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September 14, 2011
Bad Example
What Wall Can Learn from Marbury

by Kevin Pelton

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While Stephon Marbury continues to play professionally in China, the epitaph has already been written on his career. Marbury will be remembered as a waste of talent and a triumph of hype over production. As a result, it's easy to imagine the kind of terror Washington Wizards fans must experience when they see franchise point guard John Wall mentioned with Marbury, but that's the comparison our SCHOENE projection system makes.

Marbury isn't actually the closest match for Wall at the same age; that's Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook, with a score of 97.6. However, it's hard to use Westbrook's development as a template for Wall since it is still very much in progress. Among contemporary players with full careers, Marbury (91.8) is the best match. That might prove instructive for Wall as he looks to avoid the same fate as Marbury and instead put together a successful NBA career.

How they're similar

Both are ball-dominant point guards
Statistically, it's hard to prove Marbury's reputation for selfishness. He ranked in the NBA's top 10 in assists each of his first nine seasons in the league. In fact, Marbury's assist rate as a rookie (10.3 percent of his team's plays) was actually slightly better than Wall's (9.8 percent). Both players also created a significant amount of offense for themselves. Their usage rates during their rookie seasons were nearly identical: 24.3 percent of his team's plays for Marbury and 24.0 percent for Wall.

Combine the two stats and it's clear how much Marbury and Wall had the ball in their hands. If we consider the sum of assist and usage rates as the percentage of his team's offense a player was responsible for, Marbury ranks sixth among all rookies at 34.7 percent. (Allen Iverson is tops at 36.9 percent.) Wall isn't far behind at 33.7 percent. Both are among 21 rookies in the last three decades responsible for at least a third of their team's offense. Clearly, both shouldered a heavy load.

Both shot low two-point percentages
If there's one thing that separates Derrick Rose from Wall, his fellow John Calipari protege, it's the ability to finish in the paint. Rose's size and strength have always made him effective at the rim. He made 49.1 percent of his two-point attempts as a rookie. Wall was at just 42.5 percent. According to Hoopdata.com, Wall finished just 59.9 percent of his attempts at the rim, well below the league average of 64.4 percent. Marbury was comparable. While we don't have data on shot locations for Marbury's rookie season, he made 43.4 percent of his 2-point attempts.

What Wall can do differently

Improve efficiency over time
The truth is, Marbury was more efficient as a scorer than Wall during his rookie season. Wall's true shooting percentage of .494 was far worse than what the league as a whole scored (.541 true shooting). Marbury was at .519 as a rookie. However, he never got much better. Aside from one fluky season in New York (2004-05, when his true shooting percentage was a career-best .575), Marbury never topped a .540 true shooting percentage. He was usually no better than average.

To improve upon Marbury, Wall must continue to get to the free throw line, one area where he was clearly superior to Marbury as a rookie. He also needs to develop some semblance of an outside game after shooting worse than 30 percent from three-point range. Here, Rose is a useful role model. He entered the NBA even weaker from downtown than Wall but has quickly become a competent outside shooter. By contrast, Marbury shot better from beyond the arc as a rookie (.354) than during his career as a whole (.325).

Deliver meaningful assists
In the 1990s, computer-controlled point guards in the NBA Live video game series always used to put up impressive stat lines. On most possessions, they'd dribble for 15 seconds before either shooting or passing to a player who immediately shot. That resulted in plentiful assists, though not ones in the true spirit of the statistic. As a player, Marbury was a little like that.

So while Wall might not necessarily deliver more assists, he can make his count. One place to start: more assists to teammates at the rim. According to Hoopdata, 38.1 percent of Wall's assists set up point-blank shots. That's a little on the low side for an elite point guard; players like Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo create finishes at the rim on more than 40 percent of their assists.

Contribute at the defensive end
So far, we've talked entirely about the offensive aspect of the game. Marbury's problems were at least as much on defense. When he was swapped for Jason Kidd, the resulting improvement for New Jersey and decline for Phoenix came largely on the defensive end of the floor.

Wall has the physical tools to have a much larger defensive impact. He ranked 12th in the league last season in steal percentage and can apply pressure to opposing point guards while using his quickness to keep them in front of him. Developing into an elite two-way player will make Wall that much more valuable to the Wizards.

When he arrived in the league, Marbury's brash game was as noteworthy as his Coney Island attitude. Because of the way the game has evolved, point guards like Wall are beginning to become the norm. Most of the best comparisons for his rookie season come from the last decade or so. There is one notable exception: Isiah Thomas, who has the best similarity score of all to Wall (97.7) and provides an example of what he can become if he follows a path different from the one taken by Marbury.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

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

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