Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, John Wall and the Houston Rockets have mutually agreed that he will sit out games as the organization works to find a trade partner. The past few seasons have been rife with players considered to be on non-movable contracts finding new homes through trades. However, John Wall’s circumstances make it harder to dispel that notion. Wall enters the season with two years remaining on his deal, including the upcoming year, and currently maintains the third-highest paying deal in the NBA, set to earn $44,310,840 in 2021-22.
Recently, the idea of a John Wall-Kevin Love trade has been tossed out, with Cedi Osman sent to Houston as well to match salaries. In some regards, it makes sense on paper. With the addition of Lauri Markkanen and Evan Mobley this off-season, there’s a logjam in the frontcourt and Love is seemingly on the outside looking in. There’s been an awkwardness around Kevin Love and the organization that’s been palpable for the past few seasons. Finding a trade seems ideal for both Love and the organization.
Who is John Wall in 2022?
There are a number of perspectives that are necessary to dive into when assessing a trade, and the most important is what does the player returning to the organization provide? How do they fit? What’s their ideal role?
John Wall played his first healthy and meaningful stretch of basketball for the first time in nearly two years with Houston this past season. Seeing him on court and capable of playing at a fairly high level still was awesome. However, parsing through and being realistic about the level he’s at now is essential.
Yes, Wall averaged 20 points and 7 assists this past season. But, that came on his lowest efficiency in seven seasons (50.3% TS) and the highest usage rate of his career (31.7%).
It’s important to mention that again, John Wall played his first healthy stretch of basketball in two years. Coming back off of rehabbing and missing that much time makes it difficult to play at a pre-injury level. It can take until well into the second season after returning to really find your timing and athleticism as we’ve seen with other players who have dealt with significant lower-body injuries.
That adds another interesting facet though. Wall just turned 31 a few weeks ago. With how much time he’s missed and where his body is at now, is it reasonable to expect athletic returns? I can’t really answer that, but it seems rather unlikely based on priors.
What makes Wall’s case so interesting is that there are aspects of his athletic ability that haven’t regressed. His burst this past season was absolutely exceptional and he’s still routinely capable of blowing by opposing defenders on the perimeter out of pick and roll. The handle is still of course fantastic and he can win one on one battles in isolation, albeit with lesser consistency.
Wall was in the 99th percentile this past season in unassisted rim attempts per game according to tracking data from BBall-Index. That tracks with watching him play.
So where is the disconnect? Wall’s at-rim finishing drastically cratered this season, as he shot 56% there (23rd percentile among guards) the worst he’s shot from 0-3 feet in his career.
In watching Wall, it stands out that while his burst is still mostly there for him, his lift on jumps has regressed a great deal.
That showed up without contact.
And with contact.
That’s my biggest question with Wall. Can he regain some of those ups that made him one of the better guard finishers in the league? While acknowledging it’s unlikely he ever gets back to 100%, it’s possible some of that lift does return.
That brings up another important aspect: Can Wall thrive on smaller usage and with an improved shot selection? Wall hasn’t shot average or above from mid-range since the 2015 NBA season while taking nearly 30-40% of his shots from there every season. Efficiency certainly isn’t everything, but with Wall, cutting down the pull-up twos or randomly becoming a 45% pull-up shooter (doubt) would greatly alter his efficiency.
Wall’s catch and shoot 3 has hit levels of respectability, shooting 35.5% or above in each of the last 5 seasons he’s played. Add in that he’s the best playmaker and passer of the three guards (barring another significant leap this season from either guard), and you can make a case that he has a place as an initiator in a three-ballhandler, drive and kick heavy offense. But again, is the off-ball movement there between the three? Garland proved himself a quality off-ball mover last season as did Sexton, but John Wall was routinely immobile last year once the ball left his hands. While off-ball movement isn’t everything, to really take advantage of a three-guard lineup utilizing the extra speed and ballhandling is a must to maximize the court.
After a full off-season and more time back on the court, you can envision Wall’s activity improving with his legs back under him on both ends. Again though, banking on something you’re unsure of the efficacy of is risky.
How would John Wall fit the Cavs?
This is pure conjecture, but I would go out on a limb and say that Wall is not in a place in his career where he’s willing to come off the bench. That makes things kind of wonky when looking at the Cavs. Benching either of Sexton or Garland for Wall would be odd organizationally, and frankly, this isn’t 2K. It’s easier said and done to move a young player who just averaged 24 points per game in his third season to the bench. The exact same can be said of Garland. Regardless of how you feel about the Sexland duo, prioritizing a 31-year-old over either of the young backcourt would be questionable especially given the current state of the Cavaliers as a team.
