From Dime 70: John Wall’s Great Expectations

By: 08.02.12
John Wall

John Wall (photo. Douglas Sonders)

“I just think that, instead of working out more, I did more of playing in charity events and summer leagues, when I should have been working out more,” Wall explained this April to “That’s the only thing I think I should have done differently.”

Celebrated as one of the torchbearers who gave the fans some glimmer of hope throughout the lockout with his repeated summer league performances, Wall’s streetball campaign eventually came back to haunt him. Former Washington coach Flip Saunders believed his point guard picked up too many bad habits, and was famously quoted by CSN Washington: “I don’t think I saw a charge all summer long.”

What followed an offseason of fun, but entirely useless triple-doubles, Hoopmixtape YouTube smashes and national magazine covers (like the one he got from us) was one of the most disappointing seasons in the NBA. The Wizards stumbled out of the blocks, blowing a 21-point lead in their home opener before losing 15 of their first 17 games. By that point, Wall was averaging right around four turnovers a night, had already shot under 40 percent in 10 of those games, and was so awful from beyond the three-point arc that he just decided to completely stop shooting them. By season’s end, Washington was 26 games below .500, and their point guard’s second-year numbers (16.3 points and 8.0 assists a game on 42 percent shooting) weren’t any better than his freshman production.

Even now, Wall still contends, “I played in a lot more summer leagues than I think I should’ve, but I was doing it for a good cause.”

Is it possible? Did he really play too much playground ball?

“We were locked out last year so yeah guys were all over the place playing,” says Houston point guard, Kyle Lowry. “Nobody said that about KD. You saw KD everywhere. That’s just the nature of the beast. Everybody is gonna be criticized for everything they do when you’re in the public eye as we are.”

Okay, so were the expectations too soon? After all, the player Wall is most often compared to – Chicago’s Derrick Rose – did average 20.8 points a game during his second season, but only 6.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and a miniscule 0.8 steals a night, all dwarfed by Wall’s averages this past season. Rose didn’t truly breakout until his third year, when he guided the Bulls to a NBA-best 62 wins and the Eastern Conference Finals, averaged 25 points a night, and became one of the most unlikely MVPs of the last few years.

Yet it’s hard to say we expect too much from a player who is so gifted he made the top 10 in both the NBA’s dunks of the year as well as assists per game. On the nights when he finally does put it all together, like in April against Cleveland when he became just the fourth player in the last 25 years to throw up a 21-13-7-7 line, he is completely dominant. Wall is already so revered amongst younger players that while he attended the Red Bull Midnight Run this May, the players there frequently referred to him as an All-Star, despite the fact that he’s never actually been one. NBA stars respect him just as much. Minnesota’s Kevin Love says he’s one of the three fastest players in the league. NBA Rookie of the Year and close friend, Kyrie Irving, checks in with the Wizards’ point guard at least twice a month, often to pick his brain.

“The only thing that I incorporated in my game that I learned from him – and I told him this – is his ability to change direction full-court going full-speed is something nobody can deny him,” Irving says.

But as a point guard, Wall’s reputation will always stem from those around him, and in two years in the NBA, he’s just 43-105. He’s already lived through a coaching change, a culture change and a changing of the guard. When he first arrived in Washington, Gilbert Arenas was still donning a Wizards uniform, and the team was such a mess that their rookie point guard was eventually calling them out after 23-point blowout losses, asking for “five guys that really want to fight, compete and care the whole time.”

“He got the short end of the stick,” old AAU counterpart Dion Waiters says. “But as a great player, he’s trying to turn the organization around. I think they just gotta get some veteran players around him. They had some talented players but they traded them, so I don’t know about that situation.

“I can’t even really speak on that because it’s tough, and I can’t even imagine what he’s feeling as a player.”

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