It’s all about John Wall with Wizards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall, left, drives to the basket past Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson during the second half of the Wizards' 98-92 win Tuesday. Wall has played a key role in transforming Washington into one of the Eastern Conference's top teams.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Increasingly, it has become clear in NBA circles that the rise of John Wall has been the force behind the resurgence of the Washington Wizards.

Wall, a point guard in his fifth NBA season, will be a starter for the East All-Star team, and his development has made the Wizards a threat in the Eastern Conference. It’s a sharp turnaround for the long-suffering Wizards, who have completely rebuilt their roster around Wall.

“I really like what the Wizards have done in bringing in some vets to go along with the young guys,” said Grant Hill, an analyst for TNT. “But I think the big key for how good the Wizards are has been the improvement of Wall.”

Said Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Larry Drew: “I think this year’s Washington team being good starts with last year’s team being good. But obviously it starts with John Wall. He’s the head of the snake.”

When Wall was drafted first overall by the Wizards in 2010 from Kentucky, he was given the keys to the franchise after the Gilbert Arenas gun scandal.


Wall couldn’t deliver right away because of health problems and an inability to harness his immense talents and speed. His shot selection was poor and there were too many turnovers.

He was limited to 69 games his rookie year and played only 49 games his third season because of injuries.

The Wizards struggled, going 72-158 in Wall’s first three seasons.

“I think there was some debate two or three years ago whether or not he’d ever reach his potential,” Hill said. “I thought last year his play was extremely critical to their getting into the postseason. And now Wall has come back even better than he was last year. He’s been as good as anybody.”

Last season was a breakout year for Wall.

He averaged career-bests of 19.3 points per game and 8.8 assists, plus 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals. He made his first All-Star team and got the Wizards into the playoffs for the first time in six years.

The fifth-seeded Wizards beat Chicago in five games, but lost in the second round to Indiana in six.

This season, Wall and the Wizards are even better, with their record among the top three in the East all season.

As for Wall, at 24, he has turned into one of the top young point guards in the NBA.

Entering this weekend’s games, he led the Wizards in scoring (17.2 points) and wasfirst in the league in assists (10.1), was second in steals (2.04) and was tied for sixth in double-doubles (25).

“I went through the tough times when we didn’t have success and we were losing,” Wall said. “My friends, my family and the city stuck behind me through those tough times.

“So when you get success, it makes you want to even get it more. It makes me hungrier to bring more success to my family, friends and to this city [Washington]. I hope to bring them a championship one day.”

The Wizards put their faith in the 6-foot-4 Wall by signing him to a five-year, $80-million deal last summer.

The Wizards also put together a good team around Wall, allowing him to flourish. Wall and backup center Kevin Seraphin are the only players left on the roster from Wall’s rookie season.

Washington drafted shooting guard Bradley Beal with the third overall pick in 2012. Wall and Beal, 21, have quickly formed one of the more dynamic backcourts in the NBA.

They were the primary reason why veteran Paul Pierce picked the Wizards, over teams like the Clippers and Brooklyn, when he was a free agent last summer. Pierce signed a two-year, $10.8 million deal.

Pierce won a championship in Boston in 2008 and he saw the Wizards as a team that he could have an influence on and one that could possibly help him get another ring.

“John and Bradley were the two guys that I was the most intrigued about and their growth and where they wanted to be, so that made me want to play here,” Pierce said. “I just saw the potential in the team.”

Today, Washington has a deep roster, with 10 players in its regular rotation.

Forward Nene was acquired from Denver in 2012. At 6-11 and 250 pounds, the 13-year veteran gives Washington a physical presence.

The Wizards also got center Marcin Gortat, in a trade from Phoenix in 2013. Gortat, an eight-year veteran, is another big body at 6-11 and 240. He signed a five-year, $60-million extension last summer.

“I would say with Wall, Beal and Nene and Gortat, to me, that’s the heart and soul of their team,” Drew said. “They have the other guys playing their role. They are a solid team.”

Kris Humphries, who signed a three-year, $30-million deal as a free agent last summer, has been a solid backup forward. Seraphin, a 6-9, 250-pounder, has also contributed off the bench.

Andre Miller, 38, still gets it done as the backup point guard. Otto Porter, whom the Wizards drafted third overall in 2013, has started to come along. And Rasual Butler, a veteran free-agent pickup over the summer, has provided the team with outside shooting.

“It really starts with John and his growth and maturation,” said Phil Chenier, the Wizards’ broadcast analyst since 1987 after an 11-year NBA career. “Then you find him clicking so well with Beal. Then they brought in Nene and he and Gortat played well together. And now you’re talking about a strong bench.

“Four or five years ago, even when John was here the first couple of years, we were losing. You were trying to figure out if this was ever going to turn around. And all of a sudden, you see it come together.”

Twitter: @BA_Turner