Nearly three months ago, before John Wall had returned to the Wizards and made the team worth watching again, Stan Van Gundy issued a startling critique of the franchise and the player.
“He’s certainly got talent, but I don’t know that even John Wall is a great player to build your franchise around,” the former coach and current analyst told ESPN 980 in late December. “There’s certainly nobody on that roster now you can build around….I don’t think John Wall’s good enough to be the guy that you build around.”
That was harsh stuff. He later backed away a tiny bit, telling CSN Washington that even all-stars aren’t always ‘franchise players.’ But he still maintained that “I don’t think [Wall] can be your best player, certainly not clearly your best player.”
And now, Wall has gone into some weird superpower mode — Wednesday night’s poor shooting notwithstanding — and Van Gundy is in full retreat. This week, ESPN 980′s Thom Loverro asked Van Gundy whether he is reevaluating the third-year guard in light of Wall’s fabulous March. (Audio here)
“You know what, I’m sort of sitting on the fence now,” Van Gundy said. “So yeah, I have reevaluated. I don’t think anybody has done more for a team this year than John Wall has. Look, they were 5-28 when he came back. Five and 28. The worst team in the league. And they’re 21-16 since then.
“And if you look at the numbers, they’re the ninth-best team in the league if you compare defensive numbers and offensive numbers — the ninth-best team in the league, fourth-best team in the East since he’s come back,” Van Gundy continued. “So this is a team that you could project, with John Wall, could be not only a playoff team but be sitting with home-court in the playoffs. And they were the worst team in the league before he came back. Nobody else has done that for a team.
“But I look at his numbers and he’s still not a real efficient guy. Forty-five percent shooting’s a little bit better, but for a point guard, 45 percent, and you don’t make many threes, that’s still not really efficient. Three-and-a-half turnovers a game. So there’s still some things to doubt, but his presence has been HUGE for that team, and they went from being a good defensive team, to a GREAT defensive team when he came back. They’re second in the league defensively since he came back.
“So I think that he has proven me wrong in terms of his value to a team. I’m still not sure he’s enough to build a team around, but if you could put a great offensive player around him, then possibly that could be enough to start pushing this team to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.”
And if you think that was a notable reevaluation, check this. In December, Van Gundy (accurately) said the then-Wizards were “just a bad basketball team.” And now he’s talking about home-court advantage in the playoffs? Let’s not get crazy, Loverro suggested.
“Listen, since John Wall’s come back, the only teams that have been better — you look at a per-possession basis — the only teams that have been better [in the East] have been Miami and Indiana,” Van Gundy said. “New York is just barely ahead of them as the third, and then Washington is a clear fourth. I don’t think [home court's] out of the realm of possibility.
“And I would say this: one of the most overlooked coaching jobs in the league this year was Randy Wittman, because he’s totally turned them around at the defensive end of the floor. Before this — I can tell you, having played against them — that was a team that couldn’t have cared less at the defensive end of the floor. I mean, just horrendous. And now I look at them, on the entire season, seventh in the league defensively, second since John Wall’s come back. Randy’s changed their whole mentality. They’re playing a lot differently, a lot harder, a lot tougher.
“I still don’t like all their pieces. I think Randy’s done a great job — I don’t know how they’re over .500 with just John Wall and Bradley Beal. The rest of their offense, not very impressive. But they’ve hung in there great. They just need a little bit more offensive talent.”
If the past month has you demanding a bit more enthusiastic praise, you could check out this from Grantland: “John Wall might be the best player in the NBA right now not named Kevin or LeBron. That should actually be an award: The M.V.P.N.N.K.L. Give that award to John Wall.”
That award should probably only go to players you could build a team around.