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Posted at 2:58 PM ET, 02/ 9/2011

One true building block

By Kevin Broom

Lemme see — I’ve written that the Wizards should trade Andray Blatche and avoid major investment in Nick Young. Let’s turn the focus to a positive — the development of the team’s one true franchise bedrock: John Wall.

Despite injury struggles, a balky jumper, and inconsistent defense, Wall has so far produced a solid rookie season that suggests he’s a player the team can build around. Wall’s blazing speed and aggressiveness with the ball make him a one-man fastbreak that consistently worries the opposition. His ability to get to the rim in the open court — despite multiple opponents getting back in an effort to cut him off — is in the upper echelon of the league’s point guards.

Only six players since 1979-80 posted rookie seasons comparable to Wall’s play so far this season (at least 1,500 total minutes with a minimum of 13 points, 8.0 assists, and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes).

But, before we delve into who’s on the list, consider who’s not.  Magic Johnson missed because of assists, believe it or not. John Stockton didn’t score enough (he was a backup for his first three seasons). Gary Payton started as a rookie, but didn’t reach Wall’s scoring level until his third season. Steve Nash was buried on the bench. Deron Williams fell short in points, assists and steals. Chris Paul missed the assists benchmark.

I’m not arguing that Wall will be a better pro than Magic or Stockton or Payton, but as Wizards owner Ted Leonsis recently noted in his blog, what he’s doing as a rookie is special. Here’s the list of rookies who reached Wall’s level of play:

Isiah Thomas — In 13 seasons with the Pistons, Thomas led Detroit deep into the playoffs several times, ultimately winning two championships. Thomas played in a dozen All-Star games (winning the game’s MVP award twice), and was All-NBA five times (including first team All-NBA three times).

Kevin Johnson — Backed up Mark Price for the first part of his rookie season in Cleveland, then got traded to Phoenix where he blossomed. KJ won the league’s most improved player award in his second season, was a three-time All-Star and was All-NBA five times.

Tim Hardaway — A short guy, but man could he play. Hardway was the T in the famous TMC lineup in Golden State (along with Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond). He ran the show for a superb Miami Heat team that couldn’t quite get past Jordan’s Bulls. Hardaway played in five All-Star games and was All-NBA five times.

Johnny Moore — After a promising start (he led the league in assists in his second season), Moore’s career was hampered by injuries. He still put together a solid nine-year career with the Spurs.

Sherman Douglas — Not a good comparison because Douglas was short and struggled with his weight. Still, Douglas played a dozen years, mostly as a starter, and was a solid player throughout his career.

Gary Grant — Perhaps overlooked because he played for the Clippers when he was at his best, Grant nonetheless was a solid, but unspectacular PG for 13 years. His biggest contributions were on the defensive end, where he generated a solid number of steals.

Of the players who started off similar to Wall, three turned into high-quality players, and the others were at least useful pros for multiple seasons. Of course, the Wizards want something more like KJ or Isiah — not Douglas or Grant. To become an elite PG, Wall will need to get better in three specific areas:

First, he must improve his jump shot. So far this season, he has an effective field goal percentage of just 33.3 percent on all shots that aren’t layups or dunks. His poor shooting hinders his effectiveness in the screen-and-roll and limits his ability to penetrate in half-court settings.

Second, he must reduce his turnovers (3.6 per 36 minutes). Some turnovers are an inevitable result of trying to make plays, but too many of Wall’s are simply from reckless or careless plays.

Third, he must improve his defensive focus. For someone of his physical abilities, he gets beat off the dribble too frequently and he sometimes falls asleep in weakside defense.

The bright side is that each of these are fixable flaws. The turnovers will come down as Wall matures and learns the league. The defensive focus will also get better as he gains experience. Both of these are common rookie maladies.

The jumper will take focused effort during the offseason, but Wall seems to be willing to work. Don’t be surprised to read a story during next year’s training camp about Wall doing thousand-makes shooting workouts during the offseason.

The Wizards will have to decide what pieces to assemble around Wall to build a winner, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, it’s enough to know that one building block is already in place.

By Kevin Broom  | February 9, 2011; 2:58 PM ET
Categories:  Kevin Broom, Wizards  | Tags:  Kevin Broom, Wizards  
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One addition to the story -- I asked APBRmetrics analyst Mike Goodman to look at Wall through his Euclidian Similizer to generate players similar to Wall. Here's the list in order of most similar seasons (note -- everyone on this list had a season very similar to what Wall is doing this year):

Erick Murdock 1995
Rod Strickland 2000
Jamaal Tinsley 2006
Andre Miller 2006
Sleepy Floyd 1989
Brent Barry 2004
Brian Shaw 1991
Kenny Anderson 1993
Mike Bibby 2000
Terry Porter 1987
Tim Hardaway 1990
Darrell Armstrong 1998
Robert Pack 1995

Note that this list is not limited to rookies.

Posted by: KevinBroom | February 9, 2011 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Great article. First time I have read this reporter and hope to see more. Insightful for a change with apparently some knowledge of the game. I hope his optimism on Wall is justified and it may well be. At times he seems to play out of control (its easy to forget he would be a sophmore in college) but he is high motor, high motivation and will add to his game.

Posted by: andypitt | February 10, 2011 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Wall is definitely the building block.

Not sure exactly what a "major investment" entails with Young, but I don't entirely buy the argument either that he's fools gold. He may only do one thing well on offense, but he does that one thing really well, and it compliments what Wall is doing. The Wizards might be able to do better if they get lucky in the next couple drafts, or if they're willing to spend money in free agency, but they could also do much, much worse. Guess a lot depends on what the terms of the contract are.

Posted by: JPRS | February 10, 2011 9:15 AM | Report abuse

His quickness and ball handling remind me of Iverson. Right now, he's like Iverson w/o a jump shot! He's already a better assist man and better on the break then Iverson .. Add a midrange jumper and he could compete for a scoring title if he wanted to.

Defense for him is the biggest question mark. Add that AND a jumper to his game and he's in Magic Johnson territory (numbers wise at least).

Posted by: boblas | February 10, 2011 9:52 AM | Report abuse

not the best company in the world,

Posted by: mrhney03 | February 10, 2011 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I think Wall has struggled some next to Nick Young this season. He's done his job, got the ball to Nick in his spots, but his own game seems to suffer a little in the process.

Posted by: Samson151 | February 10, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

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