John Wall, the 2010 No. 1 overall draft pick, made just 27.6 percent of his… (John McDonnell/The Washington…)
Depending on whom you ask, John Wall regressed, made some non-statistical strides or remained stagnant in his second season with the Washington Wizards. Wall might have unrivaled end-to-end speed on the court, but for varying reasons, the career of the 2010 No. 1 overall pick is developing at a much slower pace.
Wall’s scoring and assist numbers were down slightly, but his shooting percentage and turnovers were up slightly from his rookie season. The Wizards (20-46) also finished with the league’s second-worst record and needed to win their final six games to ensure that they had a better winning percentage than the year before. But Wall ended the season encouraged about the direction of the franchise and believing that he has plenty of room for improvement.
“I think I’m kind of the same,” Wall said recently, when asked if he got better in his second season. “A little better, but not too much.”
Wall entered his sophomore campaign aspiring to ascend into the discussion of elite point guards, and possibly make the all-star team. He had finished as rookie-of-the-year runner-up despite dealing with injuries to his knees and feet, but in many ways he fell significantly from the spotlight as the Wizards endured yet another season of dysfunction and instability.
The team lost its first eight games, Flip Saunders was fired as coach a few weeks later, players had different agendas aside from winning, and it took a toll on Wall, who couldn’t hide his disenchantment early in the season.
“That was tough to see some guys accept losing,” said Wall, who has won 43 games in two seasons in the NBA after winning 35 games in his one season at Kentucky. “I’ve never accepted losing in my life.”
A toxic environment
Many league observers believe that the environment in Washington — before the Wizards traded away the mercurial JaVale McGee and Nick Young to get veteran big man Nene, and sent home Andray Blatche — wasn’t conducive to allowing Wall to fulfill his potential.
“He’s a had a tough cast down there. I don’t want to put anybody down but he’s not playing with the smartest guys in the world,” New Jersey Nets all-star guard Deron Williams said about Wall. “That’s tough, man. That’s tough. They’re not smart. I’ve been watching. JaVale McGee was on the Not So Top 10, like, 50 times this year.”
David Thorpe, executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., and an NBA analyst for ESPN.com, compared the situation for Wall to rowing a kayak in a stream, but going against the current. “It’s very hard to see any real improvement in players, when almost from the get-go, there is no real opportunity to win. That team was so fatally flawed at the outset of the year and so bad to start that I think you can only go so far on your own,” Thorpe said. “He might’ve gained from being more or less the same player as last year, despite really being caught in a whirlpool that was going straight down. It’s almost like he stabilized himself.”
Wall made comments in the last week of the season that revealed his frustrations with playing with McGee and Young, but one Eastern Conference assistant general manager wasn’t willing to absolve Wall. “It’s not about them,” the executive said. “What are you going to do? They picked you number one to make everybody else better.”
Coach Randy Wittman said Wall “made great strides” in game-management the final two months of the season and no longer had to look over to the bench to call the right plays to exploit the defense. “That’s huge in being a top-caliber point guard,” Wittman said, adding that Wall improved in controlling tempo as well. “How many times did we see him crash and burn going too far when there was nowhere to go? We hardly saw that at all, coming down the stretch. He’s got a ways to go to become the player I think he’s going to be capable of being. If he’s going to be an elite player in this league, he’s going to have to put in a hard summer.”
No proper preparation
Wall recently said that he didn’t prepare properly for his second season, participating in too many charity exhibition games because of uncertainty with the lockout. He said he is “cool on that” this summer and will instead work on improving his shooting as he trains in Los Angeles and Washington.
Teams managed to neutralize his speed in the half court by staying back and daring him to beat them with his jumper, which he had little confidence in and took reluctantly. Wall made 61.9 percent of his shots inside three feet (237 for 383), but he struggled to connect from everywhere else. He shot just 27.6 percent (141 for 511) from three feet and beyond and Thorpe said his three-point shot “fell off the face of the earth.” He missed 39 of his 42 attempts from long distance; his 7.1 percent accuracy ranks as worst among any player to make a three-pointer this season.