Double Feature

Love, Wall give Pistons fans 2 chances to see pair of NBA’s rising stars

David Sherman/Rob Carr/NBAE/Getty Images
The Pistons haven’t dipped into the lottery pool very often since it came to life 25 years ago and hope not to do it with increased frequency in the future. But coming away with a player like Greg Monroe at least made the anguish necessary to get the chance to draft him tolerable.

Pistons fans in the week ahead get to see two more teams staking their franchise’s future on the play of two other recent lottery picks. Minnesota visits The Palace on Wednesday with the NBA’s rebound leader, Kevin Love, in tow; then Sunday, the Washington Wizards come to town with last June’s No. 1 pick, John Wall.

Not only will Pistons fans get to see two of the NBA’s brightest young stars, they’ll get to see two players with a chance to be as historically unique in their own way as players like Charles Barkley or Steve Nash – players who defy conventional comparisons.

It will be The Palace debut for Wall, who sat out the Pistons’ November overtime win over Washington with a foot injury. It’s likely that very few Pistons fans have seen Wall in person and not many more on TV since coming to the NBA. The Wizards, who lost their first 25 road games of the season before beating Cleveland earlier this month, have flown below the radar and kept Wall largely away from the national media spotlight.

But he’s quietly putting together the type of rookie season to justify the hype. Wall was pegged as early as the summer of 2009 – before he had enrolled at Kentucky for what everybody assumed would be one season only – as the presumptive No. 1 pick in the NBA’s 2010 draft.

“From the beginning of the season to the end, he carried that on his shoulders,” Pistons personnel director George David said of Wall. “The guy was supposed to be the No. 1 pick and I don’t know if he ever showed any signs of removing that tag.”

Wall was the clear leader of a Kentucky team that wound up having five players selected in the first round last June. The trait that intrigued NBA scouts from the first time they saw Wall in his high school and AAU days out of Raleigh, N.C., was his blazing speed. Wall is a virtual Usain Bolt in sneakers.

“He has what I would call supersonic speed,” David said. “Whenever somebody has a talent like that, that is so exceptional, that’s usually what vaults somebody to the No. 1 status.”

Wall, who has missed 10 games, would be the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year if 2009 No. 1 pick Blake Griffin hadn’t missed what would have been his rookie season and gotten reclassified for 2010. Wall leads all rookies in scoring (15.5 points per game), assists (9.0) and steals (1.6) and is even eighth in rebounding (4.3).

His speed makes him lethal in the open court and his ranginess and athleticism suggest he can become an elite defensive guard in addition to a devastating playmaker with his ability to get into the paint. Wall’s versatility should allow the Wizards great latitude in building a team around him, David said.

“I don’t think there is a team that he would necessarily not thrive with,” he said. “He’s a kid who has proven, at least at Kentucky, that he can play with great bigs. They had (Orlando No. 1 pick Daniel) Orton and (Sacramento lottery pick DeMarcus) Cousins. He’s proven he can play for a coach in a very up-tempo system under (John) Calipari at Kentucky.”

The one area where Wall has struggled so far is no surprise: shooting. He’s hovering around 40 percent overall and 30 percent from the 3-point line. NBA personnel people wave off any concerns.

“I remember sitting in this exact spot before LeBron James’ first NBA game and somebody asked me if I thought he was ever going to become a good shooter,” David smiled. “He’s young. John Wall is one year removed from where LeBron was when he came out. Shooting is one thing every NBA player can get better at, especially young guys.”

Exhibit A: Kevin Love.

As a rookie two seasons ago – as the No. 5 pick in 2008 after one season at UCLA – Love shot a mere 19 times from the 3-point line and made two. Last season, he took 106 and made one third. This year, Love has become one of the best-shooting big men in the game, shooting 187 3-pointers – a little more than three per game – and hitting them at a .428 clip.

What really makes Love unique is that shooting touch – he’s also an 87 percent foul shooter – combined with his rebounding prowess. Love leads the league at 15.5 rebounds per game to go with his 21.0 scoring average. Lost in the mania over Blake Griffin’s dunking and string of double-doubles, Love actually leads the NBA in double-doubles with 55 in 60 games compared to Griffin’s 50. It was a body of work impressive enough to get Love named to the Western Conference All-Star team.

“I think the fact he’s put those two skills together – the rebounding and the shooting touch – has taken him up to become one of the elite players in our league,” David said. “That’s why I go back to consistency. To combine both of those things consistently, it’s hard to not be an elite player.”

His most recent outing was among his most dominant. Love had 34 points and 20 rebounds after three quarters in Sunday’s win over Golden State, finishing with 37 and 23.

“I don’t know if his success has surprised me, but his consistency is something that has really picked up a lot of people’s eyebrows,” David said. “That fact he’s been having so many double-doubles in a row is what’s really turned him into a heck of a player. His consistency has been unmatchable.”

Love’s cushion over Dwight Howard, second in rebounding, is significant at 1.6 per game. And he’s doing it despite a level of athleticism that had many NBA scouts wondering what type of impact he would have.

“He’s a guy who got criticized for his effort, unfairly, because of his body when he was coming out of college,” David said. “He wasn’t a guy who had a ripped, defined body. And I think people looked at his body and it’s easy to throw stones. What he’s doing, with what he has, is just sheer effort. To categorize it as anything more than that is probably a stretch.”