HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Poll anyone about Washington Wizards point guard John Wall these days and you are guaranteed to get more pro-Wall reaction than not. Had you polled those same people 10 months ago, the reaction would have been upside down.
Injury and uneven play led many to wonder if the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Draft was destined for anything more than solid numbers (17 points, 8 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals through his first three seasons) on lousy Wizards teams.
Attitudes and perceptions about Wall have changed dramatically in the past five months. He’s no longer dangling in talented young star purgatory, that no-man’s land for players working through their rookie contract without anyone knowing exactly how to project where said player might be headed next (see Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks).
Wall’s career could be headed in a much different direction now that the Wizards and Wall’s agent, Dan Fegan, have reportedly begun discussions about an extension of his rookie deal. The sides have until Oct. 30 to agree on a deal and what Wall is worth, to speak in crude terms, is yet to be determined (interested observers are already taking sides in D.C.)
But there is a strong body of evidence that suggests the price will be high, and perhaps rightfully so for a mercurial talent who is just now realizing his potential.
The first 33 games of last season, in which the Wizards went 5-28 while Wall recovered from a knee injury, gave everyone a glimpse of what life might be like without the prized point guard around. The Wizards were a lost cause in his absence, devoid of any star power or direction at the most critical position on the floor.
The 49 games Wall played in after returning from that injury were a revelation. The Wizards went 24-19 before dropping their final six games of the season. And Wall was a virtual showstopper most nights, averaging 18.5 ppg, 7.6 apg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 spg while impacting the game on both ends of the floor in ways we hadn’t seen from him thus far.
With fellow young talents Bradley Beal and rookie Otto Porter Jr., as well as a seasoned cast of veterans surrounding them, the Wizards are poised to finally make a break from their lottery ways and move into the playoff pack in the East. But they only make that move with a healthy, motivated and secure Wall leading the charge.
He’s become the linchpin to the Wizards’ future, just as you would expect a former No. 1 overall pick to do be at this stage of his career. That said, Wall is not the sure thing that say Derrick Rose was when he was three years into his ascent in Chicago. And if there is anything hanging over Wall at this point, it’s whether he’s ready to serve as team leader both on and off the court.
If you are Wizards’ boss Ernie Grunfeld, you’re betting that he is ready. You are betting that the show Wall put on in his last 49 games was just the beginning. You are betting that the Wall, who showed up for that courtside interview with NBA TV during the Las Vegas Summer League, is prepared for a truly breakout season.
Grunfeld’s future could very well depend on all of that being the case, on Wall joining that party-crashing group of young point guards led by Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving. That group is are ready to muscle their way into the elite group led by Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and others.
The talent is there for the youngsters. None of the guys already on the elite points guard list is more physically imposing than the 6-foot-4, 200-plus pound Wall. Sure, others are much more polished, skilled and certainly more seasoned. But as far as raw growth potential and skill, Irving and Wall head that list.
Wall is aiming for the top of that elite list, of course, which is exactly what you want from a player in his position at this stage of the game!