Will Rockets’ John Wall ever be an NBA All-Star again?
The most devastating injury in basketball is the torn Achilles. It has claimed the careers of several NBA players and severely altered the careers of others. When the Houston Rockets originally acquired John Wall, they took back a first-round pick for their troubles — implicitly admitting that Russell Westbrook was the more valuable player. Wall hadn’t played basketball for two years and for the better part of last season, they were correct. Westbrook played 25 more games than Wall, averaged a triple-double again, and helped the Washington Wizards make the playoffs with a massive second-half surge, all while Wall put up okay numbers of an awful Rockets team.
This isn’t surprising considering Westbrook has been the better player for most of their careers. Nobody expects that to change moving forward. However, Wall has been kind of an uncomfortable afterthought when people discuss the 2021-22 Rockets. It’s true that both Wall and his exorbitant contract don’t fit into Houston’s youth movement, but does that mean he can’t be an impactful player and will never get back to playing at an All-Star level?
It’s really tough to tell how Wall will look, but normally players look better the year after they’ve returned from a devastating injury like the Achilles tear. Kevin Durant is the only example of a player who has returned to form right away, but he did also have some extra time off. So, one can reasonably infer that Wall will have a better season than his 2021-22 campaign. How much better is that, though?
What made prime John Wall so good was his exceptional ability to orchestrate offense, run the fast break, and play defense at a high level. It looks like Wall is a near-lock to begin next season in the starting lineup, so there’s plenty of minutes to be had. However, it’s a wonder if he can excel at all of these traits.
When John Wall played last season, he was still an exceptional passer. At 6-foot-4, he has great size for his position and is able to see over the top of defenders to find open teammates as he’s driving into the teeth of the defense. However, last year with the Rockets, Wall sought out his own shot more than we’re accustomed to him doing. For his career, Wall averages 22.6 field goal attempts per 100 possessions, but last season with Houston, he took 26.7 attempts per 100 possessions. If he can dial back his usage as a whole (27.7% for his career compared to 31.7 last season) and become more of a table-setter again, Wall could be a really effective offensive weapon next season.
Wall has the most experience with the ball in his hands, but he’s generally never going to be the most reliable scoring option on the Rockets. Houston has Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr., and Eric Gordon on the roster — all of whom are better shooters and have higher career true shooting percentages than Wall. The ideal version of 2021 John Wall recognizes this and takes a back seat to these options.
Running the fast break
It really is incredible how fast John Wall still looks post-Achilles. At the height of his career, he was the fastest player in the NBA and could run fast-break offense better than almost anyone. The Rockets are going into this season with six players under the age of 22 — most of whom are incredibly athletic like Josh Christopher, Jalen Green, and Kenyon Martin Jr.
If Wall commits to the orchestrator role, there will be a lot of willing and able bodies who will run the floor with him for outlet passes. He can also be a play finisher in this setting considering how often he’ll beat players himself down the court.
Defense is an area John Wall hasn’t committed to in quite a while. At his peak, Wall was an All-Defense guy whose foot speed, height, and wingspan (6-foot-9) gave him an edge when defending the quickest guards in the NBA. Given his age and injury history, it’s unlikely he’ll ever be that guy again.
However, the idea of him still being a plus defender at age-31 is not crazy. Wall will not have the same level of offensive burden he had in Washington because of the way Houston’s roster is constructed. His commitment is obviously the most important element here, but the significant reduction in role could do wonders toward his energy and focus on that end of the floor.
Will John Wall be an All-Star again?
In answering the central question here: No, it’s unlikely John Wall will ever make an All-Star team again. Not only is he at a different stage of his career, but he’s in the Western Conference. Mike Conley just got his first selection last season by the skin of his teeth after a career of very solid play for the Memphis Grizzlies. Wall is a less efficient scorer than Conley and isn’t on the same level defensively.
However, the idea of Wall being a productive starter for Houston next year shouldn’t be dismissed as much as it is right now. Sure, he doesn’t fit Houston’s timeline. It’s also true that he won’t ever live up to the remainder of his contract.
That’s not what Houston is asking of Wall, though. If Wall is to succeed next season, it’s going to be as an overqualified table-setter and as a veteran leader for the Rockets’ young core.