Wall won most valuable player honors at the Rookie Challenge at Staples Center as he set a record with 22 assists and did the dance not once, but three times, celebrating the final time after being on the receiving end of an alley-oop dunk that secured the win. The stellar performance during All-Star Weekend — on a night when he upstaged Los Angeles Clippers rookie Blake Griffin in his own building — was a perfect example of what has come to define Wall in his infant stages as a professional basketball player: his eagerness to put on a show and to make those around him happy.
Coach Flip Saunders often described Wall last season as a “pleaser,” and the No. 1 overall pick supported that assessment — whether it was by being the only player to rank in the top 10 in assists despite playing the entire season on a team that ranked in the bottom third in both scoring and field goal percentage, or how he waited in the locker room to answer two rounds of questions from reporters on the night he was ejected for throwing a closed fist and forearm at Miami Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
“He wants to be great and he wants to please everyone,” Saunders said of Wall.
‘The downfall for me’
That quality helped Wall transform his life from that of a trouble-maker to a purpose-driven, standout basketball player. But it may have also hampered him during a season in which he posted one of the best statistical seasons ever for a rookie point guard — averaging 16.4 points, 8.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds — though he admittedly played hurt for the final four months.
If he could’ve done anything differently last season, Wall said he would’ve taken his time before coming back from a foot injury he claims “was the downfall for me.” Wall sprained his left foot while contesting a jumper by Chicago’s Derrick Rose on Nov. 13, but he returned after missing just four games, only to suffer a more debilitating bone bruise in his right knee in his first game back. When asked why he rushed back from his initial injury, Wall said, “I didn’t want to disappoint anybody.”
Wall understood the immense pressures that came with being the top choice, and he felt he had an obligation to the franchise and its fans to be a quick-fix savior and help it return to the playoffs. He was encouraged by how the Wizards (23-59) finished the regular season, winning five of their last eight games, but disappointed that he couldn’t rescue the organization in his first season.
“It was every bit of who John is, was and will be, to come in and turn this thing around in a year. He absolutely had every intention of being in the playoffs and it didn’t work out. So from that standpoint, it was definitely frustrating,” business manager and longtime mentor Brian Clifton said in a telephone interview. “It wasn’t this cakewalk of an existence and he just walked in and it was perfect. He was forced to realize, as exceptional as he is, he’s human and he does have limitations.”