Injury woes, team’s struggles dampen John Wall’s rising star

January 25, 2013
I don't have time to look back. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
I don’t have time to look back. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Wizards’ playoff chances were the first casualty wrought from John Wall’s left patella stress injury, with the team foundering in his absence to a 5-28 start. The second casualty – which Wall knew would occur the moment the injury was discovered – became official on Thursday, when Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving were both selected as Eastern Conference all-star reserves.

With Derrick Rose recovering from a torn ACL, Olympian Deron Williams foundering in the rubble of the Brooklyn Nets early struggles under former coach Avery Johnson and Joe Johnson also not having the same affect in Brooklyn as he had in Atlanta, there was an opening for some new backcourt talent to emerge and assume those slots.

Holiday and Irving were both considered Wall’s peers and primary young rivals last summer, when the trio was selected to train in Las Vegas with Team USA for the select team. As Wall recovered and rehabilitated for more than three months, Holiday and Irving cashed in on the experience while elevating their games – if not their teams – and their names. No matter what happens to their careers after this season, Holiday and Irving will always be recognized as all-star talents. Wall will have to hurdle a few more obstacles to get there.

Irving, the reigning rookie of the year and the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, is the only player in the East averaging at least 20 points and five assists but the Cavaliers having only two more wins than the Wizards.

Holiday, the 17th pick of the 2009 draft, became the youngest all-star in 76ers franchise history, averaging 19 points and nine assists for a 76ers team that is just 17-25.

The Wizards certainly wouldn’t be 9-31 if Wall had been around the entire season, but this year, coaches were apparently eager for some new all-star blood and didn’t use team success as an overriding factor.

Wall is averaging 14 points, 6.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds in just 25 minutes per game and probably would’ve had a shot if he had maintained similar production in 10 more minutes per game and the Wizards had six-to-10 more wins. They are currently 4-3 since he made his debut.

Wall retweeted a message from Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings, another young Eastern Conference point guard that congratulated Holiday and Indiana swingman Paul George, another select team participant, for making the team. Even though he has shown support, the reality has to be a little unsettling for Wall since he is only two months younger than Holiday and George, not him, is now the first player from the 2010 NBA draft to make the all-star team.

ESPN reminded Wall of how much perceptions of him have diminished when it failed to list him among the best 25 players under 25. Wall topped the list for the next 10, but found himself below Ryan Anderson, Thaddeus Young, Larry Sanders, Ed Davis and his former back court teammate at Kentucky, Eric Bledsoe, among others.

“I ain’t see it but I heard,” Wall said recently. “I was number 10 last year and now I’m not up there. I know I haven’t been playing. So be it. Like I said before, you win, people love you. If not, they don’t. I’ve been dealing with it since I’ve been here, people saying I haven’t improved and what not.”

Wall has tried not to focus on individual accolades or statistics during his comeback with the Wizards. He became the fastest player (134 games) in NBA history to reach 2,200 points, 1,000 assists, 600 rebounds, 200 steals and 90 blocks but he often gets overlooked, forgotten or disparaged.

“You get noticed by winning,” Wall said. “That’s all I want to do is come back and improve and I think I’m doing that and having a mature game after sitting out so long and know what’s going on. My team is winning now, and that’s all I care about.”

When asked if has now become underrated, Wall cracked a smile and laughed.

“Maybe so,” Wall said. “You never know. At first I was hyped then it goes away. There’s a lot of good point guards in this league and I’m just trying to keep getting better to be up there with the best.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · January 24, 2013