Wizards’ John Wall is on verge of an all-star milestone


Washington’s John Wall, driving on Detroit’s Brandon Jennings during the Wizards’ 106-99 road victory on Dec 30, steadily has been turning into a productive point guard capable of lifting the play of those around him. (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports)
Mike Wise
Columnist January 2

In a few weeks, after the final votes are tabulated, John Wall will not be voted an NBA all-star by the fans. He will have to wait for the coaches to select him to the Eastern Conference team to become the Washington Wizards’ first representative since 2008.

“No, it doesn’t upset me,” the 23-year-old point guard said earlier this week. “It’s what the fans vote for. Sometimes it gets into politics and things like that. You want to be an all-star, you want to be a good point guard in this league, you’ve got to win games.”

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Bingo.

He doesn’t have a sneaker-apparel machine behind his candidacy in a popularity contest in which Kobe Bryant, who has played all of six games before he was injured, leads the voting. His games are on national television only a few times a year.

But he has his team flirting with .500 for the first time since his arrival in 2010. He has the body of work, the numbers and the maturity to warrant his first selection. Beyond Kyrie Irving, Wall also has an easier path in the East because Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are out with injuries and the other competition includes Deron Williams, who is regressing every day.

Most of all, Wall has the one necessary ingredient now to be thought of as a bona fide all-star: He makes his teammates better. He’s not just out to get 30 every night; some nights 16 assists and 10 points will do.

Yes, he has scored more than 20 points in the past eight games, and he’s making his jump shot at a much more proficient rate than in the past. But he’s third in the league in assists. He’s also No. 2 in an advanced statistical category that shouldn’t be overlooked: the secondary assist, the play that leads to points on the floor. No. 1 is Chris Paul, right now the league’s preeminent point guard.

The beauty of Paul’s game is that he scores when he needs to score and becomes a distributor and gets his teammates involved when that’s the task at hand. Paul is a chameleon, depending on the kind of point guard needed at a particular juncture of a game. That’s more of the player Wall is becoming.

“I still think with me, it’s my fourth year; it doesn’t matter if I average 30,” Wall said. “They might talk about it: ‘He’s on a hot streak. He’s averaging 30. But they still can’t win.’ That’s something I try to find a way to win those games. And if I’m scoring, 20 or 15 points, just try to find a way to win the game for my team.”

Becoming an all-star is not a career rite of passage, of course, even for point guards. Nick Van Exel and B.J. Armstrong were all-stars. Derek Harper, the glue that held every good team he was on together, somehow was never named or voted in.

But for Wall, being named to this year’s team would be special. After all, the knock on the No. 1 pick from 2010 was that he always played too fast and was hurt too often to be included among the elite point guards on a consistent basis.

That’s changing, just as the Wizards’ fortunes are changing.

Wall is going to become the franchise’s first all-star since Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler in 2008. Jamison, coincidentally, is the last Wizard to score 20-plus points in eight straight games during the 2008-2009 season.

The more you see 2008-09 written in relation to the Wizards, the more you realize it is a permanent year of demarcation in team history, as if it should read “2008 B.G.G. — Before Gilbert and Guns.”

Wall was the new blood that would change those depressing days. And though it has taken almost a full four years, his patience and resolve have paid off.

“It’s time for everything around here, for everything to change,” he said. “For us to start winning. One of my goals was to be an all-star and do those types of things, but the main thing is just win. If you’re not winning around here, the culture is no fun. The fans not really into it like they want to be. The team kind of feels down.

“But we’re doing a great job of that. We’ve got to find a way to, if we get back to .500 [Friday against Toronto]. We’ve got to find a way to get back and keep going forward and try to win a couple of games in a row.”

As evidenced by the way the Wizards are playing at home lately, including Wednesday’s malodorous loss to the Mavericks, they still have some real room for growth. But no one has showed them the way more than Wall, who is finding his groove and his game at the exact time some decent teammates have been put around him to thrive.

In a month, barring some unforeseen circumstance, he will be named to the Eastern Conference all-star team in New Orleans, becoming Washington’s first representative in six years.

He’s deserving, and so is this it’s-about-time franchise.

“The main thing for me is just try to win,” he said. “I was happy to see .500. Haven’t seen anything close to that since I been here, in my three years. But we know we’re not satisfied and we’re not comfortable where we’re at. We just got to find a way to keep winning these tough games down the stretch.”

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

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