Don’t even bother with a bar room debate on who’s the best guard in the history of the Bullets/Wizards franchise. Earl Monroe ends the discussion. He was an all star in two of his four seasons with the Bullets and is considered to be one of the great guards in the history of the NBA. It’s a shame that a contract dispute drove him out of town after he helped take the Bullets to the NBA Finals in 1971.
After “Earl the Pearl”, however, picking the second best Bullets/Wizards guard is worth a look. Let’s first throw out the greats that came here at the end of their careers like Dave Bing, Mitch Richmond and even Michael Jordan. Their best years were not in Bullets/Wizards uniforms. Rod Strickland was considered one of the top point guards in the league, even leading the NBA in assists during the 1997-98 season, but he never made an All Star Game and had difficulty with things like alarm clocks and schedules. Even somebody who answered to the name, God can’t be included. God Shammgod, who was briefly with the Wizards in the 90’s, had an interesting name, but not much of a game.
I think it comes down to three names; Phil Chenier, who starred for the Bullets in the 1970’s, Gilbert Arenas, who was quirky to say the least, but was a star for the Wizards last decade and the guy we’re watching now – John Wall. Chenier was a shooting guard, who played without the 3-point line most of his career. He made the All-Star team three times over a four-year period between 1973 and 1977. Back problems shortened his career, but Chenier was a great player and worthy of having his number 45 hung from the rafters at the Verizon Center. I don’t know what’s taking so long for that to happen. And Arenas for all his destructive behavior, including the guns in the locker room incident, was a star. He was an all star three straight years between 2004 and 2007. He’s remembered more for his antics and the mistake of the big contract, but on the court, Arenas was great.
That brings us to Wall, who was voted as a starter in this week’s All-Star Game and played well, scoring 19 points with seven assists and three rebounds. But Wall can’t seem to get into the same conversation that Chenier and Arenas did in their days. “Often-criticized and injury-riddled” was a description hung on him in his first couple of years in the league and he can’t seem to shake it. Never mind that he’s an MVP candidate this season on a team that will make it back to the playoffs.
So why doesn’t Wall get his due?
Dan Steinberg tackled that last week in the Washington Post. He quoted several talking heads including ESPN’s Stephen A Smith, a supposed basketball insider. Stephen A described Wall as, “a scoring point guard,” failing to note that he leads the NBA in assists. But Steinberg also quoted Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who does know the game and has coached against Wall. SVG says, “I don’t think John Wall’s good enough to be the guy that you build around. I haven’t seen any indication that John Wall is a great decision maker.”
Van Gundy’s comment is troubling, but could even an NBA coach be guilty of what so many others are – judging Wall on perception rather than reality? What you commonly hear about Wall is, “He’s dramatically improved his shooting and all-around game.” It’s true that his shooting percentage has gone from 42% as a rookie to nearly 50% this year. He was a terrible 3-point shooter early on. Wall’s second year he attempted 42 from behind the arc and made only three. Three! Last year he shot 35% on three’s. Steph Curry, the best in the business shot 42%. And this year while he is leading the league in assists at 10.1 per game, it’s less than two more a game than he had as a rookie. It’s not like Wall was headed for Bust-ville as rookie when averaged 16.4 ppg and 8.3 assists. He was good when he came here and continues to get better.
How is it that the number one overall pick of the 2010 draft, with now two All Star Games on his resume, still hasn’t emerged from the cloud some want to hang over him?
The best answer probably comes from Matt Jones, the founder of Kentucky Sports Radio, who tells Steinberg he believes that Wall’s association with his former coach John Calipari and the one-and-done phenomenon made critics predisposed to find fault in his game. I would add that a less than effervescent personality hasn’t helped his image either.
But don’t be fooled by the critics, John Wall may be already the second best guard in franchise history. And if he isn’t, he’s well on his way to getting there.