John Wall, Stakes Are High — 2016-17 Wizards Player Previews | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

John Wall, Stakes Are High — 2016-17 Wizards Player Previews

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Updated: November 2, 2016

The 2016-17 NBA season is almost here … and upon last check, they are still going to allow allowing the Washington Wizards to participate. So the TAI crew is firing up the pixel makers and churning out player previews, or rather, “Wizards Player Haters’ Previews” — which is not to say that we are hating on the players or the game, but that this season’s version of the Wizards is ready to hate on all those who stand in their way. Up now: John Wall, via Rashad Mobley (@rashad20)

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John Wall’s offseason began before the 78th game of last season. By then, he was already checked out and sitting on the sidelines in street clothes due to knee soreness. In the 77 games he played prior to opting out, Wall fielded career highs in points (19.9), rebounds (4.9), assists (10.2), and steals (1.9), in addition to making the All-Star game for the third consecutive year. Despite his individual exploits, the Wizards missed the playoffs for the first time in two seasons, Randy Wittman was fired, and Wall ended up needing surgery on both of his knees.

Coach Wittman, before his exit, made it his business to let the media know that both Beal and Wall were no longer kids, particularly since the 2016-17 season would represent their fifth and seventh seasons respectively. And the former coach was absolutely correct.

This year’s version of the Wizards, Wittman opined, will only go as far as Wall and Beal are willing to drive it. And not just by scoring, assisting, and filling up the stat sheet like standard engines on playoff teams, but also leading the emotional charge—especially given all the new faces on the roster (8), plus Scott Brooks and his coaching staff.

In past seasons Wall could rely on Flip Saunders, Trevor Ariza, Paul Pierce, Garrett Temple, Nene (who believed that leadership worked best via bitching, moaning, and imploring the younger players to get off his lawn)—and even Randy Wittman—to be the emotional leaders of the Washington Wizards on any given night. Now, Wall and Beal, who have arguably always been the two best players on the roster, have enough years under their belt to be legitimate leaders of this franchise. Ideally both players would lead equally and help the Wizards return to the playoffs and get past that elusive second-round barrier. But there appeared to be a bit of trouble bubbling right under the surface this offseason—much of it originating from Wall’s own words regarding Beal’s new max contract.

“Now that you have your money you got to go out there and improve your game. I want you to be an All-Star just as much as I’m an All-Star … I want it all to be on me. At the same time I want him to be right there with me. He’s my sidekick. I’m A. He’s A-1. He’s right there. That’s something we got to do on the first day of training camp. We have to go in there and understand and get on the same page.”

Wizards Twitter, along with national and local media, were sent into a tizzy. This story went viral. Some folks saw Wall’s words as a clear sign of dissent, which could mean trouble for the Wizards during the 2016-17 campaign. Others believed that this story was much ado about nothing, and as the start of the season drew nigh, the focus would be on the team, not the actual or perceived dislike between the two team leaders.

Once training camp and preseason began, it became apparent that both Beal’s body and game were much improved, and Wall was ahead of schedule—slightly out of shape, but ever-so-close to being 100 percent healthy. The narrative shifted. The discussions of malcontent dissipated into dust and the focus was on team defense, Brooks, and how well Wall’s (and Beal’s) supporting cast would perform during the upcoming season.

Wall sat out the first two preseason games before making his debut against the New York Knicks on October 10th. During the next three preseason games, Wall showed flashes of individual brilliance and, for certain stretches, he had that magical chemistry with Beal and his other teammates. But rust, spotty rotations, on-the-ball defense, and the lack of a consistent running game often sabotaged Wall’s ability to be great. Then came the last preseason game against the Toronto Raptors when Wall, Beal, and the rest of the starters seemed to already be in midseason form:

In the first quarter alone, Wall had five points (including one 3-pointer) and six assists; Beal had eight points; and Gortat, Porter, and Morris combined for 18 points and four rebounds. The Wizards led the Raptors 39-23 after one quarter, and they ended up winning by 37 points in their final tuneup before the regular season opener. The ship was no longer seemingly sinking as it appeared to be during the summer—and some even wondered how far this Wizards team can go. The expectations may be fair-to-middling for the Wizards as a whole, but for Wall individually the stakes are sky high.

Through the first two games of the regular season, however, it appears as if those high stakes were a bit too much for Wall to handle. The Wizards are 0-2, and Wall has shot 11-for-34 over two games, although he’s still averaging 11.5 assists. In both contests Wall and the Wizards showed flashes of being a coheisve unit, but the team surrendered leads in each game thanks to lapses in defense (and a punchless second unit).

Despite his career highs for Wall in most of the major statistical categories last season, the Wizards still missed the playoffs, which means Wall will need to produce yet another yeoman effort this time. Cleveland is still the best team in the East, but not only has the conference strengthened, but the point guard depth has as well. From Isaiah Thomas to Jeff Teague to Denis Schröder to Derrick Rose to Kyle Lowry, and Wall’s main three nemeses in the East, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Reggie Jackson, every team has point guard that could possibly give Wall fits on both ends of the floor. Wall has to worry about the health of his knees with ramped up regular season minutes, he has to run the offense, and consistently run the fast break. He must trust that his new teammates can successfully pick up the slack, and he has to improve his own defense, his free throw attempts, and his post-up game—the last three items are per the new coach’s request.

The best case scenario for Wall is an 82-game season where he can play 35 minutes a game, average 20-10, help Beal average close to 25 points, and watch his young supporting cast led by Porter, Oubre, Nicholson, Satoransky, and Burke develop into the best bench he’s ever had. The confluence of those events alone would be enough for the Wizards to win 45-to-50 games—and it would thrust them back into the playoffs, and Wall and Beal could return to the business of being the best 1 and 1-a backcourt in the Association.

The worst-case, #SoWizards, Curse o’ Les Boulez scenario? Ironically enough, there are scenarios 1 and 1-a. Wall’s knees not holding up is 1. Beal’s legs faltering, which would put more pressure and minutes on Wall’s surgically repaired knees is 1-a. Both scenarios will leave the Wizards out of the playoffs for the second consecutive year, it would cast doubt on the ability of Wall to lead the Wizards to the promised land, and it would surely lead to yet another roster shake up. Even if the Wizards stay 100 percent healthy and miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year, it will still be a referendum on Wall’s leadership, or lack thereof.

John Wall’s reality probably lies somewhere in the middle. Despite the current slow start, and Wall’s slow start individually, his averages (if he’s healthy) will eventually hover around 20 points and 10 assists, and he will continually give his team an opportunity to win. But who can Wall really trust to help him lead the Wizards back to the playoffs?

Beal is noticeably more muscular and in the best shape of his life, but he will probably get hurt. Oubre and Otto Porter could conceivably get better this season, but they still have miles to go before they are as consistent as the oft-injured Beal. The bench is deeper and younger than it was last season, but given their ineptitude in the first two games of the season, that does not necessarily translate to better. Trey Burke is tenative, Jason Smith seems out of it, Marcus Thornton’s game is benign, Tomas Satoransky is currently the odd man out of the rotation, and Andrew Nicholson is good, but he cannot lead the bench by himself.

Ideally more help for John Wall would come via a big name free agent like Al Horford and Kevin Durant, but save for Paul Pierce two years ago (who came up big in the playoffs but was on the wrong side of his prime), no big name free agents seem to want to play in D.C. For right now, that adds up to yet another season where the Wizards hopes and playoff dreams are solely reliant about Wall to be Superman with inconsistent Superfriends—not ideal for a player who will be a free agent in two years.

Again, the stakes are high.

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.