“I think I’m kind of the same,” Wall said recently, when asked if he got better in his second season. “A little better, but not too much.”
Wall entered his sophomore campaign aspiring to ascend into the discussion of elite point guards, and possibly make the all-star team. He had finished as rookie-of-the-year runner-up despite dealing with injuries to his knees and feet, but in many ways he fell significantly from the spotlight as the Wizards endured yet another season of dysfunction and instability.
The team lost its first eight games, Flip Saunders was fired as coach a few weeks later, players had different agendas aside from winning, and it took a toll on Wall, who couldn’t hide his disenchantment early in the season.
“That was tough to see some guys accept losing,” said Wall, who has won 43 games in two seasons in the NBA after winning 35 games in his one season at Kentucky. “I’ve never accepted losing in my life.”
A toxic environment
Many league observers believe that the environment in Washington — before the Wizards traded away the mercurial JaVale McGee and Nick Young to get veteran big man Nene, and sent home Andray Blatche — wasn’t conducive to allowing Wall to fulfill his potential.
“He’s a had a tough cast down there. I don’t want to put anybody down but he’s not playing with the smartest guys in the world,” New Jersey Nets all-star guard Deron Williams said about Wall. “That’s tough, man. That’s tough. They’re not smart. I’ve been watching. JaVale McGee was on the Not So Top 10, like, 50 times this year.”
David Thorpe, executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., and an NBA analyst for ESPN.com, compared the situation for Wall to rowing a kayak in a stream, but going against the current. “It’s very hard to see any real improvement in players, when almost from the get-go, there is no real opportunity to win. That team was so fatally flawed at the outset of the year and so bad to start that I think you can only go so far on your own,” Thorpe said. “He might’ve gained from being more or less the same player as last year, despite really being caught in a whirlpool that was going straight down. It’s almost like he stabilized himself.”
Wall made comments in the last week of the season that revealed his frustrations with playing with McGee and Young, but one Eastern Conference assistant general manager wasn’t willing to absolve Wall. “It’s not about them,” the executive said. “What are you going to do? They picked you number one to make everybody else better.”