have one of the best defensive point guards in the league when he’s locked in.
If you wanted to make the prototypical defensive point guard, he would come out looking close to what John Wall is. Wall is 6’4″ and has an absurd 6’9″ wingspan. To put that into perspective, Gordon Hayward, who is 6’8″, has a shorter wingspan than Wall.
On defense, long arms give a defender the ability to disrupt passing lanes, make passing angles more difficult, contest shots better, and basically just make offense harder for the other player. Couple his wingspan with his blistering side-to-side quickness (he had the fastest lane agility time at 2010 NBA Draft combine) and Wall has all the attributes to be a menace on defense.
Having all those attributes does not automatically make you an elite defender. A lot more goes into defense. To be an elite defender you have to really want to (it takes A LOT of effort), you have to be locked in every second of the court, and you have to be a smart player. There are some really good defenders who do not have Wall’s physical attributes, but use their brains to defend opponents and their tendencies at a high level.
Statistically, Wall checks out as a really good defender. He was the only guard in the league last season to have a defensive rating of 104 or lower, a steal percentage (an estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player while they were on the floor) greater than 2.5, and have four or more defensive win shares, according to Basketball Reference. These stats show that Wall’s defense has an impact on the game.
Opposing guards did not fare too well against Wall either. On average, the point guards Wall faced posted a 15.8 Player Efficiency Rating, according to 82games.com, which is right around the league average. In comparison to other top defensive point guards, Wall’s opponent’s PER holds up pretty well. Ricky Rubio is considered a very good defensive point guard, yet opposing point guards put up a 19.7 PER in matchups against Rubio. Chris Paul, on the other hand, held his opponents to a ridiculous 13.4 PER. All three of those players played for top-12 defenses last season.
While Wall is obviously stout as an individual defender, playing team defense is crucial to being a good defender. Everyone has to be crisp on their rotations, quick on their feet, and ready to communicate in order for a defense to run smoothly. Wall was a solid team defender and the fact that the Wizards were 4.7 points better per 100 possessions defensively in the reglar season and playoffs demonstrates that.
Like every player, Wall has his defensive flaws. The biggest one being that he often is not totally locked in on the defensive end of the floor. He is often standing straight up and does not move his feet. Look at how Wall starts these possessions, he is straight up the entire time and it messes up his footwork and leads to him reaching.
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Playing straight up and not being totally locked in on defense also leads to play like this one:
It is hard to fault Wall with not being totally committed all the time on defense because of how much the Wizards rely on him on the offensive end of the floor. He played the second most minutes of any point guard and has to be on his A-game for the Wizards offense to even be functional. If he played all-out defense for the entire game, the Wizards’ offense would not be as good.
However, when Wall is locked in on defense, especially late in games, he can be extremely good. For example, during a triple-overtime thriller in Toronto towards the end of the season, Wall made two fantastic defensive plays late in the game to get the win against the Raptors.
The first play Wall fights over a screen and darts down the middle of the lane to recover and steal a potential dunk. His quickness and length allowed him too do that. That is a damn impressive defensive sequence by Wall.
The second play Wall closes out on Greivis Vasquez under control and in a strong defensive stance. With his quickness, Vasquez cannot get around Wall and eventually Wall strips him.
Those were back-to-back big time defensive plays in triple overtime. That is how good Wall can be defensively. He just can’t often exert that type of effort on defense because of how important his energy is on offense.
Wall also does things like this on defense. There is not another point guard in the league who can do this.
Is Wall an elite defender at this point? It is tough to say because he does take plays off and looks like a lousy defender more than he should throughout the roller coaster 82-game season. However, he has all the tools and when he wants to be, Wall is one of the best defensive point guards in the entire league.