The Best of the John Wall Era, the Worst of the John Wall Era
[Editor’s Note: Yes, there is such a thing as the John Wall Era, even if little to none has been accomplished in said era. We are actually 1,154 days into it. And we are almost two months removed from the third ‘John Wall Day’ in Washington, D.C. (declared by a previous mayor—June 25, which also happens to be my birthday… and Dikembe Mutombo’s birthday). In any case, the era has been enduring enough to have the best of times, and the worst of times.
WORST: maybe it’s the “Run, JaVale!” clip; maybe it’s when Wall was at his second-saddest point (the ultimate Andray Blatche-induced #NBAsadface); maybe it’s Wall missing the beginning of last season with a pre-stress fracture injury at age 22 (his saddest point); or maybe it’s Wall’s past instances of questionable attitude.
BEST: probably the fact that Wall is on the Wizards in the first place, and he’s damn fun to watch. A lot of teams simply hope to land a potential superstar in the draft. Just imagine where the Charlotte Bobcats might be had they landed the first overall pick just once. Instead, over nine lotteries in the franchise’s 10-year existence, their average pick has been No. 6. The first overall pick in 2010 landed in Washington’s lap, and that is simply the best—as long as the kid stays healthy, happy, doesn’t lose focus, and doesn’t party too much.
Below, TAI’s Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks), Adam McGinnis (@AdamMcGinnis) and Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20) go through the worst and best of the 1,154-day John Wall Era, which, with a new $80 million contract extension, is now scheduled to run another 2,141 days. —Kyle W.]
There’s the stupid stuff, like being left off of ESPN’s Top 25 under 25 list in January of this year (Wall’s response: “…still gotta guard me”), or being picked 12th for the All-Star Rising Star Challenge in February of 2012 by TNT analysts (Wall’s response: “It’s a joke to me…”), but the lowest moment of the Wall era so far was the first week of his second season. Okay, so that’s a bit of a cumulative moment. But after a rookie season in which Wall was a Blake Griffin away from winning the Rookie of the Year award, expectations were high. Wall was “active” during the lockout, and seemed dedicated to improving his game. None of that showed in the first three games of the 2011-12 season, all Wizards losses (by a combined 45 points). Here are Wall’s lines from those first three hope-voiding, spirit-vacuuming, soul-souring games, which pretty much set the tone for the lockout-shortened schedule of 66 games:
In the first contest of the season, a relatively close affair versus the Nets, Wall had 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting, four turnovers to mitigate the effect of his five assists, and, to top it off, a poor showing at the free throw line (7-for-13 FTs).
In game 2, a blowout loss to the Hawks, Wall put more points on the board and notched more assists than the first game, but also turned the ball over more and struggled on the boards (20 points on 6-for -15 shooting, six assists, six turnovers, and two rebounds). More importantly, Wall’s presence on the court resulted in a minus-23 in plus/minus differential for his team.
Rock bottom of the Wall era: game 3 of his sophomore season. Six points on 1-for-9 shooting (11.1 percent in case you were wondering), one rebound, seven assists, four turnovers, and minus-16 in a 21-point loss to the Bucks.
When Wall got his business tattoos was obviously the pits. What kind of max player does that?!?!
But really, we could choose from these gems: Wall’s bugaboo of turnovers in various losing contests, the bonehead ejection in Golden State last spring, the all-time stinker versus Raptors, and half-ass-ing it in Philadelphia. Wall’s dismal start to begin NBA lockout shortened season also cost Flip Saunders his job and placed negative labels upon the point guard’s game that he has just now been able to somewhat shake.
But my selection is more a seminal low moment for the John Wall Era.
Wall is an intense competitor, and rightly or wrongly, struggles hiding his emotions. You know exactly when he is pissed off, or pumped up. The Wizards had just gotten creamed in Philly during his rookie season to fall to 15-41. Wall’s frustration with current state of team could no longer be held back:
“I haven’t lost this many games, and it ain’t just about the losing, I’m listening to my coaching and development, and they don’t want me to get in no losing mind-set. But it’s just so frustrating to see that certain guys seem like they don’t have the effort to be out there, like they don’t care. That’s the toughest thing for me … no matter if I’m having a bad game or good game, I might show frustration in my face, but I’m going to compete. That’s one thing I’ve always did my whole life is compete, and that’s all we asking for from everybody.”
The franchise subsequently ignored Wall’s public cry for help by deciding to roll out the front line of fundamentally challenged JaVale McGee and underachieving Andray Blatche with him for another disastrous season.
Even though we now know the story had a happy ending, which resulted in John Wall getting a max contract from the Wizards, just 11 months prior, the atmosphere and the vibe were very different. Wall, the “Game Changer,” the post-Gilbert Arenas hero, and the man who seemed poised to lead the Wizards to their first playoff berth in five years, was declared out for eight weeks with a stress injury.
The initial injury was devastating because it seemed to break the momentum the Wizards had built since winning six games to end the 2011-12 season. Those good vibes continued with the additional of Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, and the thought was that John Wall had the best supporting cast in his three-year tenure—so much so that Ted Leonsis made the bold declaration that he no longer wanted to be in the NBA lottery, and anything short of the playoffs would make the season a disappointment. Without a healthy Wall until at least December, the lottery seemed much more likely than a playoff berth. The season began with Wall sitting on the bench in nice suits, while fans, bloggers and writers studied his body language intently, trying to get any indication of when he’d return.
