John Wall And The Dreaded Third Year

I’ve spent the entire offseason rationalizing with fans on twitter, engaging in ramblings of my own, and reading hundreds of articles published a day regarding John Wall making the foreseen leap to NBA stardom. The pressure is rapidly mounting on the young point guard, and while we all wish to see him hoisting up the MVP trophy at the end of the season, it’s important to keep everything into perspective.

Drawing comparisons is kind of a fool’s game. To me, it’s a cheap way of evaluating talent, and a shortcut to assessing one’s skill. The same goes for preseason predictions, in that people generally have a hard time disassociating aspects of the game with their preexisting beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with making a good old prediction for their favorite team; just don’t tie yourself to it.

Of course this leads me to debunk any comparison made between John Wall and his myriad of young point guard adversaries.

Let’s get this out of the way first; John Wall has a lot to improve upon this season. As shocking as this may sound, his flaws extend beyond shooting the basketball. His pick and roll defense is suspect, he has trouble finishing at the basket in half court sets, and has trouble staying effective without the ball in his hands. However, let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill here; Wall is just now entering his third year so it’s important to keep everything in perspective.

Between the coaching change and fatuous teammates last year, and the giant shadow casted by Gilbert Arenas in his rookie year, Wall is finally entering his first bona fide season in the league. With every first timer, there is a learning curve. Playing within a team setting, playing in highly contested games on a nightly basis (who knows, maybe playoff games), will be new to Wall. He has to learn how to win, and learn how to be the best player on a winning team. That’s not going to be easy, especially with all the pressure inundating him.

So what if John Wall fails to make the Derrick Rose leap this year? What if we see small incremental progress in his game much like last season, but nothing spectacular? I know what the overwhelming majority of fans will think, but after sitting back and digesting the entire season, I think we’ll slowly come to realization that he can still be a superstar in this league someday. I have never seen a player faced with an ultimatum after 2 years in the league. Essentially, fans around the world have told Wall, “If you don’t breakout this season, you will never become a star in this league.”

One of the major misconceptions around this league is that point guards tend to find their stride in their third year in the league. Maybe it’s just the temperament of fans that are so enamored by the early success of Chris Paul and Derrick Rose, but history has proven that point guards take 3 to 4 years to establish their games. Gary Payton, John Stockton, Jason Kidd, and Steve Nash all took at least 4 years before becoming star PG’s in this league.

Aside from a few outliers such as Magic Johnson or Chris Paul, the PG position requires experience as much as it does skill. It takes time for a PG to understand all the intricacies of the game, so while Wall may not have the greatest feel for the game now, all of the sophisticated defenses he faces as well as in game situations will become second nature to him down the road. Shooting jumpers in a gym all day can only take you so far, it may free up Wall’s game, but it won’t teach him how to run an offense or defend all the great talent at his position. Many are under the impression that Wall is a jump shot away from taking off, but that’s simply not the case here. He doesn’t have the scorers’ mentality of a Westbrook or Rose, who happened to take the leap thanks to a refined jumper. He’s your traditional pass first point guard, who is going to establish his role only after he gains the requisite experience and knowledge to make him a floor general. That may take 3 years, it may not, but patience is the key here.

This is a scorer-friendly league, they happen to receive the most praise, the spotlight, and are always at the top of the MVP race. It may seem inopportune to some fans, but John Wall is a pass first player, and thus, may not gain the recognition we all desire. So what may seem like a down year for some just may not be the case after all.

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