Wall Stands Tall In Rookie Year

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Last summer John Wall was all alone as the top pick in the NBA Draft. Now just months into his life as a professional, Wall is trying to stand out in a crowded field of very talented point guards in the NBA.

Like one of his drives to the basket, Wall has jumped into the NBA fray with speed and confidence. Wall has a realistic chance to join Oscar Robertson, Mark Jackson and Damon Stoudamire as the only rookies in NBA history to average at least nine assists per game. Still, while the accolades have piled up for Wall, so too have the challenges.

“John has really had a go of it in his first year,” said Wizards head coach Flip Saunders. “There have not been as many quality point guards in the NBA at one time for all 30 teams as there are right now.”

After just one year of college at Kentucky, Wall has stepped right into the age of the point guard in the NBA. At Wall’s position the talent pool in the league is deep. He has had to deal with veteran All-Stars like the Suns’ Steve Nash, the Hornets’ Chris Paul, the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo, the Nets' Deron Williams, the Knicks’ Chauncey Billups and the Mavericks’ Jason Kidd.

Wall, who is the only rookie in the top ten in assists in the NBA, has also faced the pressure of matching up against an ever expanding cast of rising stars at the point guard position. The Bulls’ Derrick Rose, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, and the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley join Wall to form a new wave of talent set to break down NBA defenses.

In fact the point guard parade should also include the Nuggets’ Raymond Felton, the Raptors’ Jose Calderon, and still others who are just plain eager to excel when given the chance to go up against Wall. It is a reality of the NBA that there are really no “off” nights.

“Every guard is going to give me a challenge,” said Wall. “Every guard is going to try to put his statement down. It doesn't matter how old they are, or what draft pick they were, they are coming to leave a statement.”

“Every day is a new challenge,” Saunders added. “When you are young they go after you, and with a young point guard other teams go at him with pick-and-rolls. Point guards in college do not run many pick-and-rolls so they don’t learn how to run them and they don’t learn how to defend them. It’s another part of the learning process.”

“I'm giving the guards too much of comfort level," Wall pointed out. "That's something I've got to do better and that's pressuring the ball and not letting the guards feel comfortable because when I get the ball on the other end, they are pressuring me.”

Wall is handling the pressure and progressing, but he is under the microscope. It is part of the territory that goes with being a number one draft choice and with acceptance of a leadership role on a team in the early stages of a rebuilding process.

Not even two weeks into his NBA career, Wall recorded a triple-double with 19 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds on November 10th against the Houston Rockets. It was only the sixth game of the season, but with Wall’s early success came expectations.

They were expectations Wall was somehow able to meet and exceed. Wall is the first rookie in NBA history to have nine or more assists in 10 straight games. In addition, Wall’s 259 assists through the first 28 games of his career represents the second most assists in NBA history to begin a career behind Mark Jackson (264 in 1987-88).

As statistics and history collided, Wall’s rookie campaign was drawing comparisons to the start of Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson’s careers. Like the great ones before him, Wall has had to work through growing pains but they have all been within reason.

“John Wall is a great kid and he’s learning,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said after watching Wall compete against Steve Nash. “You can’t expect him to do it all his rookie year. Steve didn’t do it his rookie year and neither did Derrick Rose. It is a process you have to go through and he’s going to be a great player in this league for a lot of years to come.”

When Wall has had games with high turnover numbers, there have been questions about his development. Yet turnovers are part of the position Wall plays. Wall is playing in excess of 35 minutes per game and he has the ball. It should be noted among the NBA leaders in turnovers are names like Rondo and Nash.

“John is a push point guard right now,” Saunders noted. “He is not an execution point guard in the half court offense yet. That is something he is learning and getting better at it but that is not his main strength. It is a process.”

As he has navigated through his challenging first season, Wall has had fans at Verizon Center and on the road gasping with excitement at his ability to run the floor. While he is learning to play at more than one speed, Wall’s fast breaks and finishes have redefined the word ‘fast’. In addition Wall has stunned opponents with his ability to get back on defense in transition and block shots.

“He’s definitely one of the best point guards of the game already,” said Nets guard Deron Williams after Wall had a career-high 15 assists against him. “He’s one of the fastest, quickest guys. He’s a smart point guard. He knows how to get others involved.”

To be sure Wall knows how to get others involved. JaVale McGee and Nick Young can point to Wall’s ability to distribute along with their own hard work as reasons for their career numbers this season. Now Wall needs to develop a mid-range jump shot and continue strike the balance with being unselfish and also looking to score.

“When he gets to be a little more aggressive scoring the ball and making those shots he is going to be a handful,” said the Knicks Chauncey Billups.

“Ultimately every point guard is judged by their ability to carry a team down the stretch,” said Saunders. “It’s kind of like a quarterback in football. We don’t think that is going to happen in his rookie year, but he is going to get there.”