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NBA AM: John Wall Becoming The Man For The Wizards

As John Wall navigates his fifth season with the Washington Wizards, being a leader has become easier…

Steve Kyler profile picture
Updated 11 months ago on
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Becoming The Man:  As much as fans would like to see young, high draft picks come onto their teams and assert themselves, that’s not always as easy as you might think, especially when a locker room is filled with guys who have achieved more.

Washington Wizards guard John Wall was the top overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He was at the time regarded as a “can’t miss” NBA prospect and a future All-Star before he played a minute of professional basketball.

The Wizards’ roster Wall’s rookie year included Gilbert Arenas, Mike Bibby, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard and Maurice Evans – all established NBA veterans with strong and outspoken leadership personalities. It’s no wonder that Wall sort of went where he was told to go. Regardless of his draft status, those kind of veteran players are not giving ground to a rookie.

It’s taken Wall time to adjust to being the go-to guy on his team. It’s helped that the roster in Washington has slowly evolved around him and that many of the veterans on the team today were brought in to support Wall, not lead him. It also helps that he has shaken the injury bug that plagued him early in his career. A little postseason success hasn’t hurt the cause either.

“I’m a lot more comfortable especially coming off the experience we gained from last year from being in the playoffs and coming back with almost the same group of guys,” Wall told Basketball Insiders. “[They] want me to lead and want me to have the ball in those situations. Paul [Pierce] can still give us those big shots and Brad [Beal] has proven he can give those to us but they want me to be able to create and get comfortable in that role and it’s just something I’m getting more comfortable with.”

Last year the Wizards really leaned on forward Trevor Ariza when things got tough; he was sort of the locker room glue guy that helped keep everyone focused.

This year some of that is falling on veterans like Rasual Butler and Pierce, but the Wizards are leaning on Wall more than they ever have.

“We kind of lost some of the pieces, we lost both Trevors that we had, but we managed to get some of the right pieces in Kris [Humphries] and Paul Pierce,” Wall said. “We just built off what we had last year. The main thing for us is just to try and stay healthy, but I think that every player got better this summer and that’s helping our team. Our main focus is just being a top defensive team and not turning the ball over as much.”

One of the biggest changes for Wall personally is that he is slowing down. Early in his career he was frantically fast, tossing himself at the rim with reckless abandon. Now in his fifth season, Wall is more patient and his team is more engaged.

“There is a complete difference,” Wall said. “It takes all five guys to execute the play. I think we are doing a great job of everyone just paying attention during timeouts and in huddles and everyone else just going out there and executing the plays. Guys on this team aren’t cheating. Guys aren’t worried about who is getting the ball. We just trust one another to the point that if someone takes a shot and makes it or not we are still going to hold our heads up.”

Wall is also learning a lot about the NBA game and how to stay focused when things get tight, something his team is learning as well.

“With certain games there are different experiences that you have to go through,” Wall said. “You don’t want to be in those situations often and we have to learn how to keep leads when we get them and close out quarters better. It just shows our resilience not to panic. I think last year we were panicking and losing games by 10-15 points and taking bad shots. I think we have just been patient executing the plays that coach has been drawing up for us. Guys are just stepping up and making big shots.”

Wall has also gotten a taste of the postseason and after several years of his season ending early, he likes where he finds himself.

“I’ll just say that it’s way better when you win instead of just sitting at home in the summer,” Wall said.

The Wizards find themselves at 17-6 on the season and 12-2 at home, which is good enough for the second seed in the East. Their 5-4 road record puts them at the bottom of the pack among teams currently in the playoff hunt and could haunt them later in the season.

Wall is having a solid season, shooting a career-best 44.4 percent from the field while averaging 17.7 points per game. This is also Wall’s best season as a distributor as he is averaging a career-high 10.3 assists per game to go along with a 2.2 steals per game – also his top mark ever.

Wall is currently second in the NBA in assists, just behind Boston’s Rajon Rondo (10.6). Wall is also second in the NBA in steals per game, just behind Minnesota’s Corey Brewer (2.30).

The Wizards have 59 games left on their schedule including 24 games against teams currently above .500. They also have 32 road games remaining, which could be problematic given their road record so far on the season.

Lessons Learned The Hard Way:  In many vocations there is a class, or a course, or some kind of real-world training that can prepare you for the job you are doing. There is a how-to book, like a guide for dummies, something that helps bridge the information and experience gap for almost anything you do in life.

Nothing like that exists for NBA owners.

Over the last year newbie owners in the NBA have tripped over themselves and made embarrassing, sometimes comical, moves that illustrated how little they knew about the world they now operate in. Despite many of them hiring seasoned and proven operators, they still couldn’t get out of their own way.

Grizzlies owner Robert Pera’s decision to abruptly overhaul his front office, despite success on every level of the business and then the awkward dance involving head coach Dave Joerger was one of the bigger miscues by a rookie owner.

New Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry’s decision to negotiate, pursue and ultimately trade for head coach Jason Kidd, while his team still employed head coach Larry Drew was one as well. Kidd was obtained before the club notified Drew he was being let go. Drew watched it play out in the media. Ultimately, it was a good move for the franchise, but handled as ham-handedly as almost any coaching transaction in recent history.

Warriors’ ownership made the decision to fire former head coach Mark Jackson after two straight seasons of winning basketball. Ultimately, that too turned out to be a better move for the franchise. However, majority owner Joe Lacob took to the media to sort of gloat over his teams hot start, basically throwing his ousted coach under the proverbial bus, creating such a stir that he ultimately issued an apology to Jackson.

This week, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive showed his inexperience, firing Kings head coach Mike Malone just a year and six months after touting his hiring as a key to changing the losing culture of the Kings’ franchise. Again, a move that might be good for the franchise in the long run, but again illustrating a lack of understanding for the process that has yielded success.

It’s understandable why many of these titans of industry attempt to be hands-on. For many that’s how they amassed the kind of wealth and power it takes to own a NBA franchise. However, in almost every case, rather than do things as they are normally done in the NBA, they opted to take matters into their own hands and ended up looking fairly messy when it was said and done.

This is life in the modern NBA. Gone are the days of quiet owners who let their executives and front office staffs run things. They want the limelight of being the owner. They like the thrill of being in charge and shaping the team.

In many ways, and maybe it’s because of how big of a star Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has become, they seek the spotlight a little for themselves.

A troll through Ranadive’s twitter page shows him throwing up hand signs in photos and touting his team.

They say owning a sports team is the world’s most expensive sports car, and when you see who ultimately ends up owning them, what they pay for the privilege to own them. It’s hard not to say they “paid the cost to be the boss”, especially when the PR miscues surface and the right things turns into the wrong things. Keep in mind, there is no training to be an owner of a sports team.

You sort of have to figure it out as you go and with so many new, outspoken personality types buying teams, the miscues from the owner’s box are not likely to stop anytime soon.

They simply have to figure it out the hard way.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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