Wizards’ John Wall: ‘I rank myself the best’ point guard in the NBA
In what amounts to a feast for the easily outraged and totally literal, John Wall has nominated himself as the best point guard in the NBA.
Speaking during a radio interview with Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix on the Dan Patrick Show, the Wizards’ guard didn’t hesitate when asked where he ranks at his position.
“I rank myself the best,” Wall said. “Yeah, I rank myself the best.”
Asked whether that was a current or a forward-looking assessment, Wall seemed to indicate that it was both.
“Just basing it on what I can do in the future,” he said. “What I feel like I have at stake ahead of me. … I feel like I always can improve. There’s a lot of talented point guards out there, but I feel like I can hold my own.”
Wall, 22, the first pick in the 2010 draft, expressed a similar, albeit a bit softer, sentiment in July, when asked to compare himself to Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard and the other young point guards at a USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas.
“I think point guard is the best position in the league. You’re going against the best wherever you go,” Wall told SI.com. “I feel like when I’m healthy, I’m right there with them. I put myself in the category.”
Providing background to evaluate these remarks will inevitably feel like a takedown. Wall has never been selected to an All-Star Game or been recognized as an All-NBA performer. He has never averaged 20 points per game or dished 10 assists per game. He played all 66 games of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and made just three three-pointers (!). That year, he also led the league in turnovers. He’s never played for a team that’s won 36 percent of its games and he has zero postseason games under his belt, let alone a championship ring.
Is Wall’s “I rank myself the best” point guard the NBA’s least-defensible self-promotion since Monta Ellis put himself in the “same category” with Dwyane Wade? Yeah, probably, although Derrick Rose’s calling himself the best player in the NBA (LeBron James included) after missing last season with a knee injury is right there, too.
In March, roughly six weeks after Wall returned from a knee injury, The Point Forward ranked the NBA’s top 10 point guards, and he was not included. Wall finished the season with a flourish, leading the Wizards to a 24-25 record when he was on the court and averaging a career-high 18.5 points while shooting a career-best 44.1 percent. His PER of 20.9 ranked No. 6 among point guards, and Wall was recently rewarded with a five-year, $80 million contract extension.
Did Wall’s strong finish meaningfully bump him up the point guard standings? The Point Forward’s top 10 from March, in order: Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Rose, Kyrie Irving, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry, Deron Williams, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson. Who on that list does Wall supplant now? All 10 have either made the All-Star Game or competed in the playoffs, and Wall’s résumé really doesn’t hold up against any of those names, except perhaps Holiday and Lawson if you’re feeling generous. There are a few others on the outskirts of the top 10 conversation that deserve name-checks: Mike Conley and Lillard, in particular.
In short, Wall can refer to himself as an “above-average starting point guard” without setting off the fact-checker alarms. Anything more optimistic than that is much dicier, at least for now. Is he capable of climbing into the back half of the top 10 with a strong season? Of course. Will things look different in, say, five years when Wall is 27 and a number of the names on that list have turned the 30 corner? For sure. But he’ll still be contending with Westbrook, Rose, Irving and Curry, among others, for the No. 1 spot. It’s somewhat plausible to imagine a future world where Wall is the best point guard on the planet, but it would require a lot of improvement from Wall and the convergence of numerous external factors (health of other players, make-up of their teams, etc.).
So if he’s either completely wrong, way early, or both, what can we take from Wall’s statements? He, along with Rose and others, seems to have taken to publicly expressing extraordinarily high internal expectations as a way to keep focus. Talking the talk, as they say, requires walking the walk, or it all sounds foolish. This pricking at one’s own pride is just another method of goal-setting, even if it comes at the expense of their competitors, and it’s worth noting that Rose garnered guffaws in 2010 when he tossed his own name out as an MVP candidate before going on to win the award.
Indeed, Wall has never been known as a player who talks just to talk, or to maliciously slight others. Queried by Mannix as to who were the league’s toughest covers at the point guard position, he named Chicago’s Rose and Oklahoma City’s Westbrook and spoke with the kind of open praise you would expect.
“Toughest two is probably Derrick and Russell,” he said. “I feel like they can score any time. That’s what they do for their team. They can break a play any time and they’re very explosive.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that those are the two names that come to mind for Wall. His skills — speed, quickness, leaping ability, instincts, reflexes — tend more toward theirs rather than Paul’s or Parker’s at this point. If he is serious about becoming the league’s best point guard, those are his two best, most realistic models.
Wall’s comments will inevitably be referenced whenever he has a six-turnover game, or if his perimeter shooting struggles continue, or if the Wizards aren’t able to make the leap out of the lottery this season. That’s fine, and surely Wall is aware of that possibility and comfortable with the heat that will accompany his shortcomings.
More important, Wall seems to understand the bigger picture. Again, returning to his examples, Rose and Westbrook achieved significant success in the playoffs at a young age: Rose took the Bulls to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals while Westbrook helped the Thunder to the 2011 Western Conference finals and the 2012 NBA Finals. Chicago and Oklahoma City are among the top championship contenders for 2013-14, and their point guards, both coming off of knee injuries, are major reasons why. That type of team-wide success — and not individual accolades — was central to Wall’s remarks after he signed his extension.
“I am both proud and humbled by the belief that the Wizards’ organization, the fans and my teammates have shown in me since I arrived here three years ago,” he said. “I can promise all of them that I will repay that belief by representing the city of Washington and doing everything I can to get this team back where it belongs.”
Now that’s the type of bold declaration with which everyone should be able to agree.