John Wall’s season-ending hamstring injury provided a strange finale to a trying season for the Houston Rockets. When Wall was acquired for Russell Westbrook in the offseason, he arrived with a number of questions in tow. How would he look after two years away? Could he still produce at a high level? How would he mesh with Stephen Silas, the coaching staff and the players?
Wall played just more than half of the season; 40 games, to be exact. He averaged 20.6 points, 6.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds, with .404/.317/.749 shooting splits. Considering what he’s been through recently to simply get back to the court, that effort was admirable.
But what does his future look like in Houston? He’s owed over $90 million over the next two seasons and is sharing a backcourt with Kevin Porter Jr., Houston’s supposed point guard of the future. Can they coexist long-term? Or are Wall’s days as a Rocket numbered?
We sought the expertise of John Hollinger, former NBA executive, to offer a nuanced perspective of Houston’s elephant in the room.
Iko: It’s been a strange, long, injury-ravaged season in Houston. If there are any positives to take away from the year, it’s getting their hands on Porter Jr., developing Jae’Sean Tate and K.J. Martin, and the 52 percent chance of landing a top-four pick in an upcoming draft that’s well-stocked with high-end talent.
But there’s an elephant in the room as we head into the offseason: an injured, expensive one by the name of John Wall. Let’s put you back into the front office for today — as you go through your end-of-season reviews, what do you have to say about the veteran point guard?.
Hollinger: The first question I’m asking myself is “Where is this guy in the hierarchy?” I have to place him among his peers at his position before I can understand what his value is and thus what could possibly be done with that gargantuan contract.
In Wall’s case, it’s very much a mixed bag. There were times, especially during that 11-10 start, when he showed some of the explosion and full-court speed of the old John Wall. But the big-picture view of the whole season is less encouraging. All his athletic markers were way down. Wall shot only 56.8 percent in the basket area — easily the worst mark of his career — and had career-low rates of rebounds and steals. His free-throw rate went way down, and the eye test says his defensive impact wasn’t on the same level as in D.C.
The trouble for Wall is that he needs to be an impactful player in those departments because his shooting remains a minus. He hit 31.7 percent from 3 and his career mark is 32.3 percent; that’s not going to cut the mustard.
So at his age, I’m asking, “On what level would a team value this player?” Overall, he’s probably somewhere between 20th and 35th in the point guard hierarchy right now — a starter in a pinch, especially on a team like the current Rockets squad, but more likely a plus backup on a good team. I have to assume, then, that most teams looking at acquiring him see him in that vein and value him accordingly.
Iko: How seriously do you take his injury history? He did well overall coming back from such a long layoff, but there were a number of nicks he suffered this season — knee, ankle, hamstring. I originally thought the Rockets wanted to have Wall in the lineup with Kevin Porter Jr. to help him with his development, provide leadership etc. But if he’s constantly unavailable, how does that impact Porter?
Hollinger: I think at his age, and with his history, you have to assume he’s a 60-game player and not an 80-game player. That said, he can be a benefit to Porter even when he’s not playing because Wall has a high basketball IQ and could potentially share a lot with him.