You know who might take that final step this year to become my favorite player in the NBA? Mr. John “Prince of Chocolate City” Wall.
There’s just nothing to dislike about this guy. The fact that he upped his assist total to 10 a game this year, second highest in the league and just behind Chris Paul. The fact that he hits Russell Westbrook levels of craziness in running coast to coast and finishing at the basket (I was in the stadium for this circus shot!) The fact that Wall is arguably one of the more humble, amazing players in the NBA who genuinely cares for his fans and the city of D.C. He’s even one of the league’s better defensive point guards and arguably the best shotblocker at the position. I mean, goddamn.
And it turns out the rest of the team is pretty good too. True, the Wizards (and really all of us fans of Washington basketball) are going to miss the bravado and veteran leadership of Paul Pierce. No one is really going to be able to match any of that but this team should get some key players making another step forward in Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. The Wiz in particular are really banking on Porter, who flashed some serious 3 and D chops in the playoffs last year after a couple of seasons of looking like a fairly huge waste of the third overall selection. Beal is going to be good either way; he’s coming off of back to back seasons of shooting 40% from 3 and playing solid defense but if he can take his game to another level and hit true All-Star caliber play (really looks like most of these dunk highlights on youtube are coming against the Knicks), then this is hands down the best backcourt outside of Golden State.
The lowkey thing to be excited about here? Head coach Randy Wittman, after years of being considered generally a top-5 worst coach in the league, has decided to open up the floor a little bit and go small-ball with Kris Humphries and Jared Dudley as a stretch 4. How much of that is Nene slowly turning into a human klav kalash or Wittman realizing the only thing that saved his job (and the Wizards’ season) last year was rolling with Pierce at power forward is hard to say. However, I can’t really say I care that much. Surrounding Wall and the Polish Hammer with three capable shooters to let some pick and roll magic happen is going to go a long way towards picking up this team, which was 20th in offensive efficiency last year. And, if it gives Wall even some more space for some of those crazy circus shots, then all the better.
In an Eastern Conference where I can see any of Toronto/Atlanta/Milwaukee taking a serious step back, the Wizards are the real steady eddies of the mid-tier teams. Pierce is a loss any way you slice it, but he only played 25 minutes a game during the regular season and was really brought in for his playoff panache. This team only got deeper over the offseason with the acquisitions of Dudley and Alan Anderson and should hopefully able to give first round draft pick and crazy-freak athlete Kelly Oubre some fun garbage playing time and show that he’s more than yet another small dangling offer towards Kevin Durant’s impending free-agency. And oh yeah, by the way, every victory this team has, every fast break corner three that Wall generates, it’s all gonna go a little bit closer to keeping those homecoming Durant to D.C. rumors alive. All. Season. Long.
For me though, this all comes back to Wall. In an era where crazy handles and three point bombs away have almost come to define the position, I am prepared to defend (to the death) that Wall is the 4th best point guard in the league behind CP3, Steph, and Westbrook. Ya sorry tiny-can’t-play-defense Kyrie and Dame. Sorry perenially underrated Mike Conley or recently slimmed-down Kyle Lowry you just can’t mess with an athletically insane 20-10 threat who’s going to shut down both ends of the floor and put the entire team on his back when they need it. I mean, WALL IS LISTED AS THE 8TH BEST POINT GUARD IN THE LEAGUE!! Come on! If nothing else, this Wizards season will be amazing just for how he shuts down all the idiots who thinks Monta Ellis is a better all around player.
I think it’s going to be more than a shut-down season. I think this is the year where Wall asserts himself in everyone’s mind as an absolute top 10 player lock. Where the Wizards pick up a top 2 or 3 seed as the Cavs struggle with injuries and the Bulls incorporate a new offensive system. I think Nene coming off the bench opens things up and a traditional defensive powerhouse becomes explosive on both sides of the floor.