Will John Wall Ever Join NBA's Elite Point Guard Ranks?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 1, 2013

February 4, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (center) dribbles the ball as Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) defends in the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall has all of the physical tools needed to ascend up the NBA's superstar rankings.

The first thing that catches a scout's eye is his other-worldly quickness. That is if their eyes can keep up to the speedy University of Kentucky product.

During his pre-draft workouts, Wall clocked in with a blazing 3/4 court sprint time of 3.14 seconds (according to draftexpress.com). That put him within one-tenth of a second of former MVP (and fellow John Calipari-coached speedster) Derrick Rose, who the scouting website said "might actually be the most athletic point guard" it had ever evaluated.

Next up is Wall's ideal size for the position. Listed at 6'4", 195-lbs., he has the perfect length to complement his instinctive feel for snatching loose dribbles or roaming through passing lanes.

A natural source of his elite quickness is his explosive athleticism. He's got the springs (and creativity) that basketball junkies have been dying to see in the Slam Dunk contest for years.

Of course, there's more to being an elite point guard than just meeting the physical demands. Otherwise, a player like Chicago Bulls backup Nate Robinson would be an All-Star staple, not a guy who nearly lost his NBA career two years ago.

Wall's got some of the necessary elements already.

He was one of the rare athletic specimens playing the position that actually entered the league labeled as a "natural" point guard. Aran Smith of scouting site nbadraft.net called him a "true floor general, not just an athlete masquerading as a point" just months before the Wizards made him the first overall selection of the 2010 NBA draft.

His ability to spot open teammates through the slightest of creases at breakneck speeds even inspired ESPN's "Sports Science" to test the young man's vision before he ever stepped foot on an NBA court.

Yet even Wall's near-superhuman athleticism and vision don't make up all of the necessary ingredients of a truly elite point guard.

There's a mental aspect to the position. The one tasked with deciding when to call his own number and when to defer to teammates. Or knowing when his vision (or a lurking defender) is deceiving him.

Combine that with an unreliable jump shot, and it's obvious what Wall needs to improve to take the next step in his young career.

An injured knee cost the third-year player the first two-plus months of the 2012-13 season. The Wizards suffered without him, opening the season with a 12-game losing streak and winning just five of the 33 games that he missed.

When he returned to action, the Wizards started showing signs of life. 

They won in both of his first two games of the season (against the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic), and had six victories to show for his first nine games.

On the season, Washington is 13-10 in games that Wall has played. But lately, any wins they've found have come in spite of his presence, not because of it.

In the five games after the All-Star break, he's looked more like a fringe starter than a potential cornerstone piece.

He's averaging just 10.2 points per game on an atrocious 29.6 field-goal percentage. His assists haven't abandoned his stat sheet (7.6 per game), but he's cancelled out more than half of them with careless turnovers (4.6 per game, via basketball-reference.com).

At times, he looks like a player built to dominate the playgrounds of Anytown, USA. A raw package of athletic ability without a great sense of how to play the game. He's got a wide array of awe-inspiring moves, but dribbles the ball recklessly high. He makes the impossible plays look easy and the easy ones...well, sometimes impossible.

What's worse is the should-be leader has started sounding like a disgruntled employee. When Wizards coach Randy Wittman went with backup A.J. Price over Wall for most of the fourth quarter in the team's 96-95 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 27, the coach said after the game that unnamed players were complaining about playing time while on the bench (according to Joseph White of the Associated Press, via The Washington Times).

After the game, Wall offered no apologies for his (alleged) behavior. Rather he unleashed a series of excuses for the seven turnovers he committed in a shade over 24 minutes of work.

From White: “I think it was great passes. I just think some of my teammates (didn’t) catch them, and some of them got tipped away,” he said following the game, “so just got to deal with it.”

Considering his shooting woes have yet to be resolved (he's shooting just 41-of-131, 31.3 percent, from outside the paint this season, via nba.com/stats) and his already poor decision-making has only gotten worse this year (career-high 20.3 turnover percentage), Wall can ill afford to regress in the leadership department.

At this point, his career trajectory lies somewhere between a really good NBA starter to a streaky spark plug best suited for a reserve role.

He's nowhere close to elite at this stage of his career, and looks as though he might be heading further away from the position's greats.

The Wizards know all too well the dangers of missing on a first-round pick (Kwame Brown, thank you very much, Mr. Jordan), and it's far too early to label him as a bust. If anything, his performance to date (career 16.0 points and 8.1 assists per game) should have already freed him from that unsavory realm.

But there's never going to be more than a handful of elites in the league at any given time. That's nothing more than a regurgitation of the word's definition.

It's tough to see Wall ever reaching that level.

Even if the guy looks like a coach's dream, a point guard Adonis.


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