Wall evolving into an NBA superstar

It was just another night at the office for John Wall on Tuesday.

Despite his team’s loss to the New York Knicks, the former John Calipari star point guard scored 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting to continue his torrid play over the last two months.

Putting the inconsistencies of his first two years in the NBA  behind him as well as the criticism that followed, Wall has returned from an early season injury to meet the potential everyone thought he had when the Washington Wizards took him with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Wall is averaging 18.3 points, 7.5 assists and 3.9 rebounds on the year, but he’s averaging 26.5 points, 6.7 assists and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 45.6 percent from the field over his last 10 games. In mid-August he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. All the while, he’s moved up the point guard ranks in the NBA and is approaching superstar status.

Why the sudden turnaround, especially after an injury?

It may come down to two things.

One, the always-informed Michael Lee from the Washington Post writes that Wall came back more focused and more determined after a benching and subsequent feud with teammate Emeka Okafor in late February. After that feud, Wall said he matured, took responsibility, and came back to the practice the next day and just played basketball.

For the record, Wall said he and Okafor are on good terms now and admitted he was just frustrated that night during February.

“I think I really had to grow,” Wall told the Washington Post. “Get my teammates back behind me. Because that’s not the way you’re supposed to come out as a leader and as a franchise guy. I had to compete and compete, not really saying too much, just letting my play do the talking and those guys will believe in me and follow my lead.”

But motivation only gets you so far in a league as talented in the NBA. Perhaps the biggest change in Wall’s game has been his ability to hit the mid-range shot.

Watching him at Kentucky during the 2009-10 season, we’ve always known that Wall had the speed to blow by just about anyone and get the hoop. However, if there was a weakness in his game, it was his inability to consistently hit a jump shot.

That weakness may be no more.

As Kirk Goldsberry at Grantland wrote a few days ago, Wall is not only hitting jumpers, he’s found a spot he really likes on the floor. As you can see in the Grantland image to the right, Wall has found his comfort zone at the rim and to the right of the free-throw line. According to the Grantland story, Wall made 37 of his 64 attempts in that zone from March 1 to April 5, good enough for 57.8 percent. In that same zone during his first two seasons, he shot 62 of 188, or 33 percent.

It seems crazy to think that NBA teams haven’t noticed the pattern and tried to take it away from Wall, but as Goldsberry argues in his piece, the NBA is about playing to your strengths and finding what you do well. It is largely a game of specialists; guys find their place in the game and build on it.

It appears Wall is doing just that as he grows into an NBA superstar.

As always, check out our NBA page for the latest on Coach Cal players in the NBA.