John Wall: New Era, New Questions
[Editor’s note: Check out the debut of new TAI author, John Townsend. Read more about that John at the bottom of this post, but first, check out his piece about another John. -Kyle]
America always seems to need an enemy, whether they’re found in politics (terrorists!) or in sports (referee Dan Crawford for Mavericks fans). Sure, there are times when our criticism of these villains is justified (British Petroleum), but just as often it is not (Steve Bartman).
The most celebrated, captivating products and people are the most polarizing as well. We should expect this, especially considering the amount of time, money, and hopes being invested. This all brings me to John Wall – savior or setback? The question was never will the Wizards select John Wall, but instead what will happen when they do.
The debate over whether or not John Wall is the answer in Washington, DC is groundless. John Wall is one part of the solution to a greater basketball challenge.
Some will argue that taking a point guard with the number one overall pick is a waste, based on historical records. Power forwards and centers who have been drafted number one overall have won 23 championships combined, while point guards, shooting guards and small forwards have only won nine. However, it is important to note that there has been, and continues to be, a large disparity between frontcourt and backcourt players selected first overall. No. 1 overall power forwards and centers have won more championships, not because they are necessarily better players, but as a result of being selected at that spot with greater regularity – 21 times since 1985.
Another argument which often presents itself is that point guards do not win championships. Realistically, I can’t argue that point guards do in fact win championships. They don’t. But, we must recognize that some of the best players to have ever stepped onto a basketball court have not won titles either, at least not by themselves.
Kevin Garnett, this generation’s basketball Atlas, carried the Minnesota Timberwolves for 12 profanity-filled seasons. Garnett’s production over that time (FreeDarko measures production as FGs+1/2*FTs+AST+REB+STL+BLK) was 26,985. The next highest producer for the T’Wolves was Wally Szcerzerbiak with just over 6,000 production points in six seasons. Garnett’s production by percentage (60%) was higher than Tim Duncan’s (45%), Michael Jordan’s (39%), and Karl Malone’s (41%).
Not even LeBron James who is the most athletic, the most clutch, and arguably best player in the league, has been able to win the Cavaliers a championship. Kobe finally won without Shaq, but not before the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol. Point guards Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Derrick Rose will never hoist an NBA trophy unless they get serious help from an elite level player, but the same is true for any other lone star at any other position.
To keep beating that dead horse from the proverbs, here is a selection of superstars without rings: Dwight Howard, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Dominique Wilkins, George Gervin, Dirk Nowitzki, Allen Iverson, Reggie Miller, Artis Gilmore.
You build a sports team by fielding the best group of players available and hoping that impeccable timing and a lot of luck are on your side over the course of a season. John Wall is the best player available. Period. He’ll bring size (6’4” with a 6’9¼ wingspan) to the Wizards backcourt and will be a certain mismatch against most PGs in the league. He’ll also be able to help the Wizards defense. Wall is second all-time at Kentucky in steals with 66. If you watch his highlights, you’ll quickly realize that he is a pretty solid help defender with a knack for blocking shots.
Remember that play? You should (if you don’t click here and FF to the 3:00 mark).
It speaks volumes about Wall’s willingness to play defense and his desire to win.
Critics tend to focus their attention on his jump shot and range. Scouts already noted that he displayed an improved, more consistent jump shot at the combine. In an interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz, Wall went on to say:
“I’m working on all the angles on my jump shot. My jump shot is the key thing. Guys go on the pick and roll and will force me to knock down shots. I want to be one of those point guards who knock down shots you have to get over the top. I want to make it easier on my teammates.”
John Wall’s new teammates are actually better than most give them credit for, but that’s what happens when a team only wins 26 games. Andray Blatche reminds me of a tamer, immature Kevin Garnett. JaVale McGee made some big strides last year especially as a defender, though he needs to work on his post game and drive left on occasion. With Wall, Gilbert can dedicate his efforts to scoring and less time to directing our offense. The biggest hole to fill is SF. Last season, the mercurial Mike Miller proved to be a good passer, rebounder, and defender, albeit a bit passive offensively.
I hate to paraphrase Charles Barkley, but he was right in saying that when players see teams rebuilding and growing cap space, they have trouble motivating themselves to put everything out on the line to win. How can anyone expect them to?
Going into the lottery, the Wizards had a 10.3% chance to secure the number one selection. These odds seemed much, much longer given that the Wizards (or Bullets) had either failed to move up or ended up moving down in the draft order 12 out of 13 times.
May 18, 2010 – a date which will live in infamy for every team not named the Wizards. In the fourteen-horse race that is the NBA lottery, the Wizards were the only winner. The 76ers, Nets, Timberwolves, Kings, and Warriors will pick up some fine pro-prospects, but that will come as little consolation. Wall will come into the league being asked by trainers, coaches, the media and fans to meet superfantastic expectations. Everyone is fueling the hype machine, even coach Flip Saunders who hasn’t been shy about his belief that Wall will revolutionize the point guard position.
Wall has become a legend before his story has even been told.
Maybe the heavy, humid summer air in the Washington Metro Area will keep people grounded. The biggest thing that Wall will bring to DC is not blazing speed, nor his dance moves, nor a new pair of Reeboks. He will bring a winner’s mentality to the team and give them a reason to play as hard as they can for 48 minutes. He didn’t demand the ball at Kentucky, like a me-first, gotta-get-mine, basketball-cancer (read: Stephon Marbury). As a freshman, Wildcat nation embraced Wall. His teammates put aside their egos and were willing to follow him, to go as far as he would take them. That’s why I’m so excited to see John Wall in a Wizards uniform. After the 2009-2010 season, the Wizards were in need of a near-complete reconstruction. Now, the Wizards are one impact player away from being a contender.
The turnaround was radical and happened faster than Irene Pollin’s jaw hit the floor during the lottery.
Wall will be a good teammate, a confident leader, and do everything in his power to help the Wizards produce wins. He brings star power to a franchise that lost theirs to leaky knees, a practical joke that fell flat, and a great purge before the trade deadline.
The addition of Wall isn’t a free pass to the playoffs, but it marks the start of a new era of basketball in our capital city. Wall gives us new options and lets us ask better questions like, “Can you imagine this squad with Rudy Gay or Carmelo?”.
I take comfort in that.
About the author:
John Townsend is a social entrepreneur, international traveler, and sports fanatic. John moved to Bethesda, Maryland in 1998 after growing up in Mexico City and New Delhi. After playing soccer and basketball abroad, he developed a great affinity for the American sports culture, trying out lacrosse and football with varying levels of success. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, John majored in Sociology and completed two minors, one in City and Regional and another in Business Entrepreneurship, with an emphasis on social ventures benefiting the poor and most vulnerable. Working for nonprofits internationally and domestically, he has been directly exposed to sustainable community investment and using business principles for social good. First mesmerized by Rip Hamilton’s mid-range jumper, John’s allegiance to the Wizards has developed through an appreciation of the team’s colorful characters and an understanding of Gilbert Arenas’ phenomenal swagger. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @JohnCTownsend.
 FreeDarko, . The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac: Styles, Stats, and Stars in Today’s Game. 1. New York: Bloomsbury, 2008. 40-41. Print.
 Siegal, Alan. “The Captain of Crunch: Is Kobe Bryant really the best clutch player in the NBA?.” Slate. N.p., 08 Jun 2010. Web. 14 Jun 2010. <http://www.slate.com/id/2255932/>.
 Katz, Andy. “Wall wants to be Wizard come draft day.” ESPN. N.p., 19 May 2010. Web. 14 Jun 2010. <http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/draft2010/news/story?id=5199392>.