I was certain I was right. He was young. He was wildly exciting. He got called a whole lot of names, like a lot of other young guys his age got called, and he was going to play for a man known for all of the best and worst in college hoops. But damn, son had game. The type of game that made you go hit up his YouTube mixes at random times. You didn’t realize what you were doing. You couldn’t help it. Yeah, that’s what they call an addiction.
I was convinced. I figured I had just seen the future best point guard in the world.
Fast forward a few years and it’s easy to digress. If there was ever a weirdly disappointing rookie year, it was John Wall’s this season. That’s what happens when you get caught up in a tornado of a dunking machine. Since then, some kid named Derrick Rose grew up and everything about some kid named Wall was forgotten. The Wizards stayed a laughing-stock and people forgot. Forgot that there’s a rookie not named Blake Griffin who might just be ready to checkmate every player, fan and media member in this game.
Lost between the rise of Rose and the emergence of Russell Westbrook and the continued dominance of other great guards, it feels like people are underestimating him for the first time in a long time.
Still, to Kyle Weidie, the founder of one of the best Wizards blogs, Truth About It, Wall’s ceiling is “all-time great.” He says, “as long as he’s not dealing with injury, he’s going to be a one-man fast break opponents will not be able to successfully stop on most nights.”
If there was ever anyone who was going to become a YouTube sensation, it was Wall. He was made for it. Eye-popping tomahawks. Violent spin moves. Blocked shots from across the lane. Buckets. Dimes. Lobs. Fans. Shocked. Opponents. Shook ones. The stereotypes were created, and he was easily labeled. People saw a great athlete, but didn’t believe in the rest.
But then something else happened. We all found out he could lead too. We had him looped in with DeMarcus Cousins. Then he went out and became the old man to Cousins’ psycho. Then he went to Washington and became the grandpa amidst Andray Blatche and Nick Young’s duck, duck, goose.
Was it possible? He outlived his own hype, and yet no one cared? The Wizards suck, but we’ve given love to a lot of players on really bad teams. Wall wouldn’t have been the first. This season, Griffin was really good, and Rose was really valuable. But damn, am I the only one who feels like something is missing?
He’s only averaging more assists than Chris Paul did as a rookie (8.6 to 7.8). He’s only averaging more steals than Rose did as a rookie (1.6 to 0.8). He’s only averaging more minutes than Westbrook did as a rookie (38.2 to 32.5). He’s only averaging more of everything than Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams did as rookies (a lot to a little).
This is a kid who can’t really shoot, but still makes shots. This is a player who averages 3.8 giveaways a game, but is still one of the league leaders in assists. This is a kid who is stuck in a dreary situation, but has the will to turn it around. I guess that’s where our hesitation comes in. The only thing Wall has proved with Washington is that he doesn’t win games. He’s a loser right now. Win and people will love you, however unfortunate that sounds.
When will that happen? For the Wizards, it’s going to take more than just a drastic step up from their cornerstone. They need their youth to mature, and they need to get lucky in the NBA Draft. But by next year, none of the blame will be Wall’s because I’m convinced he is set to blow up. If Washington can surround him with some players who can shoot, defend and won’t turn it over, the renaissance could be quick.
Not to say that Wall cannot fit well with a number of styles, but to take advantage of his talents, you want guys who can run with him like JaVale McGee and Trevor Booker; you want bigs who can stretch the floor and pick and pop with Wall (Yi Jianlian has been a decent pairing with John in this regard, but obviously there’s a lot left to be desired from him); and you want shooters, as many as possible (of both the spot-up variety and of the kind who can attack the rim and create for others), to fill the corners and any other area of the court Wall can find. Wall is the point the Wizards have proclaimed they will build around; he’s not a scoring star who needs complimentary parts to adjust to a more narrow ability.
The good news for Washington fans is that everything Wall needs to improve on will come with time. Because of his athleticism, length and skill level, there is no future Achilles heel. His turnovers will drop as he learns to change speeds. His defense will get better, even though he is already one of the more disruptive guards on that end. And Wall is promising his set shot is finally on the way out.
“He’s shown flashes of confidence in his long mid-range jumper, but most of that comes from shots where he needs an extra dribble or an athletic jump-and-fade to gain separation,” Weidie says. “He needs to be able to make opponents pay by immediately nailing the shot when defenders go behind screens.”
It took Rose less than three years to reach the apex of this game. Wall is an entirely different player, but that’s whom he should be shooting for.
“The most important things for Wall to do now are be patient,” Weidie says. “Learn from Flip Saunders and Sam Cassell, and let the losing drive his desire to become great.”
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