UNPOPULAR OPINION: John Wall is the best 1 in the league.
“My goal is to be MVP, I don’t care about best player in the East,” said an assured John Wall, as BallIsLife cameras captured body language that spoke of equanimity.
As the 2018-’19 NBA season tips off, Wall is ready to remind the league of what a 41-game absence can blur. In 2017, Wall enjoyed what he called a “career summer.” It was preceded by a career year, where he averaged 23 points & 11 assists per game en route to All-NBA third team honors.
We know what happened next. Wall went on to miss half the ‘17-’18 season and Washington went out in the first round. Boston, Philadelphia and Giannis charmed the media and the Wizards faded to black. Long summers are for third graders, so Wall clocked in early and launched his “#SummerofSeparation”.
The hashtag has a subtle ambiguity that catalyzes creativity. Separation. Not from the Celtics or Sixers, but from the dense mass of point guard virtuosity that’s sprinkled across NBA rosters. Beyond guys like Kemba Walker, D’Angelo Russell and Rajon Rondo, there is a class of floor generals who separate themselves: Wall, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and mayyyybe Kyle Lowry.
These names plague game-plans, ankles and passing lanes around the league. The physical talent at the position is special, and basketball IQ has evolved with the game. This is the position’s Golden Era.
We’ve seen the front offices in Golden State and San Antonio manufacture unique dynasties, so we know there are different ways to build a winning team. Still, if I’m starting from scratch and I must draft a point first, I’m taking Wall.
This is no “Love Sosa” intro, nor am I Kanye West at the VMAs. The narrative surrounding the NBA’s premier position is a farce. Isolate yourself from the NBA’s engineered aesthetics and commercialized storylines -- take an objective look at the whole study.
In conversations I’ve had with players, coaches and fellow hoops nerds, the leading return is that my argument is biased. That’s understandable, but my bias has nothing to do with my zip code. See, my appreciation for the game stems from old-school NBA hardwood. Ball movement, post play and hard-nosed, prideful defense paint my daydreams.
Another nostalgic relic clothed in hoarded dust is the true point guard. Don’t get me wrong -- I love myself a bucket -- but the Stocktons, Kidds and Nashes showed me the game’s beauty. Amidst a renaissance in which position-less lineups dominate basketball, the true point is rare, devalued, underappreciated and neglected.
From Dave Bing (career averages of 20.3 PPG & 6 APG) and Walt Frazier (18.9 & 6.1), all the way up to Tony Parker (17.1 & 6) and Steve Francis (18.1 & 6), we’ve seen scorers at the position before. Today’s NBA floors are saturated with scoring PGs, since guys like Allen Iverson (26.7 & 6.2) and Gilbert Arenas (20.7 & 5.3) have coaxed us into an infatuation with the hybrid. I definitely wouldn't stand innocent.
My first favorite player was ‘01 Iverson, and my second was pre-GeraldWallace Arenas, so I over-stand the love for the scoring point guard. But, I found that with a scoring point guard, it’s almost impossible to win.
A true point is fundamental to a successful organization. Their role is to dictate his team’s tempo and offense, while disrupting the enemy’s offensive game-plan. Whether it’s Derek Fisher quietly playing his role, Chauncey Billups the general, or the superstar, Magic, a guy who distributes, takes pride on defense and can score when needed has timeless value.
The trick is maximizing their strengths.
The Wizards are at their best when John Wall is distributing, not forcing elbow jumpers. Ideally, your best scorer isn’t your point guard (ahem, L.A.-Chris Paul). You have to disperse enough scoring around them. Blake Griffin scored more than Paul but the big shot was always Paul's to take. What you need is someone who puts the ball in the cup at a high rate; someone to swing the rock to with a dwindling clock. Fish had Bean, Chauncey had Rip and Magic had Worthy & Reem flanking.
Last February, Bradley Beal got his first taste of All-Star Weekend. He’s no Kobe, but if you tilt his picture you can see a young Rip Hamilton. If Beal keeps improving at this rate, and Wizards’ GM Ernie Grunfeld skips more summer vacays for free-agent meetings, the sky’s the limit for a team in a LeBron-less conference.
Tomas Satoransky proved his worth on both ends of the court. Marcin Gortat sent subliminals sharper than a fade & a tailored suit. Wall can cross “athletic big” off his Christmas list after signing Dwight Howard. After a career year playing for pops in L.A., Austin Rivers will test out the Eastern Conference with a chip on his shoulder. High expectations surround talented rookie Troy Brown Jr., a 6’7” swing-man that makes plays like a point guard.
The moves Grunfeld made this summer reset optimism and brewed intrigue. Excuses are scarce for Wall and the Wizards. If Wall was ever going to convince the world of my headline, earn league MVP honors and play into late May, it starts this year. He now has a supporting cast that is mature, talented and confident enough to attack those goals in unison.
Part two of our Unpopular Opinion series is where I tell you why your favorite one guard isn’t the league’s top point.