Top 50: John Wall, no. 25

by Abe Schwadron / @abe_squad

Living life as a Washington basketball fan is generally a maddening experience, to put it lightly. More like, eternally frustrating, constantly infuriating or perpetually depressing.

Since swapping “Bullets” for “Wizards,” it’s been one bad move after another. An aging late-‘90s core gave way to the worst No. 1 pick in NBA history, then to history’s best player in his worst condition. And just when things were looking up, with an eccentric star and a stellar supporting cast making multiple Playoff appearances, the crap hit the fan. The star went from funny to foolish, his behavior becoming a league-wide joke and his game going by the wayside.

So us Wiz fans don’t get excited too often. We don’t let our guard down anymore. We refuse to open our hearts for just anyone. We’re the girl who can’t have a relationship without being cheated on, without falling in love only to find out he’s married. To multiple wives.

Enter Prince Charming.

The 2010 NBA Draft Lottery should have been boring. In the middle of a Playoff schedule, it should have been a footnote, and nothing more. No ping-pong balls could be more important than real live hoop. But to Wizards fans, it meant everything.

I would argue that following the ’09-10 season, no NBA team had a worse outlook. Six months after trading away the No. 5 pick in the Draft for a pair of veterans in Mike Miller and Randy Foye—hoping to add the final complimentary pieces to a conference contender—the team was in shambles.

Before season’s end, the Wiz traded away four-fifths of those mid-2000s Playoff teams in Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood. Gilbert Arenas’ monstrous, untradeable contract was still on the books, and without young talent to cultivate in a dead season, the likes of Earl Boykins, Alonzo Gee and Cartier Martin saw increased playing time to wrap up a 26-win season.

On top of that, odds were Washington would land a pick outside the top four in a Draft with only one real franchise player. All of which brought unusual significance to the ‘10 Lottery. I can remember sitting on the edge of my seat, face-in-hands (a body contortion we Wiz fans know well), whispering a silent plea to the basketball gods.

When the Wizards slipped into the top three, my insides tightened. “No way,” I thought, fumbling to reply to the flurry of texts pouring in from fellow DC fans.

Before I had time to think, Adam Silver’s beautiful, bald-headed dome pulled the Nets’ logo, then the Sixers’…

I’ve been to a series-clinching NBA Playoff game (May 6, ’05, Wizards over Bulls), rushed the court at my alma mater’s NCAA arena (January 16, ’10, Northwestern over No. 6 Purdue), coached a youth rec league team to a title (won’t bore you with the details). Not then, not ever, have I made the shrieking noise I made when the ping-pong balls went the way of the Wiz that night.

John Wall was going to be a Washington Wizard.

It was—literally—an answer to a fanbase’s prayers. The sure doom of the decade to come suddenly turned to legitimate promise of a real-live basketball team somewhere in the future. The long nightmare in the nation’s capital was over.

Am I overdoing it? Maybe. But ask any Wizards fan, that’s how it felt. That’s how it still feels.

Fast-forward a year later, and Wall’s doing the damn thing. He finished seventh in the NBA in assists per game (8.3), besting some of the best at his position. Considering the, well, “talent,” around him, that’s a staggering stat. Add 16.4 points, 4.6 boards and 1.8 steals a night, plus an uncanny ability to finish at the rim with either hand, with power or grace, all while battling a lingering foot injury, and there’s no doubt dude’s for real.

How many rooks are asked to learn on the fly while playing 38 minutes a game (11th in the L) surrounded by chaos in the form of raw young players and under-performing veterans?

The sky’s the limit for Wall. It’s not rocket science: the kid has incredible god-given talent and an equally intense will to win.

An All-Star bid and a bump in scoring in year two should be well within his reach, and don’t be surprised to see him take a run at the assist title, too. If he can sustain his improved jumper from summer runs, which looks more confident and more fluid, he’ll be a serious problem for opposing point guards on a nightly basis.

The fact that Wall, admittedly, has plenty left to learn about the game of basketball, is downright scary. Let this serve as your official heads up—when he gets his education up, look out below, because his assault on this list is far from over.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8
44 Andrew Bynum Lakers C 5
43 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 11
42 Lamar Odom Lakers PF 14
41 Gerald Wallace Blazers SF 7
40 Brook Lopez Nets C 4
39 Joakim Noah Bulls C 3
38 Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 13
37 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 12
36 Eric Gordon Clippers SG 7
35 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
34 Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 6
33 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 11
32 Al Horford Hawks C 2
31 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 9
30 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 10
29 Josh Smith Hawks PF 9
28 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 5
27 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 8
26 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 6
25 John Wall Wizards PG 7

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.