by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

When I cast my votes for this poll about a month ago, I put John Wall at…

Eighteen.

I voted Kyrie Irving 14. At the risk of ruining everyone’s suspense, you can know that Kyrie did NOT come in that high, and, even before he got hurt, the group voted John much worse than 18. And once we learned that Wall would miss the first month of the season, Ryne and I moved him down even further because the missed games inherently lessen his value. So here he is on the SLAMonline Top 50 at No. 38.

Now, what’s the deal with me being so high on John? For one thing, as my confidence in Kyrie should show as well, I’m all about quick, offensive-minded point guards. Rule changes have helped players such as this a ton in recent years, plus these two are flat-out good players.

Writing about Kyrie is someone else’s job, though. As for John, I feel like some people are ready to view him as a disappointment, primarily because of the expectations placed on first overall picks. But I think his NBA career thus far has actually followed a very understandable path, especially in its proper context.

John played 69 games as a rookie and all 66 of last season, and his stats were remarkably similar both years. So, I present to you his career stats, which for all intents and purposes can be considered his “Extra-long Rookie Year Stats”: 16.3 ppg, 8.2 apg, 4.6 rpg and 1.6 spg. A PER of 16.7. Forty-two percent shooting from the field, 78 percent shooting from the free-throw line and 24 percent from downtown. You know what else was similar in both of John’s seasons so far? The crappy teammates and questionable leadership on both the Wizards’ sideline and front office.

This “franchise” took a 19-year-old kid (who, as you may or may not know, was an incredibly late bloomer by modern recruiting standards and had maybe nine months of any type of serious spotlight on him before he spent his one year at Kentucky) and made him the floor leader for a team “coached” by Flip Saunders that was trotting out Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee. Those guys all had possible value in specific roles on good teams, but in Washington they were the team.

The Wiz started cleaning house last year (including on the sideline), but it was still a circus. I frankly think it’s amazing John has averaged as many assists as he has. Of course, his shooting percentage is a little lower than you’d like, but it’s not like anyone on the team was making him better, and again, dude had very little experience at this level.

I like how John Calipari, who knows a lot more about great guard play than me put it a couple weeks ago: “You took a 19-year-old and put the weight of the world on him, saying to him, ‘We’re expecting you to drag this team to another level.’ Well, there are no young guys [who can do that].”

Saunders’ replacement, Randy Wittman, doesn’t do much for me either, but he seems to have at least created a more serious atmosphere around the team. Plus, every player I mentioned above has been jettisoned, with the still-mediocre DC roster at least now boasting solid vets such as Nene and Emeka Okafor, along with mature and promising rookie sharpshooter Bradley Beal.

Even before Wall got hurt I’m not sure the Wizards could win more than 32 games, so it’s not like I’m seeing a massive improvement in their win-loss record. But I think this is a team on the right track. There won’t be guns in the locker room. There won’t be dudes running back on defense when the point guard is trying to set up a play on offense.

For the first time in a long time, focus with the Wizards will be entirely on basketball. And in every sense—from a fantasy perspective to a fun-to-watch perspective to the simple fact of him learning the game—John Wall will benefit from that focus. This guy is 22 years old and he boasts pretty much the exact size, speed and skill set you want in a lead NBA guard in 2012.

As long as John makes a full recovery from his left knee injury, I think this has the makings of a very solid season from him. And just watch, a year from now the thought of voting him 18 for this list won’t seem strange at all.


Where should John Wall rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.