Can the Washington Wizards Contend Without John Wall?
The NBA playoffs have been exciting, but they have also been injury-filled as well. It's not just role players going down but rather stars and difference-makers for each team.
The Spurs lost some of their post presence with back and foot injuries to Tiago Splitter. The Cavaliers lost one of their "Big Three" in Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs thanks to his shoulder injury.
Chris Paul played on one hamstring in Game 7 against the Spurs and subsequently sat out against the Rockets in Games 1 and 2 of that series.
The latest star player to go down is John Wall, who has five different non-displaced fractures in his wrist and hand.
The injury to John Wall may be more devastating to the Wizards than any of the other injuries in the playoffs because of the involvement of Wall in the Wizards' offense.
Wall On and Off the Court
Wall missed just three regular season games this year -- all in April -- and the Wizards went 1-2 in those games. The Wizards beat the Sixers and lost to the Nets and Cavaliers. That doesn't tell us much, but some quick stats will.
Wall scored 1.05 points per possession in the regular season and posted a usage rate of 26.1%, which ranked 18th in the regular season.
Even more impressive was Wall's 46.3% assist rate (third best in the regular season), which means he assists almost half of his teammates' field goals while he is on the floor. In the playoffs, that number jumped to 51.8%, 13.4% more than the second-place player, James Harden.
But that's only half of the story. We see a stark difference in how the Wizards perform with and without Wall on the floor.
First off, we see that the Wizards were a better shooting team in the regular season when John Wall was on the court as there is almost a 3% difference in their Effective Field Goal Percentage (which weights three- and two-pointers). They were obviously a better passing team with Wall but they were less prone to turnovers (2.8% difference) and were more apt to stealing the ball with Wall as well.
Overall, Wall had a huge effect on the Wizards as one of the biggest difference makers on the team. During the regular season, the Wizards put up 105.7 points per 100 possessions with Wall and allowed 101.5 points on defense. When Wall was taken off, the offense dropped to 100.3 points per 100 possessions, and the team gave up 108.4 points per 100 possessions -- and that continued into the playoffs.
While we have a much smaller sample, we're still seeing some of the same trends -- the Wizards are just not an effective shooting team without Wall and are much more turnover-prone without him as well. Ramon Sessions filled in admirably in Game 2, putting up 21 points and dishing out 4 assists, but contributions will be needed everywhere to replace Wall, especially on the offensive side.
In the regular season, the difference with and without Wall offensively was just 5.4 points per 100 possessions. So far in the playoffs, it's been a canyon-wide difference. With Wall, they're putting up 116.6 points per 100 possessions and just 99.5 without him. Oddly enough, they have been better defensively, allowing 96.9 points without Wall and 104.2 with Wall.
But even if their defense can shut down the Hawks for a game or two and Wall doesn't return in this series, the odds still aren't in their favor.
Against All Odds
Entering the playoffs, the Wizards were a 5 seed and had low odds to come out of the first round of the playoffs and not even a 2% chance to win the title, according to our algorithms. And despite sweeping the Raptors out of the playoffs and winning Game 1 against the Hawks, the Wizards still had less than a 4% chance to win it all.
If Wall does somehow still play the rest of the way, the Wizards have just under a 43% chance to move to the Eastern Conference Finals, though it will mean taking the Hawks to the brink to do so. Without Wall, those odds drop by 5%.
If Wall doesn't miss a game, the Wizards would have a 16.5% chance to win the Eastern Conference Finals. That number drops by about 2% without Wall. And although their championship odds are slim as it is, the Wizards' chances to take home the title are cut almost in half if Wall is unable to play the rest of the playoffs.
The Wizards were already in the underdog role in the playoffs, and the potential loss of John Wall doesn't help their case at all.