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With a fresh backcourt and new uniforms to match, the Wizards are entering a new era.
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Wall ready to provide D.C. with superstar performance

By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
Posted Dec 19 2011 11:06AM

The last time Washington's basketball franchise had a league MVP was 1969. The last time anyone from Washington made first-team All-NBA was 1979. There have been only four All-Stars in the last 10 years, two All-Star starters in the last 20.

Those gaps span a lot of Presidential terms and political scandals. It's a factual way of pointing out the Bullets/Wizards have been superstar-starved for much of the last three decades.

That's almost hard to fathom for a franchise that's been around as long as Washington. But such is the case for the Wizards, who weren't even blessed with Michael Jordan for the front-nine of his career.

The lack of superstar depth can be blamed, more than anything else, for keeping Washington a mostly mild basketball town, although that could change soon. John Wall's campaign for stardom may begin to collect some voters.

Yes, he's only entering his second season. True, his shots are sometimes aimed to Annapolis. And there's no denying Wall can be a turnover machine and must prove beyond a doubt that he can avoid nagging and constant injuries that dogged him as a rookie.

But: You like what you see from a point guard who brings much to the court. His showmanship and leadership cannot be questioned, and as he gets more big-game experience, he could do for the Wizards what Gilbert Arenas failed to sustain.

Arenas was the last true star for the Wizards, pumping in points and raising basketball awareness in D.C., before knee issues leveled him. Oh, and there was that gun thing. In a weird way, the self-destruction of Arenas allowed the Wizards to grab Wall with the No. 1 overall pick (thanks, Mrs. Polin) and Washington didn't have to go years between potential stars, unlike before.

Wall became the third-youngest player in history to notch a triple-double last season (and came four steals from a quadruple-double) when he averaged 16.4 points and just over eight assists and worked his way through injuries. He'll need to show an improved outside shot (29 percent on threes) because defenses will stay on their heels and force Wall to prove himself with the jumper.

"My goal is to get better every year," said Wall. "Just come in and work hard and become a better player, the player I know I can be. I came to camp in better shape in order to avoid some of those injuries I had last year and I feel really good about myself. I think I can execute better, become a better leader and help the team make the playoffs."

Because he's young (only 21) and plays a demanding position, Wall will make his share of mistakes. Compound that with playing on a team filled with young players, the transition from standout rookie to All-Star regular might be tricky. Plenty of folks saw the same in Brandon Jennings as a rookie, and then came the Sophomore Swoon for the young Buck, who suffered through a variety of on-court issues and faltered in Milwaukee. But even if Wall's development takes a little longer than expected and requires more patience, Washington can wait. The Wizards have plenty of experience in that.

"I really think the guys here are ready to take the next step," Wall said. "We've been working hard. Our approach is to go into every game with the mindset of winning."

When the Wizards' lackluster history regarding All-Stars and MVPs were relayed to Wall, it was news to him. You can understand; Wes Unseld (MVP, '69) and Elvin Hayes (the last Washington All-NBA first-teamer, '79) were well before his time.

"I had no idea," he said. "But I do know the last time we made the playoffs and the last time we won a championship. That's what I'm looking to change."

The three-step plan

1. The Wizards were, in a word, a poor defensive team last season. And that was mostly due to being young. They are highlight-driven and motivated only occasionally to put the same effort on the other end. They were 24th out of 30 teams on D, which is unforgivable for such an athletic squad. Any dreams of the playoffs must begin with a better effort on defense.

2. It's been a while since Washington had a big man in the mold of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes and Chris Webber. So they're thinking they're due and that maybe JaVale McGee is next in line. Well, we do know McGee can dunk. And block a shot or two (2.4 last season). But putting it all together? The Wizards are being patient and giving him time, realizing that big men take longer. The good news is he can only get better by catching Wall's passes.

