With the news that the first two weeks of the NBA season have been canceled, NBA fans in every city are lamenting the fact that they may not be able to see their team play this season. In Miami, they're wondering whether LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will have their championship window closed. In Boston, they're wondering the last year of the Big 3 will have been taken from them. In Dallas, they're wondering if they've been robbed of seeing Dirk Nowitzki shine again.
In Washington D.C.? The concern Wizards fans like myself have centers on one man: John Wall. The longer this thing drags on, the longer we will be deprived of what would have been Wall's rise into a superstar. It would have happened this year without question. Now, when will it happen?
And yes, it was going to happen. For one thing, Wall's rookie year was tremendously underappreciated. While Blake Griffin deserved the Rookie of the Year award, Wall was also really impressive. Sixteen points and eight assists per game is pretty good for a 19-year old point guard on its own, but consider that Wall had the following elements stacked against him.
- He was not healthy all year. With the exception of the very first part of the season, Wall was at about 85 percent health. He dealt with a ton of nagging injuries, most notably his foot, his knees and his finger. Last January, I wrote about how these injuries affected him during a game against the Raptors, and that wasn't the only time Wall's health made him less effective even when he was in the lineup. With these issues cramping his style, it's kind of amazing he put up the numbers he did.
- Being a rookie point guard in today's NBA is incredibly difficult. Not only are you responsible for shouldering a huge load offensively, but you are also going to be tested on defense. NBA defenses run so many pick and rolls nowadays, and it takes time for young guys to learn how to defend them. Wall struggled in this area as a rookie, but as he gains more experience in this area, he won't struggle for long. It also didn't help that the Wizards' big men provided little help.
- The Wizards themselves were a mess outside of Wall. The season began with the Gilbert Arenas cloud, which was awkward for all involved. Wall's top post option and pick and roll partner are both raw, to put it charitably. Nick Young was good at times, but only for a couple months before injuries set in. All of the veterans who could have given Wall guidance were injured at different points. For a point guard, that makes things so, so difficult.
- Wizards coach Flip Saunders' system was so different from what Wall ran in college. At Kentucky, Wall operated in a post-heavy system, with lots of dump-downs to DeMarcus Cousins. He didn't get a chance to run much pick and roll. In Saunders' system, though, the point guard is asked to do more dribbling and playmaking than in pretty much any other pro system. Wall was suddenly tasked with running a ton of pick and roll despite being a relative novice at it, and that inexperience showed with indecisiveness at times.
Better yet, Wall has spent the entire summer serving notice that he is going to make a huge jump whenever basketball returns. His explosiveness is back. His jump shot, which was abysmal last year (Wall shot 30 percent from 16-23 feet, according to basketball stat site HoopData, and many of those were open shots) has shown improvement. With all these new tools in the bag, Wall was prepared to make a major jump this season.
I know what you're thinking. It's just summer league. And yes, when the NBA does return, there will be weakside defenders cutting off his drives and defensive schemes designed to force him to shoot jumpers. But at the same time, consider what happened last Sunday in Los Angeles. Wall played for a Goodman League squad that featured Kevin Durant and Rudy Gay, and he went up against a deep Drew League squad featuring James Harden, Brandon Jennings and other top players. When push came to shove, it wasn't any of those guys who took over the game. It was John Wall. He was the one who was the best player on the floor that night in one of the most competitive games of the summer. That's the bottom line.
It's impossible to know what Wizards owner Ted Leonsis' stance is on the lockout talking points. Leonsis has declined comment numerous times when asked by media outlets, because any owner that reveals even the slightest bit of his position is subject to a large fine. I won't speculate on what Leonsis actually believes. I just hope he and all the other decision-makers in the front office understand what they have in Wall. If a lockout happens and a full season is wiped out, that's a full season of Wall's rise that is wasted from the Wizards' perspective.
Having a star player is a huge factor in making sports teams profitable and well run. Leonsis has one with the Capitals in Alex Ovechkin, and thanks to smart team-building to surround him, he has a team that sells out his building every night. What has become clear this summer is that Leonsis and the Wizards also have an Ovechkin-like star in John Wall. To take advantage of this, though, Wall and the Wizards need to be playing.
For Wizards fans, that's the worst part of this lockout.