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NBA PM: John Wall Enters MVP Conversation

John Wall is dominating this season and emerging as a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate.

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Wall Has Entered the MVP Conversation

It’s hard to believe now, but back when John Wall signed a five-year, $80 million extension with the Washington Wizards in July of 2013, there were some critics who felt like he wasn’t worth that kind of investment.

NBA agent David Falk, who represented Michael Jordan, was the most vocal detractor. When asked about Wall, he told The Washington Post that the Wizards should “trade him and get rid of him,” that he “will never be as good as Kyrie Irving was in his first week in the NBA” and that “he’s a big tease [who] doesn’t have a good enough feel for the game to be an elite player.”

Falk’s rant was harsh even at that time, but the fact that it sounds so ridiculous today is a testament to how much Wall has improved over the last year and a half. Now, at 24 years old, Wall is clearly one of the NBA’s best point guards and his critics have been silenced (or turned into believers, in the case of Stan Van Gundy).

These days, his $14,746,000 salary is a bargain, especially with contracts about to increase significantly due to the NBA’s new television deal. Wall is just the 26th-highest paid player in the NBA this season, behind plenty of players who are less productive than him. To compare his contract to some recently inked deals, consider that his salary is virtually identical to Gordon Hayward’s and Chandler Parsons’, who just went through free agency this past summer.

JohnWallInsideOnly1Not only has Wall become an elite point guard in 2014, he has emerged as a legitimate candidate for the Most Valuable Player award this year. Wall is averaging 17.8 points, 10.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals this season. And over the last two weeks, Wall has taken his game to another level, averaging 19.6 points, 15.1 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 48.2 percent from the field.

It’s no coincidence that the Wizards have won nine of their last 10 games and have climbed to the second seed in the Eastern Conference with an 18-6 record.

Take an even closer look at the numbers and you’ll see just how much of an impact Wall is having on each game. This season, he ranks first in points created off of assists per game (24.5), first in total assists (238), second in assists per game (10.3), first in assist percentage (46.4 percent), first in assists that lead to free throws per game (1.3), second in secondary assists (AKA hockey assists) per game (2.1), second in steals per game (2.2) and fifth in defensive win shares (1.5).

“It’s probably the best I’ve played since I’ve been in the NBA,” Wall said. “My confidence and the way I’m playing is totally different from what it was my first two years when I was here. It’s just [from] a lot of hard work and dedication, the fans and the organization sticking behind me and letting me develop as a young player.”

Perhaps the biggest improvement that Wall has made this season is his defense. In addition to being one of the league’s best facilitators, Wall is putting a lot of effort into becoming a lockdown player and, as a result, has become a two-way monster. This is a big reason that Washington has the fifth-best defense in the NBA (allowing just 98.9 points per 100 possessions).

“Defense is the thing I’m most proud of what he’s done up until this point… John has been leading us in that department,” Wizards head coach Randy Wittman said. “I tell you guys all the time, it trickles down. When John is engaged defensively, it just kind of filters right on down. As a defense, you see John, he is always picking the ball up. John starts our defense.”

“When we play defense first and don’t worry about offense we’re a pretty good team,” Wall said. “When we don’t turn the ball over a lot, have more assists than turnovers and we keep teams under 100 points, we can’t lose that way and that’s the way we have to keep playing… I think this season we know we’re a defensive-minded team and don’t have a lot of turnovers. When we put pressure on guys and get guys not to run their offense, it makes them do things they don’t want to do. I think that’s the difference from last year to this season.”

“He’s a freak athletically,” Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said of Wall. “I thought in the past it was only on the offensive end and now he’s a two-way player and that makes him a heck of a basketball player. I’m kind of happy for him.”

Wall’s teammates have been blown away by his excellent play this season.

“John’s truly amazing,” Gortat said. “He kind of backed what I posted on Twitter [awhile] ago. He is definitely the top point guard in the league right now. He is playing tremendous basketball. His finishes around the rim are crazy, but he is capable of doing that. As a team, we just play better every time he is leading the right way. He is not taking crazy shots. He is delivering the ball to the right person and we just try to knock down shots. … John’s outstanding and doing beast stuff. The stuff he’s being doing the last 10 to 15 games is great.”

“I am just the recipient of playing with one of the best point guards in the NBA in John Wall,” Rasual Butler said when asked about his resurgence this season. “He does a great job reading defenses and manipulating defenses.”

However, Wall downplays his contributions and points to his teammates for making him look good. This isn’t a huge surprise, as Wall is an outstanding teammate and he has really stepped up as a leader for the Wizards this year as well.

“Give a lot of credit to my teammates,” Wall said. “Those guys are setting screens and getting me open and when I’m pushing the ball and teams are collapsing on me, those guys are getting to open spots and knocking down the shots.”

One thing that significantly helped Wall’s game was slowing down. Earlier in his career, he was often the fastest player on the court, but would sometimes be reckless and out of control. He was almost too fast for his own good. Many young players deal with this problem and then the game slows down for them, which is exactly what has happened for Wall over the last year.

“Slowing down, I can read everything,” Wall said. “I’m picking and choosing people at my mercy. I’m picking and choosing what I want to do at times and not letting anybody speed me up and just reading what the defense is giving me and what my coaches call at the same time.”

The scariest thing about Wall’s growth as a player is that his best basketball is likely still ahead of him. The 24-year-old is starting to realize his full potential, but he’s not there yet, which is a terrifying thought for the rest of the league.

“I think he still has his best ahead of him,” Wittman said. “I want him to keep driving. He’s really been understanding that there’s nothing to rest on here. We have a chance, and he has an opportunity from a leadership standpoint to continue to push this team. I want him to continue that, I don’t want him to take his foot off the pedal and be satisfied. He won Player of the Week, and he deserved to win Player of the Week. I told him, ‘That’s no big deal, you deserve it. There’s nothing surprising here, let’s just keep doing it. Keep playing the way you’re playing, keep doing what you’re doing, understanding when you have to get aggressive and when you have to get other people involved.’”

With LeBron James adjusting to a new situation in Cleveland and Kevin Durant missing the start of the season due to injury, this year’s MVP race is wide open. Wall is right there in the mix, along with Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden and Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry among others.

If Wall can continue to play at this level throughout the remainder of the season and keep Washington atop the East, he’ll certainly get some MVP consideration.

Pistons Wanted Teague, Korver for Monroe

Greg Monroe had a strange offseason as a restricted free agent, and ultimately re-signed with the Detroit Pistons on the one-year qualifying offer so he could be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

To get an idea of which teams could be interested in Monroe next summer, consider that the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers pursued the big man last offseason and even tried to trade for him at one point, according to Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News.

When the Pistons and Hawks started discussing a potential Monroe trade, Detroit asked Atlanta for Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in return.

Not surprisingly, “the Hawks balked — perhaps with knowing Monroe could walk to them the summer of 2015, right into their cap space without having to part with valuable assets,” writes Goodwill.

Monroe has a no-trade clause, but some reports have indicated that he’d like to get out of Detroit prior to the Feb. 19 trade deadline so he would be willing to waive his clause and accept a deal. His camp has shot that down, though, saying he wants to finish the season in Detroit.

The Pistons and Monroe are definitely worth keeping an eye on over the next two months, and don’t be surprised if plenty of trade rumors surface between now and then. If Detroit knows that Monroe’s exit is inevitable, trading him now to get something back in return is likely the better move for them.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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