Michael Wilbon: Maybe John Wall will save the Wizards

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By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; 11:41 AM

I've been operating under the impression that John Wall is a nice player, but not a special one, not a kid who makes you think your ship has come in because you just won the NBA draft lottery.

I thought that winning the right to draft Kentucky's Wall was like winning $500 in the lottery, not the Super Duper Mega Lottery where you never have to work again a day in your life.

I was convinced, in fact, the Washington Wizards, the franchise with the worst luck in the history of professional sports in America, would win the lottery Tuesday night because there was no college player to lose your mind over. No Magic Johnson, no Hakeem Olajuwon, no David Robinson or Patrick Ewing, no Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, no LeBron James ... not even a Yao Ming or James Worthy. I was thinking that this, 2010, simply wasn't the time to get all worked up over winning the lottery if Wall was the Guy.

And then somebody who knows more about basketball than anybody of his generation shook some sense into me. Magic himself, sensing I was undervaluing what had just happened for the Wizards, said: "No, no, no, no! The Wizards have got to take John Wall. They must take this kid.

"When he's got the ball in his hands, he causes excitement. You can always get an Evan Turner. He's a very, very good player. But there will be an Evan Turner in next year's draft. The game has changed. ... There are no more huge big men you have to stop, no back-to-the-basket guys. The big guys are all shooting fadeaways and playing 15 feet from the basket.

"More than ever you have to start with a really good point guard. Look at what Utah does with Deron Williams, New Orleans with Chris Paul, Chicago with Derrick Rose, Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook. ... Look at how Rajon Rondo has come along with Boston.

"John Wall's got a little special in him. You can't pass on him. Look at Atlanta; they passed on Chris Paul and Deron Williams and are still trying to recover from that mistake. The last two rookies of the year [Rose and Tyreke Evans] are point guards. Wall has that same type of ability, lived up to the same level of hype as Rose did in college. You do it at Kentucky, you're playing on the biggest stage in college basketball every night, against top competition every night. You know what Wall does now as well as anybody in the league? Gets it off the glass and goes. I mean, right now he does that as well as anybody in the league."

I'm not about to argue with Earvin Johnson on the subject of point guards. He's the final word on point guards, on who can play and who cannot, on the importance of the position -- and most important to John Wall -- how much more important the position has become in the last 10 years as Big Men become big men. In that way the NBA has become more like college basketball. Guards rule. Mostly point guards.

Magic says he wouldn't even automatically dump Gilbert Arenas. "I like a guy with something to prove," he said, "a guy desperate to prove he's still one of the top players and that he can avoid trouble. And Gilbert has exactly that to prove."

If Magic turns out to be right, Tuesday night, May 18, 2010, will have been an enormous night for the Washington Wizards. This isn't like the Washington Redskins making noise in the offseason. One player in basketball makes that big a difference, both on the court and in energizing the fan base. And goodness knows the Wizards needed something good to happen to them. Something, anything.

If ever it was going to happen, how appropriate on the draft lottery after the death of Abe Pollin? How gracious of Ted Leonsis to wait in the wings while Irene Pollin, wearing her late husband's 1978 Bullets NBA championship ring, officially represented the club. Maybe it's Leonsis, with two overall No. 1 picks to his credit -- one in the NHL, one in the NBA -- who's going to change the luck of the franchise.

No matter, winning the lottery and the right to draft John Wall isn't a nice thing for the Wizards, it's an enormous thing. The way you go from awful to great in the NBA, with few exceptions, is to win the lottery.

If Wall's what Magic and most everybody else thinks he will be, it would help attract Carmelo Anthony with all that salary cap money the Wizards could still have next summer. Or, dare I say it, Kevin Durant. All-stars want to play with all-stars and if you have one it's easier to get another one. That's why the New Jersey Nets were so excited about the chance to draft Wall because it figured that LeBron James wanted to play with him. The Nets, all of a sudden, aren't so attractive. The third overall pick? I like Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors and Syracuse's Wesley Johnson more than Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins, a lot more, actually. But they're not point guards and it wouldn't seem they are players who would make LeBron say, "Yep, I gotta play with him."

This doesn't mean LeBron's going to want to play with Wall in D.C., either. The Wizards aren't at that point yet; they haven't evolved enough to be invited to the big party just yet. But winning the lottery and drafting John Wall appears to be a step toward the door.

Magic Johnson had one more thing to report about Wall before we turned our attention on the ESPN set to the Orlando-Boston Game 2: "I talked to guys who told me that Wall has been in Los Angeles for the last two weeks practicing six hours a day. All the indications are he's a gym rat. You want a guy with that skill level who wants to be in the gym. You've got to take that cat."


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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