A Rising Star
John Wall looks poised to join the League’s top PGs.
by Jay King / @CelticsTown
Speed kills, they say. If so, John Wall should be on death row.
Let me start by telling a story involving Wall, defensive pressure, a nine iron and a buffalo (live or stuffed, preferably stuffed for safety’s sake). Alright, the story doesn’t actually have anything to do with a nine iron or a buffalo, but there’s never a bad time to make a Billy Madison reference.
One of my buddies — who works in basketball, has written about basketball for years, and knows as much about basketball as anybody I know — recently went to a Wizards game and sent me an email afterward. Wall hadn’t played a great game, yet my buddy still raved about his athleticism and limitless potential. Who wouldn’t? He had only one major qualm about Wall’s game; his defense. My buddy — who, I repeat, knows as much about basketball as anybody I know — came away from the game thinking Wall was too fast for his own good. I’m not even kidding.
Here’s the email:
In a weird way, I wonder if his quickness actually poses a hindrance to his defense at this stage of development. In the long-term, it won’t. It’s going to be a huge asset, and as far as jumping passing lanes and gambling for steals (wait…a point guard who reads lanes and gambles, where have I heard this before? He’s not as good as that other UK general in that realm though), it already is. But watching him get beat more than he should have by Ray Felton — and then again the next night against Mo Williams — it looked sometimes like Wall was so concerned with getting to the spot first (a sound defensive principle in general) that he was actually over-running the point he needed to reach defensively and staying an extra step ahead of his man in a way that actually gave his man more space to operate. Maybe that’s insane. Maybe I’ll eventually come up with a better way to describe it. But I think that’s the best way I can put it for now.
I’m not even going to begin responding to the previous paragraph. An NBA point guard being too quick to play defense doesn’t even sound possible. But the point is, these are things John Wall makes us think about. These are the impossible thoughts John Wall induces out of reasonable spectators.
Wall is like a Buggati Veyron. What’s that, some of you will probably ask? The fastest road-legal car in the world, a car that travels 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and can reach speeds of 267.85 MPH. Maybe Wall isn’t that fast, but on the court, it seems like it. The term “one-man fast break” doesn’t do Wall justice. He’s more like the human version of a lightning bolt, sprinting by before you can even hear him go.
He’s not just fast, either. He’s also 6-4, with a 6-9 wingspan. That means he’s not only the League’s fastest point guard, but one of its biggest and longest. Oh yeah, and he can jump like Newton’s Law of Gravity doesn’t apply to him.
Name the NBA’s other fastest point guards — Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, maybe Leandro Barbosa or Monta Ellis if you consider them point guards. Are they faster than Wall? Derrick Rose himself said Rose isn’t as fast.
“[Wall is] so fast, dog, it’s crazy,” Rose said. “A lot of people are going to have a problem sticking him.”
Not even Rondo’s coach thinks Rondo is faster than Wall. Doc Rivers told the Boston Globe that Wall could be the fastest player, with the ball, in NBA history.
“Quickness, a lot of guards are as quick,” Rivers said. “But from one end of the floor to the other with the live dribble, I don’t think we’ve seen that before.”
All Wall’s athleticism is exciting, but there are a lot of spectacular athletes in the NBA. Just look at Wall’s teammate JaVale McGee. McGee’s about as long as the Washington Monument, sprints like a greyhound, and jumps like he has a layer of Flubber permanently attached to his feet. All of which makes him amusing to watch, but none of which makes him great, or even very good. Why not? The next smart basketball play McGee makes will be his first. Most of his time on a basketball court is spent running around like a cracked-out first grader playing in his first CYO game.
I recently compared McGee to Gerald Green, and anybody who has seen Green play knows two things: 1) That’s an odd comparison — they play two completely different positions, and at first glance the only characteristic they share is light skin. And 2) Gerald Green is a horrible person to be compared to. I wouldn’t wish a Gerald Green comparison on my worst enemy. Yet I compare McGee to Green for a reason; both are immense physical talents, but unfortunately possess the basketball IQ of the little brother in Something About Mary. Have you seen my baseball?
Before I start talking about Ben Stiller’s performance in that movie, or Brett Favre’s brief cameo, or the disgusting naked shot of Mary’s mother, back to Wall. He’s not just an athlete, he also has a nice basketball IQ. He’s not just a combo guard who dribbles the ball upcourt, he also has all the tools to be a point guard. A real point guard. Already, he’s got the handle, vision and quickness to become one of the League’s best true PGs.
I just wonder if Wall has the right mentality. You probably think I’m crazy for wondering. He already averages 9.8 assists per game! That’s third in the League! Behind only Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul! Wall’s only 20 years old! He’s a rookie! Nothing he has done so far deserves my slight skepticism, I understand that.
But I remember another rookie who captivated the NBA world with blazing speed, trampoline hops and vision on all sides of his head. Just like Wall, this player was a high school phenom. Just like Wall, this player made pro scouts salivate in one year of college. Just like Wall, this player was seen as a true point guard who could also fill up the scoring column. Just like Wall, the most impressive part of this player’s game wasn’t the way he physically overwhelmed opponents, but a beyond-his-years knowledge of the game. Just like Wall, this player started his career under coach Flip Saunders. Just like Wall, this player had next.
Who am I talking about? Stephon Marbury. Weird, right? Comparing a point guard to Marbury these days seems like an insult. He never won anything significant, and his career flamed out in historic proportions. But I don’t compare Wall to Marbury as an insult, not at all. In his rookie year, and even for some years after that, Marbury was seen as a phenom. He wasn’t just going to become a great point guard, he had the talent to become an evolutionary John Stockton to Kevin Garnett’s Karl Malone. And as Flip Saunders said during Marbury’s rookie year, about both Marbury and Garnett, “These guys play unselfish ball.” Stephon Marbury, an unselfish player. Sounds mighty odd with hindsight, doesn’t it?
I mention the Wall-Marbury comparison as a precaution, and because they share so many similarities. Wall has been given the keys to his team. He is the Wizards’ superstar, their main attraction, their future. Everything lies on his shoulders, and he has the talent to make every Washingtonian’s dreams come true, to lift the Washington Wizards to a place the franchise has never been. He has the talent to become one of the NBA’s finest players, to surpass even Chris Paul and Deron Williams as point guard royalty.
Unfortunately, with talent comes a burden. If Wall doesn’t become a perennial NBA All-Star and a championship-winning point guard, we’ll one day discuss what went wrong. Right now all we see is limitless possibility, a young man whose ascent to greatness can only be stopped by injury. We see 18.1 ppg and 9.8 apg, as a 20-year-old rookie. We see a blur of speed, length and skill, and we see the world’s next great point guard.
But with young studs there are always two roads, diverged on the hardwood. One road leads to greatness, and to superstardom, and to championships. The other leads to, well, disappointment. (And maybe to China, and swallowing Vaseline, and $10 sneakers, and a tattooed skull — but that probably won’t happen again, right?)
The choice is in John Wall’s hands, and that choice will make all the difference.