John Wall’s selfish plan to improve 3-point percentage hurts Wizards

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John Wall wants to enter the MVP discussion.

How does he plan to do that?

On way: Increase his 3-point percentage.

That’s a good place to start. Outside shooting has long been a weakness in Wall’s otherwise strong game. If he could make more triples, that would not only produce more efficient points, it’d open the floor further for his drives and passes.

Wall, in a Q&A with Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders:

Basketball Insiders: What aspects of your game did you work on this summer?

John Wall: “I can shoot the three well, but I just need to focus on not taking bad ones – like half-court ones and ones in late shot-clock situations so I can have a good percentage. I’ve been working on my floater a lot, I’ve been working on my post-up game and I’ve been working on improving my defense.”

Oh.

Wall isn’t actually focused on becoming a better 3-point shooter. He just wants to miss fewer 3s.

There’s a difference, and here, it harms the Wizards.

The shots Wall is talking about – desperation attempts to end a quarter or with the shot clock ticking down – are low-percentage. They’re also good shots.

When Wall launches a halfcourt heave to end a quarter, he increases his team’s likelihood of winning. He’ll probably miss, but he might not. Sure, the odds of him making that shot are far lower than his overall 3-point percentage last season of 30. If Wall hold the ball until the buzzer sounds in those situations, he’ll improve his 3-point percentage. But he’ll also ensure Washington won’t score. It’s better to have a remote chance of three points than the guarantee of zero.

Late shot-clock situations present a similar dilemma. A team’s scoring expectation drops considerably as the shot clock nears zero. Sometimes, a team must take a difficult shot. Players who frequently take those necessary difficult shots will see their shooting percentages dip. The talented Wall is one of the Wizards most likely to create space and score in those situations. But the likelihood of Wall making a 3-pointer there is probably less than 30%.

What’s the alternative? Tossing the ball to worse teammate for an even-more-rushed shot? That obviously harms the team. Just holding the ball without shooting? That’d result in a shot-clock violation and turnover. On the bright side, it’d be a team turnover that wouldn’t count against Wall’s individual totals.

Ultimately, this is a very selfish declaration by Wall. He’s putting his individual stats over team success in an undeniable way.

It’s also interesting how much the nature of this discussion has changed over the years. The common perception of a selfish player is a chucker, someone launching bad shots to pad his scoring average. Wall is doing the opposite – refusing to take good, low-percentage shots. This is the logical endpoint of efficiency-driven analysis. There’s a constant battle to refine stats, and it obviously continues.

We shouldn’t think less of Wall because he misses a long 3-pointer to end a quarter or a contested one with the shot clock expiring. But, right now, it’s also impractical to know how many of those shots each player has taken. The best way to judge Wall’s 3-point shooting is glance at his 3-point percentage. But, as this shows, that’s an incomplete measure. Even advanced stats, at least the publicly available ones, incorporate 3-point percentage without helpful caveats about situation.

With people increasingly using stats to judge players, Wall is boosting his perceived value to many. His biggest mistake was probably admitting his strategy. Now, we can watch for him turning down these shots – and criticize him for it. For other players, the beauty of skipping those low-percentage shots is the non-attempts are lost in a sea of data. It’s easy to check players’ 3-point percentages. It’s practically impossible to count how many late-quarter/late-shot-clock attempts they pass up, at least on a league-wide level. Somebody can – and probably will – count Wall’s.

To be fair to Wall, he’s not the first player to express this plan. Kevin Durant said he doesn’t take halfcourt heaves to end quarters when his field-goal percentage is high.

But I’d yet to see a player talk about not shooting when the shot clock gets low. Durant certainly takes plenty of those shots. I wouldn’t be surprised if others shied away, though perhaps more discreetly than Wall.

If only everyone could be as unselfish as J.R. Smith.