Now, as the new head coach of the Washington Wizards, his next subject will be John Wall — another all-star point guard he believes has untapped potential after six seasons burning defenses with a rare blend of speed, size and athleticism.
“He’s been a three-time all-star, which is incredible,” Brooks said during his introductory press conference Wednesday at Verizon Center. “That’s cool in itself [but] he has another level, maybe two or three levels. Not only from a basketball standpoint, [but] from a leadership standpoint.”
Wall and Westbrook may share physical gifts, but they play the position differently. Wall is a pass-first player, an elite playmaker; Westbrook is a shoot-first player and an elite scorer. Both can do much more on the offensive end — Wall’s scoring and Westbrook’s passing have improved over the course of their careers — and are top-notch defenders when the effort is there (in Westbrook’s case, effort is rarely missing), but their strengths are distinct.
While Westbrook won the scoring title and became a triple-double machine last season under Brooks, Wall averaged career highs in points, assists, rebounds and three-point percentage in his final year under Randy Wittman. But there were dips in his play: Wall’s field-goal percentage dropped to 42.4, he averaged a career-high 4.1 turnovers per game, and his defense was often inadequate.
The drop-offs — and counting-stat improvements — could be attributed partly to Wall assuming a larger load much of the season because of injuries across the roster and to his reporting to training camp overweight, something Wizards owner Ted Leonsis alluded to during Wednesday’s press conference.
“I’m hoping our team comes back next year very, very fit and really, really in shape,” Leonsis said. “That is another hallmark of the NBA, and we see how important health and condition is. That hurt us this year.”
Brooks doesn’t envision a completely different Wall, but he has spotted areas in which he believes Wall could grow.
“He has the ability to be one of the best players in the game,” Brooks said. “He can fill up the stat sheet. He can score at a high level, and he’s improved his three-point shooting. I like his ability to make plays for others. Always been a high-assist guy. His rebounding is good, solid for that position.”
One particular area in which Brooks would like to see Wall — and Bradley Beal— improve is in getting to the free-throw line. Last season, Wall, despite ranking 21st in the NBA in drives per game at 8.0, averaged just 4.5 free throws per contest. It became a sore topic, as Wall believed he didn’t get the proper respect from referees and that most of his 12 technical fouls stemmed from his frustration over not getting calls. Whatever the reasons, though, Brooks wants to see Wall’s trips to the line increase.
“I think [Wall and Beal] should be averaging 12 free throws combined a game,” Brooks said. “And I think that’s a challenge I look forward to meeting them this summer and sharing that with them.”
Wall vouched for Brooks as Wittman’s replacement. He had heard positive things about the former Thunder coach from a trainer he shares with Westbrook. Now he follows Westbrook as Brooks’s next point guard.
“Point guards are the coach on the floor, and we will have a connection,” Brooks said. “And we won’t agree on everything, but John and the rest of the guys will understand one thing: that we will find the best way to move forward on all situations. And a lot of times it’s not going to be my way. A lot of times it’s not going to be their way. It’s going to be our way. And I think John has the ability to be one of the best players in the game. He’s going to be an all-star for many years.”