Even before the Washington Wizards drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010, John Wall had always kept track of his detractors, compiling a list of comments made about his flaws and shortcomings. Wall now keeps the list atop his locker stall at Verizon Center. He uses the criticism as fuel. This season, however, Wall has had to find other sources for motivation.
“I really ain’t got that much this year,” Wall said recently.
His improvement was recognized Thursday, when Eastern Conference coaches selected him as an all-star reserve for the first time. Wall found out he would play in the 63rd NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 16 in New Orleans about a half hour before the official announcement on TNT and celebrated with his friends over a dinner of crab and shrimp at his home.
“I’m kind of shell-shocked and happy for them to compliment myself. It’s amazing,” Wall said in a telephone interview, “It’s just a humbling experience and a dream come true for me and my family and the organization and my teammates, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to represent the league again. And then I’m going to try to win games and get into a playoff spot."
Wall becomes the first Wizards representative in the league’s annual showcase since Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler in 2008, when the game was last played in New Orleans. That was also the last year the Wizards were in the playoffs.
Wall finished a distant third in fan balloting for the starters behind Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving, though he arguably has been the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. He leads all point guards in the East in assists (8.5), rebounds (4.4) and double-doubles (16); ranks second in scoring (19.8) and steals (1.9); and third in player efficiency rating (19.9). He is shooting a career-high 32.5 percent from beyond the three-point line and has already made more three-pointers this season (53) than in his first three seasons combined (49).
One of just three players in the NBA averaging at least 19 points and eight assists — along with fellow all-stars Stephen Curry and Chris Paul — Wall also has led the Wizards to the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference at 22-23.
“He worked extremely hard this offseason, and it’s paying off. He’s been the best point guard in the East, and this is a very well-deserved honor,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. “One of the best things about John is his competitive nature. He wants to be really good. He wants to continue to improve, and above everything else he wants to win. When you’re the No. 1 pick, a lot of pressure comes with that, and John has handled it extremely well.
“We’ve always believed in John, from Day One,” Grunfeld said. “We felt that he was a player that you could build with and build around because he does have that ability to make people better.”
Wall has had to survive an arduous journey that has included injury and a difficult rebuilding effort. Despite those early struggles, the Wizards and Wall agreed to a five-year, $80 million extension last summer, and he has repaid the franchise’s commitment with the finest campaign of his career.
“I felt like I could’ve had this season last year. That’s how confident I felt,” said Wall, who missed the first 33 games last season with a stress injury in his left knee. “And the hard work I put in that summer and fully having a whole summer where I was healthy and watching a lot of film and being with my trainer and knowing what I could get better at, but then I was diagnosed with a knee injury, so that was the toughest part of rebuilding and coming back from that.”
Wall’s value to the Wizards goes beyond just his individual production. He is the only player on the team to start every game this season, and the Wizards are dramatically different when he is on the floor. They outscore opponents by three points per 48 minutes when he’s in the game but are outscored by 12 points per 48 minutes when he sits.
“He’s deserving,” teammate Martell Webster said. “He’s worked his butt off, and it’s time for all that hard work to pay off. Being able to play at a level for this many games shows the consistency. He has his eyes on a bigger picture, and that’s getting his team to a higher seed and into the playoffs. He’s going to have to continue to have that confidence and faith in his teammates in order to get there. It’s never going to be a one-man show. He’s got a great group around him, and he realizes it.”
Wall has earned the respect of several opposing coaches, who have to game-plan to stop him in order to slow down the Wizards.
“This is not the same John Wall that came into the league; he’s worked on his game,” Golden State Warriors Coach Mark Jackson said. “He’s playing with an edge, and he gives confidence to that basketball team. He deserves to be an all-star.”
There are still doubters. Wall was left off USA Basketball’s 28-man pool for international competitions through 2016, and he knows there is more for him to accomplish.
“Until I make the playoffs and start winning games, it’ll be the same way,” Wall said. “It’s just more motivation for me. All the things I’ve been through in my life and tough times and people underestimating me. I’m going to use everything as motivation and step up to the challenge. I’m one of those guys that likes to compete, and I will take on any challenge that anybody gives me.”
Wall sometimes takes his list home to read while lying in bed. He doesn’t expect that to change with his latest accolade. “Never get satisfied,” he said. “I’m still just me. John Wall — a person that’s never been over .500 since his first time in the league and hasn’t won a playoff game yet because I’ve never made it. And I respect that. There’s nothing you can say about that, and that’s the way it should be.”