After the Houston Rockets decided to sit him out for the entirety of last season, John Wall has at long last found a way to get back on the court. The past few years have been difficult for the first pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, though his fortunes seem to have finally taken a turn for the better.
Wall and the Rockets have reportedly agreed on a buyout where the five-time NBA All-Star will lose only $6.5 million out of the $47.4 million that is owed to him this coming season which is the last year of his ongoing four-year deal. The 31-year-old guard was on a $170 million extension that the Washington Wizards inked him to five years ago following his impressive 2017 campaign that, unfortunately, remains the finest one that he has played so far in his 10-year career.
During that season, Wall averaged 23.1 points, 10.7 assists, and two steals, all of which were career-highs, as he led the Wizards to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where they pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games.
Still only 26 years old at the time, the future looked bright for the dynamic Wall and the potent backcourt pairing that he formed with Bradley Beal, but that was when injuries began to get the best of him.
An ailing knee forced him to miss half of the succeeding year before he was sidelined early in the ‘18-’19 campaign due to a troublesome heel that required season-ending surgery. He took the entire ‘19-’20 season off to recover and sat out the first half of the subsequent year when it was clear that he was no longer in Washington’s plans for the future.
The Wizards eventually traded him to the Rockets in a midseason trade for Russell Westbrook with whom he made his long-awaited comeback from surgery. Wall looked a step slow as he tried to regain his rhythm, yet still managed to average 20.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.1 steals in 40 appearances for a tanking Houston team.
A few months later, the Rockets made it clear that the focus of their ‘21-’22 season was going to be the development of their young guards Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., which left the veteran Wall as the odd man out. Houston chose to sideline him and reported trade talks throughout the season never came to fruition.
Now that he has finally come to a buyout agreement with the Rockets, he is expected to join the Los Angeles Clippers through the taxpayer mid-level exception upon clearing waivers. This new deal will pay him an amount similar to the balance that he gave up in his forgone contract, which means that he will essentially be paid the entire amount that was originally owed to him this season.
While it is unrealistic to expect Wall to regain the elite athleticism that he displayed in his first few years in the league following his spate of injuries, he should still be able to carve out a niche on this Clipper team that has title aspirations. During his days with the Wizards, he was at his best when playing alongside a line-up filled with shooters and that is something that these Clippers have in abundance.
Wall’s ability to create opportunities off the dribble for himself and, more importantly, his teammates fills a hole on this Los Angeles team that has not had a point guard with this level of passing skills since Chris Paul left in 2017. Even if he does not regain his peak form from a few years ago, he will still, theoretically at least, be an upgrade here.
Reggie Jackson, whom they have leaned on heavily over these past two years, is a capable scorer, but does not possess the elite playmaking skills of Wall who has averaged 9.1 assists in 613 career games.
With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George expected to be healthy at the beginning of this season, they will be needing less of Jackson’s scoring and more of Wall’s facilitating moving forward. He also has the potential to become the focal point of their reserve unit or whenever they find themselves without Leonard and George on the floor.
On the defensive side, Wall is an upgrade over Jackson who is a liability on that end of the floor. The 6’3 guard has a career average of 1.7 steals per game and boasts of a much stronger physique compared to Jackson. Although his quickness may not be what it once was, he proved during his brief stint with Houston that the instincts and timing that helped him excel defensively are still intact.
What should further help Wall is that there will not be much pressure for him to perform at a high level immediately. Jackson is the incumbent starter and has had success in that role. This may lead head coach Ty Lue to keep him with the first unit for familiarity purposes, at least for the beginning of the season.
Furthermore, the media is likely to be focused on the returning Leonard and George which should allow Wall to get his bearings out of the spotlight.
Ultimately, this is likely to become a timeshare between Jackson and Wall, with the experience of the former on this team helping him overcome the disparity in talent and upside. It is also more rational to expect Wall to play at a level more similar to what has been seen from former NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose in his recent years with the New York Knicks as a sixth man.
At the end of the day, this is a no-brainer and low-risk play with curiously high upside for this Los Angeles side in their quest for an NBA title. Wall is barely over 30 years old and should come in with fresh legs following his season off.
This bet is already a win for them if he can become a solid back-up, particularly when considering that they essentially operated without one during the latter half of last season. If he can approach the All-Star level that he once played at, then this will help the Clippers establish themselves as one of the favorites to win the title in this upcoming campaign.
Not all players, especially those with a colorful off-court history like Wall, get a great chance at a redemption arc with a contender like this one that he has. This may actually be his last chance to play a key role and prove that he can stick around the league in the long term. With all the starpower that Los Angeles has, they can easily survive without him and he will have to bring his best on a daily basis.
The challenge now for Wall is to find a way to make himself indispensable for this team and prove that he has what it takes to contribute to a winning cause. If not, there is a strong chance that this might be the last that the NBA will see of this former number one overall pick. The clock may be ticking for Wall, but thankfully there is still more than enough time for him to make his own luck.