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December 8, 2009
How Good is John Wall?

by John Gasaway

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I would suppose that most people think of Basketball Prospectus as a fairly analytical and level-headed neck of the online woods. Most people would be wrong! We can swoon like giddy adolescents with the best of them. If you don't believe me, you weren't tracking the Twitter feed of my Prospectus colleague Kevin Pelton during Kentucky's 68-66 win over North Carolina in Lexington on Saturday: "Watching John Wall is turning me into Dick Vitale. I'm gushing. 'Look at the vision! Are you kidding me?!?!'"

Kevin's natural habitat is the NBA, so I forgive him for not knowing that any invocation of Dickie V. must by law include a "bay-bee!" But otherwise he pretty much captured my sentiments perfectly. Watching Wall grab that defensive board and take it the length of the floor for a flying slam--against North Carolina, mind you--gives us the kind of handy evaluative epiphany that changes the discussion instantly and permanently. Our views on Wall can now be divided into Before- and After-Dunk, a little like discussion of Randy Moss changed for good after he single-handedly destroyed the defending NFC champion Packers in Green Bay his rookie year. Wall's game has its imperfections, sure. (See below.) But he is the only completely college-domination-ready freshman I have seen so far this season. LeBron might have looked something like this had one-and-done been in place to force him into a one-year collegiate detour.

Funny thing is, Wall is occasioning all of this fuss while functioning as something of a role player, at least compared to the members of the one-and-done backcourt pantheon (Mayo, Rose, Gordon, Evans, et al.). If I had told you before the season started that one Kentucky freshman in particular would absolutely dominate the rest of the team in terms of how likely he is to shoot, you would not have guessed that the results would look like this:

Voted "Most Likely to Shoot" (in the history of the sport)
Shot percentages of Kentucky starters, through games of December 7
%Shots: percentage of team's shots taken by each player during his minutes

                   %Shots
DeMarcus Cousins    39.0
Patrick Patterson   22.9
John Wall           21.2
Eric Bledsoe        18.4
Darius Miller       17.5

The figures here are a little deceiving in that Cousins is spectacularly foul-prone, so he's averaging just 19 minutes a game. Still, this is, to say the least, out of whack.

John Calipari needs to draw Cousins aside at practice this afternoon and say: "DeMarcus, I'd like you introduce you to John Wall and Patrick Patterson. They are very good at basketball. John's making 61 percent of his twos. Patrick's making 74 percent. Let them shoot too, OK?" Cousins isn't chopped liver himself, of course, and on D he already gives the appearance of being a Cole Aldrich-variety hybrid, one who both blocks shots and crashes the glass. (When he's on the floor.) But speaking literally, the Kentucky offense so far this year has risen or fallen largely according to how often Patterson and Wall get to shoot--the more often the better.

(If you still have this game on your DVR, watch the unintentionally revealing and slightly humorous sequence on Cousins' scoring play with just under 11 minutes remaining in the first half. As the Wildcats run their offense, everyone off the ball moves really well--until Cousins gets the rock. At that point the other four UK players stop dead in their tracks and watch. Just eight games into Cousins' career, his teammates already know that the ball definitely stops there.)

As for Patterson, forgive me for climbing up on this soap box yet again but he is an outstanding player who's apparently fated to be somewhat overlooked throughout his entire career in Lexington. Wall-mania is only the latest distraction. Before that there was Meeks-mania, Gillispie drama, and Rupp only knows what else. And hey, maybe Patterson's helped this state of affairs along. If he'd just stuck with one hairstyle and cool nickname, perhaps he'd be a household name by now. All I know is Patterson just makes shots. He is a machine for turning touches into points. (Though, strangely, his FT percentage has dipped this year. If he were making his freebies at last year's rate he'd be the most efficient college scorer since Oscar Robertson. Yes, that's baseless hyperbole. Intentional baseless hyperbole.)

Alas, Patterson has a teammate who is very likely to command the spotlight for the foreseeable future. To me one of the most impressive things about Wall, in addition to the fact that as an athlete he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, is the air of calm certainty he's already able to project as a point guard. Granted, at this stage it's an air more than a literal fact. Wall, like every freshman point guard since the dawn of time, commits too many turnovers (about seven for every 100 offensive possessions he plays) and his coach is on his case for allegedly shoddy D. Plus his perimeter shot is a work in progress. But I'd wager that 346 other D-I coaches would be willing to take Wall as their point guard anyway.

Those other coaches would be making a smart call. Wall dishes 12 assists for every 100 trips he's on the floor. He gets to the line regularly and shoots 79 percent there. And his shot chart for the year thus far would show an awful lot of green dots from zero to two feet: Wall knows how to get the ball to the rim. The young man will be the sole and exclusive possession of Kentucky for another 30 games, give or take. My advice to you is to watch as many of those games as you can. He's that good.

John also gushes like a swooning adolescent on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Patrick Patterson was not selected for the 2009 All-SEC first team. He was.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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Tough Break (12/07)
Next Article >>
On the Beat (12/08)

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