Not all top NBA draft picks work out, but it's hard to argue with the Wizards taking John Wall

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2010; D06

Amid the Wall-to-Wall adrenaline rush, the outright pomp and pageantry over the Washington Wizards drafting the best player in college basketball, a small measure of trepidation looms. Glancing at No. 1 picks throughout history, really, how can you not have at least an ounce of concern?

Michael Olowokandi, after all, went No. 1. Pervis Ellison was the top pick in 1989. You already know what Brown didn't do for you in 2001. Beyond Kwame, don't forget Joe Barry Carroll in 1980.

Will John Wall underachieve like those No. 1s? Doubtful. But before the Wizards pin the hopes of a franchise rebirth on a 19-year-old kid Thursday night in New York, it's again worth pointing out a sobering stat: Since the draft lottery was instituted in 1985, just four No. 1 picks in the past 25 years have won NBA championships: Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal and Glenn Robinson.

So even when the Ping-Pong balls bounce right, being bad enough to win the lottery rarely equates to a banner hanging from the rafters.

Only one 19-year-old point guard ever taken No. 1 transformed his team into an NBA champion his rookie year, and there will never be another Magic Johnson.

All that said, after reaching and reaching to find something wrong with this pick, I really can't.

Wall will be just the third point guard plucked No. 1 since Magic. If you ask the general managers involved in picking Allen Iverson and Derrick Rose today of their decisions, they would do it again.

Great floor leaders are hard to find. Even in the case of Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and more recently Steve Nash, they take about three years to truly mature into great decision-makers and catalysts.

From all accounts, the kid whom John Calipari rented for one scintillating season at Kentucky is ready today. He's good and young enough for the Wizards to not even consider shipping their pick to New Orleans in hopes of prying away Chris Paul, who, with apologies to Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Nash, is right now the best point guard in the game when healthy.

Moreover, in playground vernacular, John Wall can flat-out ball.

He's a new, marketable face for the facade. He's an attraction -- the way Gilbert Arenas played himself into an attraction before the malady of knee injuries and madness of juvenile behavior culminated in that bad dream of last season.

"He'll be really big for this city," said Miles Rawls, the commissioner of the George Goodman League at Barry Farm in Southeast, the District's outdoor-run answer to New York's Rucker Park. "The streets are talkin' 'bout him. They love his speed, his athleticism. They know the jump shot is going to come. Basically, the whole town is buzzin' about him."

Sam Cassell, the Wizards' assistant coach, might bring Wall down to Berry Farm on Monday to show him the atmosphere, the half-smokes, the card games inside the chain-link fence, and a summer pick-up run like none other, where Kevin Durant was scheduled to play Wednesday night.

"He know: The next stop after he gets drafted is inside them gates," Rawls said. "That's where we find out."

What we already know: Wall might be still a teenager, but he's been on the elite-level hoop circuit for a good four years now, learning the ins and outs of how to break down and beat the best players his age and older in America.

And with few exceptions, he has emerged as a winner, a stone-cold competitor and leader wherever he has played.

Personally, having seen the Wizards lose so many tight games over the past few years -- end-of-game situations in playoff games -- because they could not adequately defend a three-pointer or long jumper from the perimeter, I'm looking forward to seeing Wall get in someone's grill.

Discombobulate Dwyane Wade with that long, angular Michael Cooper-like frame that stands 6 feet 4 but has a wingspan of 6-9. Fluster Rondo. Hound Paul Pierce. Embarrass Daniel Gibson, because there is no reason anyone nicknamed "Boobie" should be ending your team's season.

And with all due respect to the anti-Arenas crowd, wondering whether Gilbert will not only be able to play alongside another player who dominates the basketball like Wall but whether the kid will be negatively influenced by a recovering knucklehead, enough already.

Gilbert Arenas corrupt John Wall? Come on, the kid played for Calipari, a man known expressly for grooming youngsters such as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and now Wall to be big-time NBA point guards and forfeiting Final Four appearances.

If Wall doesn't know right from wrong now, he never will.

When Ernie Grunfeld, the team president, makes the pick, it's a lock, a no-brainer. Wall is box office at a time when the Wizards have never more needed something to sell.

When David Stern calls his name Thursday night -- amid a fan base's cheers and perhaps his family's tears -- John Wall officially will be Washington's. And the streets will continue to talk about him.

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