John Wall keeps a list on his phone of the slights and criticism he hears, reads and perceives. He updates it whenever he comes across a new form of disrespect and reads it for motivation before he steps on the floor for every practice and game.
The list was dominated by shots at his injury woes and leadership skills his first three seasons. Wall finally produced the breakout season many were waiting for last season, becoming an all-star and leading his team to the postseason for the first time, but the list of slights continues to expand. The latest were added this summer when he was the first of the five point guards at Team USA’s FIBA World Cup training camp cut. Then Sports Illustrated ranked him as the 31st-best player in the NBA.
Those contributed to Wall’s belief that, for whatever reason, he is underrated and unappreciated in the pantheon of NBA point guards as he enters his fifth professional season.
“I’m one of the most complete point guards in the league,” Wall, 24, said Tuesday after the Washington Wizards concluded their first training camp practice. “I rebound, I assist, play defense, steal, score. I don’t get why I’m overlooked. I’m still trying to figure it out.”
Wall’s backup knows the feeling. Andre Miller, 38, was once one of the NBA’s top point guards. He was among the annual leaders in assists much of his career and missed a combined six games his first 15 seasons. But he believes he never received the recognition he deserved.
“I thought I should’ve made the all-star team maybe four or five times,” Miller said. “It’s never happened just because it’s a popularity contest. So I just find myself going out and working hard. And I think that’s what he’s done.”
Miller hinted that Wall is fighting a negative perception. From a distance, Miller explained, Wall was seen as having too much fun early in his career as videos of him dancing during introductions circulated. When Miller arrived in the District from Denver via trade in February, he realized the picture wasn’t accurate.
“He’s proven a lot of people wrong as far as what people think of him from a distance,” Miller said. “But the players that are around him every day know that he has a good personality and good work ethic.”
League-wide perception aside, the Wizards are relying on Wall to continue developing as a floor general for a team with heightened expectations. Surrounded by the deepest roster since the Wizards selected him first overall in 2010, the pressure will be on Wall to guide the Wizards back to the playoffs and beyond their Eastern Conference semifinals showing last spring.
Wall already believes he and Bradley Beal are the best starting back court in the NBA and fired back at Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters’s remark that Waiters and Kyrie Irving are deserving of the title.
“They haven’t seen a playoff game yet, so when they make one they can start talking,” Wall said.
Wall is confident but recognizes he isn’t without faults. He acknowledged that he isn’t “a great shooter” but added that he has improved significantly, particularly from three-point range. Though he led the NBA in turnovers last season, he also led the league in assists and averaged a career-best 19.3 points.
He continued to work on his shooting over the summer and added a floater and post-up moves to his arsenal, but he insists defense is his focus.
“I always could play defense,” Wall said. “I think anybody in this world could play defense, but do you commit yourself to it? That’s one thing. I want to be known as a two-way player. So I committed myself to that.”
Coach Randy Wittman expects Wall to continue growing as a leader and believes his experience from last season will only help. The Wizards underwent some roster turnover this offseason, but nothing like what Wall experienced his first few seasons as the core that fueled the Wizards’ deepest playoff run since 2005 stayed intact.
Wittman noticed that Wall was already more vocal during the team’s first practice Tuesday, communicating with teammates and directing them to where they needed to go. Wittman half-joked Wall can probably direct drills without the coach’s input and hopes the assertiveness translates to games.
“The more I can sit there and not do anything during the game the better,” Wall said. “If we can get to the point where the only time I need to say anything is during a timeout, then you’re starting to get somewhere.”
To get to that point, Wall must stay on the court like he did last season. He played the entire 82-game regular season schedule, plus 11 playoff games, for the first time in his career. And if he is on the floor, Wall believes wins — and respect — will follow.
“You got other guys that haven’t seen the playoffs but got individual goals, and they get all the praise,” Wall said. “If you’re picking talent off individual play, then it’s good to be considered that. But I’m a person that cares about team play more than anything. I want to win, and that’s where you get known as a point guard — with winning.”