3. Jordan Crawford's first name may ring a bell, but the complete name remains a mystery. As in: Who does Jordan Crawford think he is, comparing himself to Michael Jordan? Yes, he did, and with a straight face. If nothing else, give the guy props for being bold if not delusional. But: The second-year guard does own some talent and if given the green light, will try to score on anybody. He was a steal from the Hawks, who took an unhappy Kirk Hinrich in return at the trade deadline.

Three points

1. This will be the season to determine whether the Wizards use the amnesty on Rashard Lewis. The feeling was Lewis is needed this year to be a calming and mature presence in the young locker room. But the Wizards might be in the free agent hunt next summer and therefore willing to pull the plug on Lewis' final year, which will pay $23 million in 2012-13. Washington needs to sign a free agent before extending John Wall in a few years.

2. Next summer's draft will be insanely talented and deep, because a handful of players decided to stay in school, citing the labor uncertainty. Therefore, it wouldn't be so bad if the Wizards fell into the lottery again. They still could use another blue-chipper before we can call them serious contenders.

3. The Wizards will be vastly improved in at least one area this season: uniforms. Seriously, the new look is amazing, the best to come along in years. Of course, these threads will have no bearing on how well the team plays. If that were the case, the Wizards would be title contenders.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

AT A GLANCE

LAST YEAR: 23-59, 5th in Southeast

FINISH: Missed playoffs

2010-11 Regular Season Standings

2010-11 TEAM LEADERS

Nick Young

17.4 PPG

Andray Blatche

8.2 RPG

John Wall

8.3 APG

2010-11 STATISTICS

  OFFENSE DEFENSE
PPG 97.3 104.7
RPG 41.3 43.9
APG 19.4 23.1
FG % 0.443 0.471
3PT % 0.332 0.373
FT % 0.745 0.761
  Complete 2010-11 Stats 
STARTING FIVE

JOHN WALL, POINT GUARD

16.4 PPG | 4.6 RPG | 8.3 APG

Last season's No. 1 pick hit the NBA with supreme quickness and athleticism. He had flashes of greatness, but shot selection and turnovers were an issue.

NICK YOUNG, SHOOTING GUARD

17.4 PPG | 2.7 RPG | 1.2 APG

A true scorer who could average 20 ppg alongside Wall, he also has some bad habits from enduring so much losing.

RASHARD LEWIS, SMALL FORWARD

11.7 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 2.0 APG

Lewis has seen his scoring output decline and last season injuries limited him to 57 games. He's best served nailing 3s on the perimeter, which he can still do at an elite level.

ANDRAY BLATCHE, POWER FORWARD

16.8 PPG | 8.2 RPG | 0.8 BPG

This lengthy inside-out player can hit perimeter jumpers and an occasional bucket in the post, too. Questions about his maturity and dedication to winning still dog him, though.

JAVALE MCGEE, CENTER

10.1 PPG | 8.0 RPG | 2.4 BPG

An athletic big man, he's made his mark as a strong finisher and shotblocker. He improved his post game as the season wound down, but has lots of room to grow.

RESERVES
NAMEHTWTPOSCOMMENT
Jordan Crawford6-4195GA Most Improved candidate ... if he improves shot selection.
Jan Vesely6-11240FWizards are high on a rookie who showed vast skills overseas.
Roger Mason, Jr.6-4195GHas solid 3-point range, but at 31 is probably past his prime.
 Complete Roster 
OFFSEASON MOVES

ADDED: F Jan Vesely, F Chris Singleton, G Shelvin Mack, F Larry Owens, C Ronny Turiaf

LOST:  G-F Josh Howard

MAN ON THE SPOT

FLIP SAUNDERS, COACH

Flip Saunders has the challenge of selling defense and maturity to young players who don't always listen. That can age a coach quickly, and in some cases, get a coach fired. Also, with a shortened season and few practice days between games, the challenge becomes greater. Saunders has another year left on his deal and the Wizards aren't the type to eat a coach's contract, so unless the season goes terribly wrong, Saunders will make it to spring. By then, the Wizards better be in the playoff hunt, not wrapping up another poor season a year after winning only 23 games.

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