As one of the game's brightest young stars, do-everything point guard John Wall is having the time of his life—at least when he's not busy breaking down overmatched opponents or wondering why he doesn't get the proper credit for doing so.
When John Wall walks through the metal doors to the Wizards' practice court at the Verizon Center, he's alone. He drove himself to the arena, on this Saturday in late September, with no handlers, no entourage. He's wearing a gray, fitted adidas sweatsuit and a custom-made pair adidas Crazy 97s that feature a hologram of his college jersey number, 11, on the upper, near the outside of his ankle. His iPhone is in his pocket, but the speaker volume is turned up loud enough for him to be bobbing his head and mumbling along with the lyrics to Dej Loaf's "Try Me." Later, Wall explains that he befriended the Detroit rapper long before her single was one of the hottest songs in hip-hop, and he insists the track be played on repeat while he poses for the photos you see in this feature.
Wall is fresh off a trip to China, during which he went on a no-carb diet to keep his weight down while rehabbing from shockwave treatment to his knee ("It was tough, you know, being in China, they've got a lot of shrimp fried rice and all that," he jokes) and he's in good spirits.
And yet, there's something different about Wall today than in past seasons. It's not the considerable ink he's added, nor the noticeable difference in facial hair since his days as a rook. The 24-year-old speaks with an ease about him now, like a weight's been lifted. Is it the satisfaction of finally having tasted the Playoffs? In part, probably. Is it his excitement at the strength and depth of the Wizards roster? That's big, too. But more intrinsically, it just feels like John Wall is beginning to figure it out, and with a season like his last in the bank, he's not holding back anything anymore, whether playing the game or talking about it. He's tired of still being slept on as one of the most talented players on the planet, and he's licking his chops at the chance to shove it in his doubters' faces all year long.
For the first time in his NBA career, Wall played a full 82-game season in 2013-14, posting career-highs of 19.3 points and 8.8 assists per game en route to his first All-Star bid, with a Dunk Contest title to boot. He made more three-pointers than he attempted in both of the previous seasons combined, and he led the League in total assists. He helped push the Wizards past the first round of the Playoffs—a place the franchise hadn't been in nearly a decade.
Now, he's got his sights set on an NBA title for the capital city, and more. Just listen to his five-year plan: "I see myself being the MVP of the League, being a Finals MVP, winning a Championship for DC, being a multiple All-Star, All-NBA team and hopefully signing another five-year deal in DC. I love playing in DC."
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There was a time, not too long ago, when the Wizards were in complete disarray. Having finally put the Michael Jordan player-owner comeback experiment in the rearview mirror, things were suddenly looking up for the Wiz. For a few years, things were good. Gilbert Arenas was hitting game-winning shots as "Hibachi." Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were All-Stars, too. Despite being handed a first-round Playoff loss by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in three consecutive seasons, there was reason to be optimistic, or at least, reason to watch.