When John Wall was in high school, it looked like he was destined to be an NBA star.
His moves were lightning quick and still incredibly flashy. He suffocated defenders with his speed in the open court. He exploded to the rim like he was shot out of a human cannon.
Wall carried himself like he was a professional. He looked incredibly marketable and capable of carrying a brand. After a respectable freshman season at the University of Kentucky, he had served his mandatory college sentence and entered the NBA. Unfortunately for him, the Washington Wizards drafted Wall.
I don’t necessarily think that the Wizards are a bad franchise. I believe Ted Leonsis has the capability and understanding to turn this team around. He’s an owner with a solid grasp in the NBA world, where having a smart franchise while reaching out to its constituents is the key to success on and off the court.
But when they selected Wall with the first overall pick, this was a team with absolutely no direction. Flip Saunders was trying to mold a cast of characters that had no business being on a basketball team together. From Andray Blatche to JaVale McGee—who wasn't getting the veteran leadership he needed—to Nick Young—who jacked up as many shots—the lack of focus on the Wizards that Wall inherited was so bad that it was impressive.
In such a dysfunctional environment, I don’t blame John Wall for underwhelming people in his first two years in the NBA. Actually, it’s kind of insane that he has underwhelmed fans. There have been 11 players in NBA history to average 16 points, eight assists and four rebounds per game as a rookie or second year player.
John Wall is on that list. And he’s done it twice now.
But even in his statistical uniqueness, he’s only left fans wanting more. His shooting in the NBA has been putrid. He’s a 41.6 percent shooter for his career, and only attempted 42 3-pointers in 66 games last season (making 7.1 percent of them). When he’s been on the court, his teams have been horrific on the offensive end in his two years, putting up offensive ratings of 98.9 and 98.5, respectively.
Realizing that the rebuilding effort with raw and unfocused players was not the way to maximize the Wizards going forward, Washington sold off past troublemakers. JaVale McGee was sent to Denver for Nene, and Nick Young was jettisoned to the Clippers for a spatula. This offseason, Washington traded Rashard Lewis to New Orleans for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
Instead of sticking Wall with an offensive freewheeler like Jordan Crawford, they drafted Bradley Beal to create one of the most dynamic and explosive young backcourts in the league.
By mortgaging the future to concentrate on the present, the Wizards have essentially taken away any excuses for John Wall to not be great. Other than having Randy Wittman as the coach on the sideline, there isn’t a single reason Wall shouldn’t have a great year this coming season.
If Wall doesn’t have a breakout year, it’s possible he’ll lose his Q rating and start falling into the abyss of players that NBA fans don't consider worth watching. Part of this is a lack of patience that fans have with young players. Either you break out right away, or you’re considered overrated and overhyped. There is no slowly building an NBA résumé in today’s “gotta have it” world.
Because Wall plays such an impacted position in the NBA, he has to keep pace with the young guards. Unfortunately, he isn’t afforded the same “swag pass” given to someone like Brandon Jennings, who has played poorly for the majority of his career yet seems to be accepted as an elite point guard amongst young consumers.
With Kyrie Irving’s emergence during an incredible rookie year, Wall was pushed out of the limelight. Wall wasn’t winning games. He wasn’t putting up a fight in the fourth quarter like Irving. He wasn’t making an inordinate percentage of shots. Wall was running a bad team and trying to make due with what he was given, while Irving was in full stride out of the gate.
If Stephen Curry is healthy and Irving is still sparking with his incredible efficiency, John Wall will continue to be discounted. If Ty Lawson is still helping guide a team to the playoffs in the West while Wall’s Wizards are revealing all their illusions at the bottom of the East, Wall will be forgotten.
As irrational as this may seem, the marketing world of young stars tends to operate this way. Win now, win big and prove you were worth the hype. Otherwise, fans will just start looking for the next high school star to make it big.
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