People have no idea who John Wall is. Okay, maybe they know his name. But for a college star, No. 1 overall pick, consistent All-Star who’s dragged an awful Wizards franchise to 22 games over .500 over the past four seasons, people know nothing about him. When he wins MVP this year, maybe people will start to recognize what’s special.
This year, the Wizards will get 18 nationally televised games, but considering they got an absurdly low five in each of the past two seasons, there’s a good chance you simply haven’t had the chance to see Wall bloom into an All-NBA talent. Hell, you might still think he’s the pure speedster you saw playing for Kentucky eight years ago! Well, a few knee surgeries have sapped a lot of the Wildcat’s athleticism, but he’s turned himself into one of the smartest and most creative players in the league to more than supplement the loss in explosiveness.
If you tune in for any 10-minute span of his play, you’ll see Wall has become one of the most patient players in the league, keeping his defender continuously off balance by changing the pace of his attack every trip down the floor. He could always sprint by you, but now he can post you up, take the perfect angle on a pick and roll, or nail the pull-up jumper better than ever. We’re in the midst of a golden era for point-guard play, but no one more perfectly melds the old-school cerebral-distribution model with today’s scoring and athleticism like the guy running the show in Washington D.C.
It’s been two years since Wall transferred from Russell Westbrook’s style of athletic fury to Chris Paul’s school of passing maestros, and his teammates have finally caught up on the syllabus.
The Wizards have been my NBA League Pass team of choice for a while now, but based on what a joy they’ve been to watch through two games, I might watch as many of their games as I do of my beloved Lakers (Lonzo, I love you, but this team is losing another 50 games).
Teams that have been together the longest will always start to play with some form of entertaining identity, and going into season five, Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Marcin Gortat are playing as beautifully together as any core in recent memory.
Beal and Wall made headlines last summer when Wall commented on their famously icy “chemistry,” but if you turned on either of their wins this season, you would think they’re best of friends. It’s always a balancing act to have two great scorers in the backcourt, but Wall and Beal know each other’s spots perfectly, and both now managed to put up big numbers without getting in the others way.
Gortat is 33 and no longer as viable as a one-on-one post threat as a few years ago when he was paired with Nenê, but he and Wall have seemingly formed a mindmeld that allows Gortat to find the perfect spot on the floor to finish pick-and-roll possessions. The way they work together to find each other for easy scores would have you thinking they had been coached by Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, not the famously unimaginative duo of Scott Brooks and Randy Wittman.
The complimentary guys look to be in the right place this season as well. Porter Jr. has found new angles to attack from and his shot is more confident than ever, and Kelly Oubre Jr. is delivering on the athleticism that made him a lottery pick despite averaging less than 10 points per game in college. Markieff Morris was a perfect trade candidate — a forward who can provide Wall with spacing because of his shooting and who is a brainy passer on his own. Tim Frazier is nothing special, but compared to the litany of backup point guards that embarrassed the Wizards every second that Wall wasn’t on the court, he should help Wall get some extra minutes of rest.
With Gordon Hayward out for the season, leaving the Celtics in an early lurch, the Wizards will have a season to prove they’re among the top-tier of the NBA, and Wall should finally get the attention he’s deserved for a while now. As long as no seven-foot Greek point-forward-center averages a 40-point triple double in the same conference as Wall, his MVP is a lock.