It’s been nine days since John Wall’s rookie season was completed and it was filled with several thrills, even though he played hurt the last few months. He opened up about some of his frustrations with playing through injuries as a rookie, and believes that he wouldn’t put up better numbers had he waited before coming back from a sprained left foot suffered in mid-November.
But there is no doubt that Wall justified his selection as the No. 1 overall pick last June as he averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds in 69 games. Those numbers are pretty close to what I predicted for Wall before the season opener in Orlando. Based on the first-year production of Chris Paul, Steve Francis, Allen Iverson and Derrick Rose — the past four point guards to win rookie of the year honors — I wrote that Wall would “average about 16.5 points, 7.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds.”
Wall had hoped to lead the team to the playoffs and average 10 assists a game as a rookie, but he had to settle for just 23 wins and 8.3 assists, which was still an impressive number considering the Wizards couldn’t score or shoot particularly well. With the Wizards failing to leave the bottom of the Southeast Division standings, and claiming their third consecutive lottery appearance, Wall’s individual accomplishments were often overlooked.
But when asked last week about the emotions he experienced from his record-setting opening loss in Orlando to his season finale in Cleveland, Wall said, “The first day I was nervous. I was nervous being on TNT. There were so many expectations of people that wanted to watch me play, and I think had an okay game, not my best game, but I came out the next game and played better. [In Cleveland], I was kind of down for all your season ended that quick. It went by fast, and that shows as a competitive person, I am and my teammates and our coaching staff that next year we want to be [in the playoffs]. That’s our goal so all of us have to work and we just gotta get better and want to be in the playoffs next year.”
Notice how he quickly turned talked about his personal experience into a comment about team goals?
Blake Griffin, the 2009 No. 1 overall pick, will wind up winning the rookie of the year award after making the all-star team in his first season and turning the Los Angeles Clippers into a marquee attraction. But Coach Flip Saunders said toward the end of the season that Wall would’ve been the runaway choice had Griffin played last season. Wall averaged more points than Paul, more assists than Paul, Francis, Iverson and Rose, and more rebounds than Rose and Iverson. And, as Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld pointed out in his end-of-year news conference, Wall put up impressive numbers after returning from all-star weekend in Los Angeles, where he won MVP of the Rookie Challenge. In his final 27 games, Wall averaged 18.5 points, 7.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds.
“Obviously John Wall showed this year that he’s a legitimate player. He improved as the season went along. He started off well, then had some injuries and had to come back from that,” Grunfeld said. “He played with a lot of intensity and he showed a lot of leadership for a player his age.”