Once the eight week mark came and went, and the ninth and tenth weeks went by, the questions about when and if Wall would return started to become more prevalent (even Randy Wittman’s mom was asking them), and the “Curse of Les Boulez” came to mind, as did the ineptitude of the Wizards’ training staff. How could Wall’s stress injury be this serious? Who was monitoring Wall’s progress? And was this going to be a Gilbert Arenas situation, which would result in Wall getting progressively worse?
Just three weeks later, the Wizards indicated that Wall could “ramp up” his activity on the court, and just a few short weeks after that, Wall returned to the court in a reserve role. He was out of shape, his shot had not improved, and his return coincided with the emergence of rookie Bradley Beal. In just a few short months, a team that was built to accentuate all of Wall’s strengths was now playing better without him, and writers and bloggers were questioning whether he was really a max contract player.
Of course, the basketball gods eventually smiled on Wall, and he played the best basketball of his brief career during February and March, and his knee, as well as the early struggles he endured as a result of it, were distant memories. But considering Wall could have lost the fans, a significant amount of money, and maybe even control of the team, the announcement of his stress injury, and the four-month fallout afterwards, combined to be the worst moment of the John Wall Era.
There’s the Memphis game, which is a more-than-defensible choice, but for my money, I’ll take Wall’s career night (in terms of assists) against the Lakers on March 22, 2013. The Lakers were fighting for a playoff spot, and the Wizards had nothing in particular to play for aside from the oft-cited sports cliché of “playing for pride,” embodied in their quest for ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Wall dropped 24 points, 16 assists, a team-high six rebounds, and three steals on the Lakers while buttressing the Wizards’ chances with adroit control of the offense, careful distribution evidenced by only turning the ball over once, and several devastating isolation possessions. On a step-back move, Wall shook Steve Nash off of his feet and onto his duff before nailing a mid-range jumper. In the fourth quarter, he delivered a pass straight to Trevor Ariza’s chest outside the 3-point line in mid-air while making Kobe believe he was passing inside, and the Wizards took their first lead of the game. Wall was clutch all game, and closed it out similarly: with 1.5 seconds left, Wall was fouled, and nailed both free throws to force a failed long-shot last attempt by the Lakers.
Wall had been impressive before this game, and was impressive afterwards, but he looked like a cold-blooded maestro against the Lakers. Wall’s rare talent has never been in question, but his ability to produce rare performances was the object of considerable doubt until he started to churn out gems like this one, which was simply fun to watch.
Doing the “Dougie” before his NBA debut, a triple-double against Rockets, and winning MVP at the 2011 Rookie-Sophomore Challenge are all individual events that immediately come to mind. A clutch, game-deciding bank shot over the Celtics, a few huge daggers, and getting the best of Kyrie Irving, are some other highlights. Or… the dunks and the blocks… oh my goodness, so many blocks. Wall is one of the premier shot-blocking point guards in NBA.
The stretch Wall put on in 2013 is far superior to anything he has done as a professional. He “FALKED” his critics, and made the Wizards a dominant home team. The apex of this impressive run was Wall’s 47-point effort that he dropped on Memphis, which is my pick as best moment. Being at the game, it brought back warm and fuzzy Agent Zero memories. From the jump, Wall was unstoppable, and everyone in the Phone Booth knew it. The Grizzlies, one of top defensive teams in league, had no answers. Wall frustrated Tony Allen and finished off one of Western Conference’s best squads by splashing a 3-ball.
Throughout his career, Wall has been maligned for an inability to shoot, pigeon-holed as a pass-first point guard who could only affect a game offensively with his speed on fast breaks and not in half court situations. On this March night, he disproved all of that, but more importantly, it was not a flash in the pan performance, rather an indication of Wall legitimately knocking on the door of NBA super stardom.
My recap video of Wall’s 47 points:
There is that moment when a great player can put his entire basketball repetoire together and show the world that, for a brief instant, they can be entirely dominant—see Brandon Jennings’ 55-point game during his rookie year. Then there are stretches when a good player shows and proves that they belong with the elite. John Wall combined both elements of greatness during his performance against the Memphis Grizzlies when he produced the following stat line: 47 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and just two turnovers in 44 minutes of play. Sounds simple enough right? Hardly.
Wall’s 47 points—which included 18 in the fourth quarter of a close game—came against a Grizzlies team that finished second in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season(97.4 points per game). The Grizzlies’ roster also boasted defensive stalwart Tony Allen, a strong on-the-ball defender in Mike Conley, a paint bully in Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph, and long, rangy defenders like Tayshaun Prince and Darrell Arthur. (But, NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol sat out with an injury that night.) Still, Wall got in the paint all evening, went 19-for-24 from the free throw line, and he routinely and uncharacteristically hit jump shots over all of the aforementioned Grizzly defenders (from 17, 16, 19, 20, 13, 16, 26, 20, 18 and 27 feet).
Adding to the brilliance of Wall’s night were the players he went to battle with that evening. Jordan Crawford had been traded, and Nene and Bradley Beal were out with injuries, so the starting lineup consisted of Garrett Temple (a defender, not a scorer), Chris Singleton (a bench dweller for much of last season), Trevor Booker (see Chris Singleton), and Emeka Okafor. Okafor held up his end of the bargain with 21 points, but the rest of the team—including Cartier Martin, Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely off the bench—combined for just 43 points on 40-percent shooting (Wall and Okafor combined for 60 points).
But most importantly, Wall’s game against the Grizzlies was the best of his career because it put everyone on notice. Wall showed Ted Leonsis that he deserved the max contract he eventually received. He demonstrated to his teammates that he would dish and be a facilitator when need be, but that he could absolutely light up the scoreboard as well. And finally, Wall showed the fans that when he was healthy, he could shoot, lead, defend, win a game, and still provide electric moments like this:
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