Pretending the trade happened, and accounting for that, you’re starting a three-guard lineup. On its own, that’s not entirely unfeasible. The Sacramento Kings seem likely to do that this season and other teams have recently thrived with three-guard units.
However, even downsized, the defense between the 3 is where the headache starts. Both Sexton and Garland are negative impact defenders at this point in their careers. While a jump should be expected (read hoped for) this coming season, Sexton is a ways away from being an average defender and Garland is a one-position defender with little versatility.
While it’s tough to account for the context of playing on one of the worst teams in the NBA last season, Wall is not the All-Defense performer he was in the mid-2010’s. Wall brings more size and better overall awareness on the defensive end, but the consistency has dropped off a great deal even before he was injured. Part of that is his offensive usage, but Wall can get easily neutralized from a play by a screen. He has very bright moments playing at the point of attack, as he’s still relatively quick laterally and sound in technique when locked in. The events creation off-ball can pop (3.6% stock percentage).
With a more tamped-down offensive role and more locked-in on a team focused on winning, you can project Wall as an average or slightly above defensive player.
So what about Ricky Rubio? I tend to fade the “there’s only one ball” quip, but there’s viability here. Rubio is most idealized with the ball in his hands, and after trading for him to solidify the back-up guard spot, it would be odd to nullify a great deal of what he brings to the team. In some ways, it feels like adding Wall clears one logjam in the frontcourt only to create an equally confusing one in the backcourt.
Cedi Osman is Important
While I’m certainly not going to make the case that Cedi Osman is the best player of the three involved in the projected trade, I kept coming back to the idea of how important he is to the Cavs this year.
Cedi had his worst season as a pro last year and was greatly disappointing. However, let’s just think about Cleveland’s depth sans Osman. Isaac Okoro is the nominal (and deserving) starter at the three headed into the year. However, he played minimal minutes at the four this past year and at 6’5 with a mostly average wingspan, it’s tough to ask him to play the four in most lineups. Lauri Markkanen is a tweener between the four and 5. Dean Wade played some minutes at the three last season, but that was more out of necessity as he’s better served at the four on both ends. Lamar Stevens is capable of defending multiple positions, but offensively is a tough sell at the three. Hopefully, Dylan Windler will be healthy this season and can play minutes as a combo forward, but it’s hard to put the chips in for a player whose played 513 minutes since being drafted in 2019.
The point being, Cedi Osman does enough of everything to play important rotation minutes at both the three and four providing vital lineup versatility for the Cavaliers. Osman’s importance speaks to both his own ability and the holes in the roster as currently constructed. Cedi started to find his groove again in the last month of the season and the Cavs will ideally get a better season from him on both ends in a slightly smaller role, as he’s been overstretched playing starter’s minutes.
Could Koby Altman talk Rafael Stone into sending back Danuel House Jr.? House’s $3.8 million expiring contract would fit snugly into the trade exception ($4.2m) created in the JaVale McGee trade, if Altman chose to use it. House would bring a lot of what Osman does in terms of versatility as a playmaker, shooter, and defender, erasing some of the concerns of trading Osman. However, it was reported by Kelly Iko of The Athletic last month that House and his representation met with Houston in Vegas and he’s “beloved” by the organization at all levels.
I thought through the potential of Ricky Rubio being sent back to Houston (He’s trade eligible a week from today), but the Rockets have pretty clearly stated that they want to see their youth movement handle the ball as much as possible. While you could make a different case that Rubio could make sense for Houston off the bench, it just doesn’t seem like the direction based on reporting.
Would the Cavs get back draft capital? Maybe, but it seems unlikely that it would be much considering that both teams would be exchanging bad hands of cards in hopes of doing one another a solid.
Ultimately, I don’t think this proposed deal makes a great deal of sense for the Cavaliers barring one of Sexton or Garland being involved in a subsequent deal. Even then, I’d have serious questions about the process and direction of the team if that were the avenue Altman and the front office chose. I already have numerous questions about the team as constructed; adding John Wall to the mix only adds water to the overfilled well of queries.
I’d also add that I’m not sure this really makes that much sense for Houston either outside of splitting forty-million dollars into two contracts. Their frontcourt isn’t exactly chock full of playing time with Christian Wood in place, first round selection’s Alperen Sengun’s and Usman Garuba’s playing time prioritized, and Daniel Theis signing a 4-year deal with Houston in the off-season. A larger role doesn’t exist for him in Houston.
I do believe that Wall can find himself as a starter on a team in the league with an adjusted role and good health, but I’d doubt the efficacy of Wall’s fit with the Cleveland Cavaliers.