There is a scene in the movie Creed where Sylvester Stallone demands his young pupil to look in the mirror. Michael B. Jordan, the student, obeys; he looks. He is solemn and a little sweaty from vigorous training, boxing all day long. Jordan has a look of wry confusion as he stares at his reflection. He doesn’t get it. He looks the same. He is what he was in the morning. He doesn’t get the point. It is then that Stallone (Rocky) tells Jordan (Creed) that his biggest opponent is staring back at him. His enemy is himself.
That has been the John Wall paradox ever since he was drafted by the Washington Wizards with the number one pick in 2010. He was his own enemy. He had to fight that stranger in the mirror. We can all say after the greatest regular season in John Wall history: mission accomplished.
In 2016-17 John Wall has dropped himself in the best point guard discussion. He recorded highs in field goals made. Field goals attempted. Field goal percentage. Free throws made. Free throws attempted. Free throw percentage. Assists. Steals. Points. Offensive Rating. PER.
His playoff numbers are career highs as well. Field Goals. Field Goal Attempts. Field Goal Percentage. 3-Pointers. 3-Pointers Attempted. Free Throws Made. Free Throws Attempted. Assists. Points. Offensive Rating.
Two summers ago, John Wall publicly admitted he wanted to be MVP of the league. It was sincere, as most desires are, but totally unrealistic based upon the facts back then. John Wall didn’t seem to have an accurate assessment of his flaws and like the young Creed, his biggest enemy was himself.
But John Wall has grown up. Not just as a basketball player. Very few thought Wall would put two games in the books in the post-season where he took 22 shots and made half of them plus 12.5 assists and 32 points. But it is John Wall’s offensive rating that blows the mind. It is an ungodly 128. Basically, Wall is missing nothing and his confidence, leadership and belief is on another level. Simply put, John Wall expects to beat the Hawks and nothing less than a victory will do.
Actually, come to think of it, John Wall is a cautionary tale. His development from one-and-done- player to fast rookie who couldn’t control his speed, to can’t shoot a lick, to greatest season of his career, plus the Wizards leader, is exactly what a #1 draft pick is supposed to be but with John Wall the waiting seemed to take forever. With that waiting came a lot of bumps in the road and injuries and growing pains and critique. He had to disprove a negative and that negative was his game. We do that with young players drafted very high. We want them to be stars right away, a totally unrealistic expectation. When they don’t develop as fast as we think they should, when they demonstrate behavior commensurate with their age, we go nuclear on them.
In those dog day years there was nothing in his NBA career, no data, that suggested John Wall would ever have a complete enough game to grab a MVP award. That narrative is over. Not only is John Wall the best defensive point guard of his generation. He is the fastest player from half court to the rim in the NBA. He is a great playmaker with career assists of 9. He is a competitor who exhibits mental toughness and he wants to win. Now you can add a leader who can drive his team in the playoffs. Not to get ahead of ourselves here but Wall and the Wizards have all the ingredients for a Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Wall can make shots from all spots on the floor. And he can orchestrate his team and make them better.
Because John Wall can make shots, he can carry a team on those dull and exhausted nights that are common in the NBA, the second night of a back to back. Everyone is tired but the MVP fills in the gaps with his extraordinary talent.
He can drive to the rim and finish and that is no longer the entire John Wall offensive repertoire. Last night, against the Atlanta Hawks, Wall took 20 shots, had 9 assists and 32 points. He made both threes he attempted. He played 39 minutes.
.Last night’s performance was indicative of how far Wall has grown. Bradley Beal took 27 shots and it fit within the John Wall winning the game in the last five minutes maturity. He and Beal have figured it out like Shaq and Kobe figured it out. There is way to integrate talents who may have differing personalities. Everyone doesn’t have to be alike or monolithic. What everyone has to do is their job and help the team win. What everyone has to do is play hard.
A couple of years ago, the Wizards needed Paul Pierce to help them grow up. Paul Pierce is not needed anymore. John Wall and the Wizards are all grown up. They can take it from here.
photo via llananba