Washington Wizards guard John Wall has blossomed into one of the league’s best players – not just guards – but seems to be flying under the radar for MVP.
The NBA Most Valuable Player of the Year award will come down to four players: Russell Westbrook (who’s averaging a triple double and has led the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Playoffs in the brutal Western Conference), LeBron James (because, well, obviously), Kawhi Leonard (the league’s best defender and Tim Duncan‘s heir apparent for the 61-win Spurs) and James Harden (whose numbers have skyrocketed alongside Mike D’Antoni).
John Wall‘s name, though, is rarely uttered in the MVP discussion.
To contend for the league’s most prestigious individual award, a player must meet a number of unwritten criteria.
- For individual accomplishments to matter, the player must be on a winning team.
- Improvement must be evident from the year prior.
- The numbers, even if skewed by the team’s positioning and/or offense, must clearly jump off the stat sheet.
- The player must improve those around him.
All of the aforementioned players – and some not listed – meet the vague criteria above.
But it can be argued that Wall, moreso than anyone else, fits the prototypical image of an NBA MVP.
For the past four seasons, including the 2016-17 campaign, the Washington Wizards have won 41-plus games.
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Last season, the Wizards failed to make the postseason, but Wall set career-highs all across the board, pushing his team to a .500 season despite sharing the court with borderline NBA players.
A summer of improvement from his teammates along with roster moves has caused the Wizards, as a whole, to improve.
Bradley Beal became an elite scorer by developing an ability to score without the help of his teammates. He averaged a career-high 23 points on 48 percent shooting from the field.
More importantly, Beal was active for 77 games this season, which allowed him to find his rhythm and build on in-game momentum.
Otto Porter made similar improvements, becoming the fifth best 3-point shooter in the league percentage-wise.
Other transactions, like the trade for Bojan Bogdanovic and signing of Brandon Jennings, solidified the Washington Wizards’ rotation, giving them the depth Scott Brooks needed to secure home court advantage in the postseason for the first time in almost four decades.
The internal improvement coupled by the few off-season moves culminated in a Southeast Division Title – the first one since 1979.
The team’s improvement, though, wouldn’t have been possible if Wall hadn’t elevated his game.
For the first time in his career, Wall officially passed the 20 and 10 mark, averaging 23 points and nearly 11 assists. He shot a career-high 45 percent from three and got to the free throw line 6.8 times – evidence of his intensified willingness to drive and not settle for perimeter shots. Wall finished the season being second in assists and steals, on top of becoming one of the league’s premier scorers in the fourth quarter.
Wall’s teammates have recognized the leadership qualities he’s brought to the Wizards – an immeasurable aspect of the game that’s only seen by those in the locker room.
Jennings joined the team just a few months ago and was immediately taken aback by how Wall led the team. He noted the MVP characteristics Wall possesses in a piece of The Players’ Tribune.
"John With the Shades is my MVP.Personally, I think the résumé speaks for itself: lethal scorer AND lethal defender. Leader of the team that has probably most outplayed its expectations this season. And, on any given night — the best point guard in the world.Voters … you do what you want, though. Recognize or ignore the excellence. Pick my guy or don’t. But I’ll leave you with some highly valuable final advice — and it’s something that I’ve learned from almost a full decade of experience: Snubbing the kid from Raleigh? It’s a bad idea. Lotta people are going to be “learning” the name John Wall these playoffs. Doubt any of ’em forget it."
And Jennings was right: when the playoffs began, Wall took his game to another level.
In Game-1 against the Atlanta Hawks, Wall scored a playoff career-high 32 points with 14 assists en route to a dominant win at home. Wall has never started a series at home in his career, but took advantage of the platform provided and gave the fans a Jordan Shrug worthy performance.
For 48 minutes, Wall played like a MVP in front of millions of people watching nationwide. But, he’s been playing at that level – an MVP level – the entire season. His name might not be mentioned with the Westbrooks or Hardens of the world, but Wall is right there, regardless of whether he’s in the barbershop conversations.