How will John Wall be remembered?
We all know that he’s supremely talented, but will he be remembered as one of the game’s greats?
Plenty of players over the 72-year history of the NBA have been supremely talented, and plenty are overlooked. The main way to set up one’s legacy is to lead a team to a championship. Case in point: Dirk Nowitzki beat the Miami HEAT in the 2011 NBA Finals, won the Finals MVP and secured his place in history as the greatest international player in the world. And while history is kind to the winners, it is indifferent toward players without a championship, at best.
So back to the original question – is John Wall a great player? To his credit, Wall is a career 18.9 point per game scorer. He can put a team on his back when need be, and he can certainly heat up quickly. He’s also averaged 9.2 assists per game over his career and boasts exquisite floor vision.
He is incredibly gifted physically, standing 6-foot-4 and weighing a shade over 200 pounds. He is also blazing fast – with and without the ball in his hands – and can maneuver with the basketball at top speeds.
Wall is also an exceptional defender for his position and can give fits to some of the game’s best point guards, while also demonstrating the requisite athleticism to pull off chase down blocks and play the passing lanes.
Since Wall’s talent is undeniable, why is it that he is judged so harshly relative to other elite point guards such as Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving?
For one, he has no playoff success to speak of, and winning cures most ailments in pro sports. He doesn’t need a championship immediately, but he does need to lead his team to greater levels of success like MVP candidates traditionally do.
Wall firmly believes that he should be in the MVP discussion. In an interview with BallIsLife.com, Wall made his aspirations clear.
“My goal is to be MVP,” Wall said. “I don’t care about (being the) best player in the East… If I don’t have no (health) problems, I feel like I can easily be MVP.”
But the proof is in the pudding for Wall, as an MVP candidate and with his legacy. The Wizards won only 43 games in 2017-18. Yes, Wall missed 41 games last season – which certainly affected the team’s overall success – but the team actually galvanized around the loss of Wall initially– something that wouldn’t happen when most greats go down for an extended period of time.
Over the four seasons prior to last year – in which Wall played 79 games per season – the Wizards still only registered 45 wins per year. Conversely, the last five MVP winners – James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry (two consecutive years) and LeBron James –led their respective teams to an average of 61.2 wins per year.
But it seems to be bigger than just wins and losses with John Wall. He also exhibits the occasional lapse in judgment. Most recently, he had a hot take on partying and going out in his down time when asked about it by a reporter at practice a week ago.
“I ask them (critics) the same thing. You got a 9-5 (job),” Wall said. “What you do after your 9-5? You not about to sit in the house all day are you?
“I’m a grown man and I can do what I want to. I know what I do and bring to the table, and that’s 110 percent effort. I know how hard I work on my game and I’m going to enjoy my life. I’m not about to sit at home and be boring.”
He raises a good point – no one said he must live and breathe basketball with no personal time. Some media prefer players to behave as such, but it’s not always realistic. After all, even LeBron James admits to having the occasional glass of wine.
But Wall must also remember that legacies are secured on and off the court. If he hopes to get the credit feels he deserves, he must be incredibly deliberate with every word spoken. And that statement felt equal parts pragmatic and emotional.
To be fair, Wall is underrated and under-appreciated far too often, though. Nothing demonstrates that better than his 32nd place slot in this season’s ESPN Top 100 Players Rankings, which is behind CJ McCollum, teammate Bradley Beal and LaMarcus Aldridge.
If you were a GM in charge of fleshing out a roster, would you take any of those three over Wall? I sure wouldn’t.
It is unfortunate that his career overlaps with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and possibly the deepest group of point guards the league has ever seen – but he won’t be graded on a curve. He must produce. History won’t care what his supporting cast looked like relative to his peers, or if he was injured too often to secure anything of meaning. Ultimately, he needs wins and/or accolades to even get into the conversation for next best.
And Wall, to his credit, agrees with this assessment. Speaking to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Wall recently said, “I think for me to have a heck of a career – if I don’t win a championship, I feel like my career was a failure.”
Failure is relative. He can still be a Hall of Famer without a championship. Guys like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Tracy McGrady catch a lot of flack for not having won one, but being mentioned in the same breath as payers of that caliber is a huge honor. In order to get anywhere close to that level, Wall must prove that he can will his team to wins. He can’t settle for another first round playoff exit, nor can he accept another 43-win season.
Wall has the talent to be remembered as a great player, but first he has to sustain greatness over a period of time.
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