The John Wall Difference

John Wall, a gifted talent scarred by a bumpy career of unfulfilled expectations, negative slights and an incomplete narrative, has made the tricky leap into high achiever. Wall, in his seventh year, had a predictable choice staring him in the face, one all men must acknowledge at some point in their lives if they are to mature. Go left or go right. Succumb to the negativity and disappointment and second guessing that you are not who you were promised to be, remain a fraud. Or extract away the privilege and noise and rise above it, resilient in the end.

Last summer, I sat behind John Wall at a Washington Mystics basketball game in a mostly empty Verizon Center. If you didn’t know it was John Wall sitting in the first row you wouldn’t know it was John Wall sitting in the first row. He wasn’t spinning his celebrity for ego profit; he was quietly ordinary as he sat and watched the game, amused at the mostly women who tried to sneak past the usher to sit next to him, foiled each and every time. He ate, watched the ladies play, then left like everyone else. But here was the elephant in the room that ho-hum evening. John Wall isn’t everyone else; he is not.

He was the #1 draft pick in 2010 and from that point forward he was judged, dissected, criticized, railied around, adored, slaughtered and everything in between. There was never a John Wall gray area, from Colin Cowherd who despises Wall and Stephen A. Smith who expects John Wall to elevate the Wizards to NBA contenders.

On the subway platform, after a Wizards loss in 2016 to the Raptors, a Corey Joseph three set up by two missed John Wall free throws, a fan yelled out, “I love John Wall but I’d rather have Paul George.”

Paul George is on vacation and his professional life is in limbo while John Wall, after carrying his team to the second round of the playoffs, is being hailed as a leader who didn’t resort to the low hanging fruit of pulling at his teammates flaws to elevate himself. Unlike Paul George, John Wall has a good shot at All-NBA for the first time in his career. After Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, who is better at the point guard position than John Wall?

For Wall it’s been a long road to get here, a top-10 player. Wall always had confidence in himself, but in a career defining year for him, his game has caught up with his self-identity. He single handedly eviscerated the Hawks and the Hawks have a good young point in Dennis Schroder. But they had no John Wall, particularly on defense.

The NBA playoffs are unique trial and errors in that one player can ruin an entire team and season and legitimize civic pain as a city mourns. John Wall ruined the city of Atlanta.

29.5 points. 10.3 assists. 52% and 47% from three. In the most important game of the season, Wall had 42 points and played nearly every minute. Every time the Hawks made a push Wall was going right for a pull up jumper but something else was going on with Wall and his chase down blocks and his clutch shots to end the game once and for all. John Wall believes in John Wall as a superstar, as in no one has the ability to stop him, as in he is an elite scorer and playmaker.

In the Hawks series, Wall made 10.5 shots per game, a playoff high. He took 20 shots a game, a playoff high. He made 9 threes, a playoff high. His 177 points was a career high for a first round series. In 2013-14 he scored 179 points but in 11 games. His offensive rating of 119 is a playoff high as is his 27.6 PER.

John Wall has a higher field goal percentage in the playoffs than Steph Curry, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson. He has a higher 3-point percentage than James Harden, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, Klay Thompson. No one has more assists than John Wall, not even Point God Chris Paul.

19 points in the fourth quarter doesn’t establish a star. That is more complicated and involves consistency, teamwork and leadership, and frankly, years of baptism by fire. There is a reason you pay your dues. Because, it reveals the phoniness or it elevates the toughness.  By that same token, getting to a place isn’t as important as staying there and proving something not just to yourself but to everyone who said, “John Wall is overrated.”

So not true. Just ask the Hawks.

photo via llananba