Russell Westbrook was the 4th player taken in the 2009 NBA Draft. The next year was John Wall’s turn. He was the first player selected in the 2010 NBA Draft. Both were expected to have exemplary careers in the modern NBA because their speed made them unique. Westbrook was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics and played next to Kevin Durant. Wall played with Gilbert Arenas.
Wall and Westbrook play the same position, are quick to the rim, played college ball at storied programs- Kentucky and UCLA. Westbrook is two years older than Wall, has been to the NBA Finals, and won an MVP award; Wall has done neither. He has never been to a conference final.
Westbrook is passionate and extroverted and squeezes every ounce of talent out of his 6-3 body. Wall is quiet, can veer into passive-aggressive shortcomings when things do not go well, but he is an A-level competitor. If only he could shoot.
From a glance, the similarities between Westbrook and Wall blur the lines as to who is better. They both depend on athleticism and neither are great shooters, 3-point or otherwise. Westbrook is the better basketball player, excelling at the mental nuances of the game. His HOF chances are 99.9% while John Wall’s chances are 29.4% (Basketball-Reference).
When he was 22 years old, John Wall had a watermark PER. A career-high 23.2 in 2012-13. He hasn’t come close to that in the eight years since.
When Russell Westbrook was 22 years old, his PER was 23.6. The next year it was 22.9. Then 23.9. Then 24.7. His career-high PER is 30.0. For the past ten seasons, Westbrook’s PER has been over 21.0. He facilitates and rebounds, scoring inconsistently, but often in key moments.
As far as trades go, the Wizards got the better end of the deal because Westbrook not only sells tickets, but he also elevates the above-average talent into All-Stars and/or overpaid players.
One year playing with Westbrook and Victor Oladipo was an All-Star. One year playing with Westbrook and there were whispers about Paul George having a shot at the MVP. Westbrook isn’t a Chris Paul floor leader, but he finds a way to get the ball to players when they need it, and he’s there to rebound misses. Westbrook plays hard, holds grudges, wants to win, is not selfish but he has those shooting flaws.
The Wizards need Russell Westbrook more than the Houston Rockets need John Wall. For as long as James Harden is around, the Rockets can fill in the lead guard with _________ fill in the blank. Wall is good enough, regardless of if he retains his athleticism or not. He is a good facilitating point guard. He is not going to be bothered by James Harden ball dominance. He will deliver the ball to Eric Gordon and Christian Wood and James Harden and Boogie Cousins. The point guard in Houston’s system is irrelevant because Harden is both point guard and shooting guard.
What the Rockets need is help in the frontcourt. Regardless of if Harden stays or goes, counting on Boogie who has been injured the last three seasons is a tough ask considering the Western Conference is filled with explosive athletes that are going to test Cousins lateral footwork, speed, and resiliency.
John Wall will struggle to make another All-Star team in the West. In front of him in the All-Star line, before he even takes one Houston Rockets dribble are Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell, Ja Morant. They are all gifted scorers with the ability to facilitate and are younger than Wall.
Add Dennis Schröder to the list as well. The last year Schröder was a starting point, 2017-18, he averaged 19 points and 6 assists. Wall’s inability to consistently create his own offense outside of layups and rim runs, particularly in late-game situations, is going to keep the Houston Rockets- if Harden stays, or if Harden leaves- as a decent enough seed that can’t win in the postseason. Now the Rockets have two players who struggle in the playoffs with their shot.
The East is exactly what Westbrook needs. While the Wizards won’t win the division, and a lot depends on the second-year development of Rui Hachimura who averaged 14 and 6 in his rookie year, the Wizards will make the playoffs now that Bradley Beal has help. It will be a dog fight between the Wizards and the Hawks to see who comes in second to Miami. Furthermore, Westbrook will resurrect the Wizards fanbase that soured on Wall a while back. Listening to the fans in the cheap seats gripe about Wall, it’s apparent after 10 minutes that the animus has nothing to do with the basketball player John Wall and everything to do with who they think the person John Wall is.
I saw John Wall in person many times at the Mystics (WNBA) games, cheering and supporting the District’s other professional team. Once, I sat next to him. He was quiet, despite fans trying to get him to sign autographs, or women trying to shoot their shot. Wall was the kind of superstar who liked his low profile and rarely bought into self-aggrandizement. Nevertheless, it was clear. Wall was not going to take the Wizards higher than a sixth seed. His game has too many flaws, despite his talent. Russell Westbrook is an upgrade.
Returning to his beloved coach who taught him how to play the position is the Westbrook icing on the cake. Scott Brooks had the young Westbrook, now he has the MVP Westbrook. It’s full circle except no Kevin Durant to balance the ship when it’s rocky. The benefit of having a player you went to the NBA Finals with makes the transition seamless. Scott Brooks knows when to give Westbrook a pat on the back, when to excuse his behavior, and when to make him accountable.
Stephen Silas does not have that luxury. He has no room for error with John Wall, except the fact that he knows John Wall will be around for a while. He is owed $40,824,00 million this year and $43,848,000 million next year. There will not be many takers.
For Westbrook either. He no longer finishes at the rim with the athleticism of a few years back. But he is a smarter player. Intelligence though does not make GM’s romantic. They are looking at production. The Knicks, Hornets, Clippers, and Wizards were the sum of Westbrook dealmakers. The Knicks were reluctant to give much of anything up. The Hornets signed Gordon Hayward. The Clippers had no assets to make a deal. Which left the Wizards and Bradley Beal, who is making sure the front office knows they are on the clock with two years left on his deal.
My mother has season tickets to the Wizards. When the Westbrook deal was announced, she was ecstatic. She loves Westbrook, was so-so on John Wall, and cannot wait for energy to return to the Verizon Center by way of the 2016 MVP.