WASHINGTON, D.C. Remember when there was a legitimate debate about whether John Wall or Evan Turner deserved to be the number one pick in the 2010 NBA Draft? Remember when they were seen pretty much as equals - 1 and 1a, if you will?
Maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit here. But if last night's game between the Washington Wizards and the Philadelphia 76ers is any indication, the Wizards ended up with the real star of the group. Wall was spectacular, scoring 29 points, dropping 13 assists and picking up nine steals. Turner? He was mostly invisible, not scoring until the fourth quarter and finishing with just nine points, six rebounds and one assist.
Oh, and did I mention that Wall is younger, surrounded by less talent and playing a much more difficult position to learn in the pros? Not that this was really a debate, but the Wizards were right not to overthink things and draft Turner with the number one pick in the draft.
Alright, I admit, this is a bit of an oversimplication for dramatic effect. The truth is that it's not really fair to compare Wall and Turner. Sure, they were the consensus top two prospects in the 2010 NBA Draft, but that's where the similarities end. They are completely different players playing completely different roles for completely different teams, as Flip Saunders said emphatically before the game.
"You can't compare them," Saunders said. "They're different players. Evan's different from John. John's a dynamic player. Evan does a little of everything."
In a way, things are easier for Wall. He's been propped as the leader of a young, rebuilding Wizards team that is trying to remodel themselves. With Gilbert Arenas sidelined due to injury (and frankly, even when he's playing), Wall is the undisputed leader of the team. He's the guy who has the ball in his hands tasked with making plays. He's given free reign to play through turnovers, with a coach that has developed point guards in the past and encourages him to get out in the open floor.
Turner, on the other hand, is a swingman on a team full of swingmen. The 76ers have talent at point guard (Jrue Holiday and Louis Williams) and on the wings (Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young), so Turner is going to struggle a bit to fit in. For now, this is still Iguodala's team, and there's also the Elton Brand contract tying them down. It's easy for Turner to get lost, and indeed, that's what he was for most of the game. 76ers coach Doug Collins even said before the game that he expected Turner to take time to adjust to his surroundings, based on conversations he had with people who knew Turner when he was younger.
"Everyone to a man that I talked to [that knew Evan] said that Evan is one of these guys that takes a little bit of time to get adjusted to a new environment, but when he does, and he becomes comfortable, you really get to see who he is," Collins said. "That's been right on the money."
Collins didn't want to compare the two players, but did anyway by essentially saying this: Wall is flashy while Turner is more solid. The 76ers coach praised his own player, of course, saying that "you look at the stat sheet, and it's like ‘Oh my gosh, he has 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists," but was over the top in his praise for Wall, who torched his team just an hour later.
"He's amazing," Collins said. "First of all, he's a point guard, and when I say that, I'm saying that because, a lot of guys that get brought up, we say they're point guards, but really they are not. John Wall is a point guard. He's a leader, he's a winner.
"John Wall brings a lot more flash, and I mean that in a very positive way."
That's the thing. However you want to put it, Wall is a game-changer (as the Wizards would say) and Turner is a fill-in guy. The former leads teams to titles; the latter contributes to them. The former goes behind the back on the latter to energize the crowd, sprints the length of the floor in the blink of an eye to find an open teammate in the corner for three and gets into the lane at will. The latter plays a couple good defensive possessions on the former, hits a couple open jumpers and grabs a few rebounds sneakily. You'd rather have Person 1 on your team.
Predictably, both players downplayed the significance of their matchup. Turner said before the game that he wasn't thinking about the matchup, while Wall had this to say afterwards.
"I try not to look into a one-on-one battle. I just hope the best for both of us in our careers. I was just trying to do the best I could for my team, and I hope he was doing that for his team," Wall said.
But if we did match them up, it becomes clear that Wall is the winner. Turner may have ruled college, but Wall will rule the pros whenever they are compared to each other. That's not to take anything away from Turner, but it's the way it is.
"He's an NBA player. He's fast, he super quick, super athletic. He's built to play in the NBA," Turner said before the game.
After the game, he was probably thinking that too.