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Why John Wall Probably Won't Play Well In His Debut, And Why That's O.K.

John Wall has the odds stacked against in him in his first game in the NBA, which may not make for a dazzling opening act, but it will give us a better idea of what we can expect in the future.

Over the past four months Washingtonians have been fortunate enough to see the beginning of two incredibly promising careers. Back in July, we all saw how Stephen Strasburg set the world on fire with his 14 strikeout performance. Now, it's time for Washington's basketball savior, John Wall, to take center stage.

The bar has been set far too high for Wall to outdo Strasburg in his debut on Thursday; he would need a triple-double, a game-winning shot and a highlight dunk to even have a shot at creating the same buzz Strasburg did in his debut. And while no one is asking Wall to go out and replicate that, those looking for a more modest opening act will likely be disappointed all the same. Everything that Stephen Strasburg had going for him in his first major league start, Wall will have going against him in his first game. Let's review:

  • Quality of opponent: Strasburg's first start came against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had the worst record in baseball last season by four games over the next-worst team. Wall gets to face the Orlando Magic, who have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals each of the last two seasons and are primed to make another run this season.
  • Environment: The Nationals developed their plan of working Stephen Strasburg up through the minor leagues with the intent of ensuring his first major league start would take place in Nationals Park in front of a rabid crowd anticipating greatness. Wall gets to start his career on the road, for the Magic's home opener, which doubles as the grand opening of the Magic's new home, the Amway Center. If you can empathize with how the Pirates must have felt in Stephen Strasburg's debut, after he recorded his final strikeout, then you probably understand how John Wall will feel as he takes the floor in Orlando.
  • Matchups: The Pirates finished last season with the third-worst on-base percentage and fourth-worst slugging percentage in the majors. The Magic finished last season third in defensive efficiency, thanks in big part to Dwight Howard, who will make sure John Wall doesn't get any cheap points in the paint, where Wall is going to be most effective at this point in his career.
If the Wizards had more control of their schedule, I'm sure they would have loved to give Wall an easier start to his career, but a more challenging debut isn't the worst thing for Wall's development. Losing is going to become a familiar part of Wall's day-to-day life for the next few years. Facing a cream puff in the season opener would only delay the inevitable: John Wall is going to lose a lot of games this season.

Last season, Wall played in 38 games and won 35 of them. This season, even the most optimistic forecasts have the Wizards finishing as a .500 team, which would mean 41 wins and 41 losses. In other words, Wall is going to lose more games this season than he played all of last season. That's going to take some time to adjust to, no matter how you slice it.

It's going to be a grind at times, but thankfully, there's light at the end of the tunnel. As the Charlotte Bobcats' owner reminds, failure is the key to success. With each missed shot, each turnover, each blown assignment on defense and every rookie mistake he commits, Wall will move one step closer to reaching his potential.

Tonight's debut is all about taking those first steps. Yes, there will be a few YouTube-worthy highlights to talk about, and enough positives to inspire some hope. But make sure you pay some attention to Wall's missteps tonight as well. More than anything else, seeing where he struggles, and how he responds to first taste of adversity in the NBA will forecast the rest of his career better than the highlights will.