I'm not much of a college hoops guy; not because I don't enjoy any game of basketball anyway I can get it (well...maybe not every way), but because I just don't have enough time in my life to fit in another league of athletics. Especially when that league predicates most of it's drama from the poor play that disguises itself as "passion". But that's a post for another day. This is all to set up that I didn't really know who John Wall was when he came into the NBA. I definitely knew him for this. But otherwise, I caught a few Kentucky games his freshman season, and certainly saw his play in the NCAA Tournament. Mostly, I just knew how good he was supposed to be. I had digested all of the hype and with the rash of young teenage players that had come into the league READY in recent years, I expected a debut to the same effect.
Wall had great numbers his rookie season, throwing up 16 points a game, along with 8 assists and 4 rebounds. Even against the background of nearly 4 turnovers a game, as well as 41% shooting from the field, Wall had a great statistical freshman campaign by all accounts. He made the All-Rookie 1st team and finished 2nd in ROY voting, next to Blake Griffin. However, something wasn't quite right. For all of the success he had on paper, Wall missed 13 games due to injury and looked as if an even more explosive performance was impatiently waiting behind a veil of injuries. The Pope supposedly struggled all season with foot and knee problems, limiting the explosiveness he had reportedly had in college. Many people, including those here at MAMBINO, expected Wall to come out as a rookie and more than likely, lead his team to low-playoff seed contention just as Derrick Rose had done his rookie year.
Similar to Wall's situation last year, Rose came to a young, but talented team filled with players like Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas and Ben Gordon, along with vets John Salmons and Brad Miller. Little was expected from a Chicago team accustomed to losing, but Rose changed the culture with his dynamic play and fierce competitiveness. Without warning, the Bulls were playing the 2nd seeded Celtics in round one of the Eastern playoffs, legendarily playing 7 overtime periods total in 4 games.
Wall disappointed last year, but only against the loftiest of expectations.
How will this play out?
The following is a much better informed report from former NYisMecca blogging great, AO. My man is one of the last remaining Wizards fans that was not shot directly in the heart by Gilbert's very real bullets that nearly shattered the franchise. He proudly carries the flag of the district despite years of disappointment and a rising crime rate that has no connection with basketball, or this post, except for the fact that I'm an asshole for needlessly pointing it out. Here is how he sees the upcoming season playing out:
The tale of the 2012 Washington Wizards will be spun around a narrative of youth, mistakes, and the Rise of the Pope John Wall. Before getting to Wall, there are actually other youngsters on the squad worth getting excited about. In fact, last year's draft alone produced three (Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack) who should be getting some burn this year. Add those guys to Nick Young, the much maligned (by me) Andray Blatche and Javale McGee and we should see some exciting and head scratching up and down play from Flip Saunder's squad.
We are currently entering year 2 of owner Ted Leonsis' three year rebuilding plan which lays out as follows: a) collect young players and draft picks b) keep the young core together and c) retain cap flexibility and d) ultimately, use the cap space and the young core to compete. Well, I'd say we're about 50% of the way there. We have young guys, tantalizing amounts of cap space (assuming we amnesty Rashard Lewis next year we'll be 40 mil+ below the cap), and of course, the most important ingredient--the face of the franchise, @jimmywa11.
I remember watching Kentucky @ Uconn (a game that I believe Mambino booster El Miz and I attended) in December of ‘09. My 'liberated fandom' was at the lowest of lows, as my all time idol AI was winding down his career in the NBA. But that February night I felt like I had seen the basketball Jesus in John Wall. Months later, the Wizards won the NBA draft lottery and it was solidified that this was the man who would replace AI on my basketball mantle.
(Overall, I think Wall has the potential to be a top 2 or 3 PG in the game, and has the special 'it' factor of being an uber-competitor and natural leader. Also a big reason I love him is, as Flip Saunders says, he's a popcorn player)
In terms of Wall's 2012 season I have to say I'm a bit nervous. I believe he’s the overriding candidate for a breakout season. Everyone and their mother is picking him to be this year's Derrick Rose (minus the team success), but it will be hard to meet these expectations. However, I do expect improvement, specifically in the areas of FG% (41% as a rook) and turnovers (4/gm). If I had to guess, I'd throw out something in the neighborhood of a 18/5/9 average. As for the team, I'm hoping for a young, energetic team with some real signs of maturation. We need to move on from the childish locker-room that Agent Zero created and left behind, like a turd left unflushed in a toilet. Things like the Cinnamon Challenge have got to go. Time for the Wiz Kids to grow up.
How will this affect the season?
I tend to agree with AO in that Wall, unencumbered by injuries and the ridiculousness that Gilbert and Javaris Crittenden brought into the locker room, will be able to cut down on turnovers, improve his shooting and be able to concentrate more on being the leader of this team.
If indeed 18/5/9 is in the deck for this year, a 8th seed in the playoffs isn't out of the question, especially with the young draft talent, as well as the incumbents like JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Nick Young. In his second season, Rose averaged 21/4/6, was named an All-Star and led his team to the first round of the playoffs. Looking at the Pope's skills and forecast for the upcoming season, I don't think that's at all out of the question. I'd hedge a little lower than the playoffs, but we could potentially be seeing the prelude to a few MVP-worthy seasons from the Pope.
Player(s) to watch: JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche
Derrick Rose's rise to superstardom coincided with Joakim Noah's and Taj Gibson's development and the signing of Carlos Boozer. Without those bigs to guard his back, set solid picks, put up some easy buckets and play post defense, Derrick Rose certainly wouldn't be starring in Adidas commercials and holding up an MVP trophy.
Had we been doing "Burning Questions" for the past few seasons, McGee and Blatche would have been the players to watch every year. On paper, both guys look solid - Blatch averaged 16 points and 9 boards, while McGee had 10 and 8, with two blocks. Great numbers for two guys under 26 years old, but...the Wizards lost 59 games last year. They ranked in the bottom 10 of nearly every defensive category, as well as in turnover and rebounding differentials. In other words, despite great numbers, these two guys were clearly not doing enough to keep the other team in check, especially around the basket.
This is the year that McGee and Blatche MUST emerge as reliable post defenders for Wall. After watching the Wiz last year, I can say that Blatche, and to a lesser extent McGee, put forth the bulk of their effort on the offensive end, while letting their natural length, size and athleticism go to waste.
Basically, stop being stupid. Both of you. The Pope needs you.
Best they can do: 32-34, 4th in the Southeast, 8th in the East
Lowest they can go: 18-48, 5th in the Southeast, 14th in the East
Probable outcome: 25-41, 4th in Southeast, 10th in the East
Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:
NBA Season Preview: Burning Questions for teams you don't care about
#20: Can Sacramento keep their Kings?
#19: Will the Rockets finally make a blockbuster trade?
#18 - Will we be able to see Mark Jackson make “Hand Down, Man Down” pantomimes in the Warriors’ huddle this year?
#17 - When Will Joe Dumars be Fired?
#16 - Dwight, Deron, CP3: Who gets traded?
#15 - Did the Cavs take the right guy with the number one pick?
#14 - Where do the Blazers go from here?
#13: Will the Mavericks title defense resemble that of the 2006 Miami Heat?
#12: Who is Ricky Rubio?
#11: Who becomes irrelevant first, the Spurs or the Celtics?
#10: Are the OKC Thunder ready to make THE JUMP? How do they handle expectations?