John Wall racked up impressive numbers while producing jaw-dropping highlights during his first two seasons in the NBA, but they had little impact on the standings. His Washington Wizards compiled a dismal 43-105 record over that period.
Now entering his third season in the league, it's time for Wall to answer the question that basketball fans and insiders have been asking since the Wizards selected him with the first pick in the 2010 draft: Is he a franchise point guard capable of leading a team deep into the playoffs?
There's no doubt that Wall has the physical talent to be one of the premier point guards in the game. He's a blur with the ball and at 6'4'' he possesses the size and athleticism to finish around the rim and defend point guards of all speeds and sizes.
The most glaring weakness in his game is his shooting. For his career, he's shot just 42 percent from the field, 78 percent from the line and a dreadful 24 percent from behind the arc. Teams have defended him like Rajon Rondo, daring him to take an outside shot.
But, the biggest questions regarding Wall involve his general feel for the game and understanding of how to run a half court offense.
Rondo may not be able to consistently knock down a jump-shot, but he excels at the mental aspects of the game. He knows how to create passing and driving angles, exploit matchups and when to speed up or slow down the tempo.
Wall has yet to demonstrate that he knows when and where to distribute the ball or when it's time for him to take over a game. Sure, he's dished out 8.2 assists per game during his two seasons, though he hasn't learned how to do so in the flow of the offense.
To some extent that knowledge of tempo, flow and game situations is a skill, which is developed over time. Wall only played one year of college ball and at 21-years-old is still learning the game.
However, his contemporaries, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving who were also selected first in the draft—2008 and 2011 respectively—after one year of college (Irving was limited to just 11 games in his lone season at Duke due to injury) both displayed a natural aptitude for the point guard position in the NBA.
It's also disturbing that Wall's game hasn't progressed. According to the Washington Post, he conceded that he was "kind of the same" in his second season in Washington. In fact, his points, assists and steals per game dropped slightly from 16.4, 8.3 and 1.8 in his first season to 16.3, 8.0 and 1.4 in year two.
Wall's apologists are quick to point out that the point guard was surrounded by a dearth of talent, in an unstable situation in Washington. That's hard to argue with.
The roster was constantly turning over and Wall was forced to adapt to a new system when Randy Wittman replaced Flip Saunders as the Wizards head coach in January.
The former Kentucky standout's supporting cast has been dreadful. Prior to the Wizards acquiring Nene in March their second was either Rashard Lewis or Nick Young. Wall was unable to concentrate on his point guard duties because the Wizards desperately needed him to score.
It was also detrimental to his development to share a locker room with a roster full of immature underachievers like JaVale McGee, Young and Andray Blatche.
Wizards' general manager Ernie Grunfeld began revamping the roster on March 15th when he sent McGee and Ronny Turiaf to the Nuggets and Young to the Clippers in a three-team deal that yielded center Nene and a second-round draft pick in return.
In June, he acquired veteran forwards Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor from the Hornets in exchange for Rashard Lewis and the 46th pick in the 2012 draft. Then Grunfeld cleared out the last of the riff raff on Tuesday by using the amnesty clause to release Blatche.
Suddenly, Wall has some talent to work with. Nene has a solid post game and gives the Wizards another player who can create his own shot. Ariza and Okafor are rangy defenders who can run the floor with Wall.
Washington selected University of Florida product Bradley Beal with the third pick in last months draft, a sharp-shooting guard who will spread the floor, creating space for Wall and Nene to operate.
The coaching situation has also stabilized. Wittman brought accountability to the team and the players responded by finishing strong, winning their last six games. According to the Washington Post, team owner Ted Leonsis decided to retain Wittman after several players, including Wall expressed support for the coach.
With a vastly improved supporting cast, stability within the organization and two seasons under his belt, Wall will face greater expectations in his third season.
After a couple of seasons, the game begins to slow down for young point guards and the great ones blossom. Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo all made the leap to stardom in their third season.
Wall needs to do the same. And he knows it.
The Wizards' point guard told Hoopsworld at the Las Vegas Summer League, “It’s time for me to be in the playoffs. It’s time for me to be an All-Star."
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