Maturity on, off court on display at the end of the season
There couldn't have been a better time to be John Wall than last summer. Fresh off his rookie season with the Wizards and with the NBA headed for a protracted lockout, Wall had little to do but enjoy the perks of being a pro basketball player.
So the No. 1 pick from the 2010 draft crisscrossed the country, putting his unmatched speed and dynamic athleticism on display in exhibition games from Washington to Seattle, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. His barnstorming tour was second only to that of Kevin Durant.
This summer Wall is leaving that scene behind. He intends to stick mostly to empty gyms.
|Washington Wizards' 2012-13 lineup|
|The Wizards will add a top-five draft pick and expect to sign a key free agent this summer. Until they do, here's who is most likely to start alongside John Wall next season.|
|Nene, center (13.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg) » The Brazilian's arrival transformed the low block, giving the Wizards a reliable presence defensively and offensively. He said Denver never gave the green light to his smooth midrange jumper. With four seasons left on the contract he signed in Denver before the season, Nene will be around for a while. He has to stay healthy.|
|Kevin Seraphin, power forward (7.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) » Seraphin made a huge leap following JaVale McGee's departure, averaging 13.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in Washington's final 25 games. He didn't get any votes for most improved this year, but he should next season backing up and playing alongside Nene in a dramatically improved frontcourt.|
|Jan Vesely, small forward (4.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) » He airballed his first NBA free throw, and every jump shot was an adventure. But he was solid defensively and proved he can run and finish on the fast break. Using Seraphin's transformation as the blueprint, Vesely will benefit from playing in the summer league and an offseason working with NBA trainers.|
|Jordan Crawford, shooting guard (14.7 ppg, 3.0 apg) » Miscast as a backup point guard to start the year, Crawford thrived as the Wizards' key backcourt scorer, especially after Washington traded away Nick Young. Adding scoring from the wing is a key offseason priority for the Wizards, who must decide whether Crawford is the long-term answer.|
"Nah, I'm cool on that," Wall said. "I'm done. It's just workouts. I ain't having none. That was just because of the lockout. It was too much time."
The blinding pace of Wall's game has stood in contrast to his first two seasons with the Wizards, who have sat back and embraced the frustration and defeats of rebuilding. Only thanks to a season-ending winning streak did Washington's winning percentage (20-46, .303) improve from Wall's rookie year (23-59, .280).
At first glance, Wall hasn't changed much since he was handed the keys to the franchise in 2010. His second-year numbers (16.3 points, 8.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals per game) were nearly identical to his rookie season (16.4 ppg, 8.3 apg, 4.6 rpg, 1.8 spg).
Wall did increase his overall shooting percentage (from .409 to .423) even though he shot poorly from five feet and beyond (.297). His 3-point shooting also bottomed out terribly (.296 to .071).
But connecting Wall's growth to numbers or the team's timeline ignores how much he has matured since he was anointed the Wizards' savior at age 19. The notorious fast talker's words now come slower and are infused with better NBA understanding. His demeanor on the floor is more consistent.
"I think I've grown a lot," Wall said. "Finding my teammates, knowing when to do certain things. Just being a better leader. Throughout the whole game I'll be talking to guys trying to get them into certain situations if they're wrong."
Wall finished seventh in the NBA in assists, but he also turned the ball over 3.9 times a game, second only to New Jersey's Deron Williams. But he emerged as an extension of the coaching staff as the season progressed. Instead of continuing to "crash and burn" -- coach Randy Wittman's description of the way Wall recklessly would drive into traffic and lose the ball -- Wall was more under control and making better decisions by season's end.
"When you have a point guard that can now understand his coach and what he wants called and make the right call on the floor without being directed every possession by me, that's huge," Wittman said. "He made great strides in that. You know what, I've been in this league a lot of times where there's been some pretty talented point guards that have never been able to do that."
When things didn't go his way, Wall sulked at times just like any other 21-year-old. But he didn't reveal much frustration until after the season finale when he was asked about Nene's arrival and the departures of Nick Young and JaVale McGee.
"At times it was tough because you had guys like Nick and JaVale," Wall said. "They wanted the ball a lot and took a lot of shots. It's kind of tough to find what kind of team it was with them."
With Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis on the shelf and the Wizards likely parting ways with them for good, Wall will become the team's longest-tenured player. He also should have an offseason under his belt that includes countless workouts in Washington and Los Angeles, as well as a stint in Las Vegas as a member of the team that will practice against Team USA ahead of the Summer Olympics.
The Wizards are also expected to participate in the Las Vegas Summer League, but even those sessions will be more rigorous and less fun than what Wall did last summer.
"I just think that instead of working out more, I did more of playing in charity events and summer leagues when I should have been working out more," Wall said. "That's the only thing I think I should have done differently, but it was a great experience going to different states and venues."
Entering his third year, the experience becomes secondary to progress and victories.