When you hear “I’m still a young player just developing,” that translates to Wall adjusting to his reality instead of having outsiders distort it for him.
On Wednesday night while going through, around and over the Knicks, he looked completely comfortable and played within himself, which might have been difficult considering two of the greatest point guards ever — an injured Jason Kidd on the Knicks’ bench and Magic Johnson, in town for a speaking engagement — were watching. Oh, and his college coach, John Calipari, who generously sends the NBA point guards now like the New York public-school system used to.
“Every guy, if they work, they’ll come a point where that light goes on,” Calipari said after the Knicks game. “Some of them it happens quicker some of them it happens a little later. Look at [the Clippers’] Eric Bledsoe. To play with veterans who can teach him and let him come at his pace. . . . Now all of sudden they’re saying Eric Bledsoe is the greatest thing.”
Wall didn’t have the luxury of learning the position over time. “John had a lot coming at him,” Calipari said. “To come to this franchise, to say, ‘We need you to carry it on your back,’ and the reason he wasn’t ready is because he was an average shooter, well, now it starts coming at you and you’re taking all the heat. You’re the No. 1 pick. You’re with a franchise building a step at a time. And people wanted it to be faster. He wanted it to be faster and he lost joy in the game.
“Today he had joy. You gotta play with joy and you control your joy. You control it. And you can’t let another player or coach, me, anybody else. You control it.”
Wall nodded when he was relayed Calipari’s thoughts. Of course it’s easier to smile when you win and there seems to be promise on the roster and in the standings where there once wasn’t any.
Mostly, though, he looks as content playing here as the Wizards are to have him. The only good thing about instant referendums on careers is they become outdated just as quickly.
He still needs a more reliable jump shot. But people are changing their minds again on Wall’s ability to be an elite NBA point guard when they probably should have just waited and let him grow into the position.
“He comes with me, he’s on a meteor and he goes here and he’s the No. 1 pick,” Calipari said of Wall’s single season at Kentucky. “Don’t you think he needed to get dinged up a little bit? It’s a humbling experience.
“Now, you’re hardened. You’re steel now. Now, okay, build on that. Now you got a base, you’re not sand anymore where the first thing that comes at you you’re not ready for, you cave. This kid will be fine.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.