Wall v. NBA All-Stars

Roy Williams’ recent comments and denimjersey’s recent post got me thinking, which NBA player’s game does most resemble John Wall’s?  Roy Williams says he’s the best he’s seen since Jason Kidd; I’ve heard others compare him to Derrick Rose.  I say neither.  Without further adieu, the candidates:

Jason Kidd

Similarities – quickness, advanced court vision, size (specifically, height), lack of an outside shot, intrinsic altruism.

The more I think about this one, the less sense it makes.  Kidd and Wall are (or were) both quick, 6’4’’ point guards with an outside shot that leaves a bit to be desired.  But even their similarities aren’t that close: Don’t get me wrong, Kidd used to be quick, but never in his life was he in the same league as Wall; Wall’s court vision is more advanced than most at this stage in his career, but he’s no Jason Kidd (it’d be tough to name five PG’s who ever lived that see/saw the court better than he does); neither shoots the ball especially well, and this is probably where they overlap the most—neither is atrocious from deep, but you wouldn’t bet your life on one of them winning any 3-point shooting contests anytime soon either.  I actually believe Wall has the potential to become the kind of threat from 3-point land that Kidd never did.  His stroke looks good, he’s got the reputation of a hard worker, and he looks confident when he puts one up (he doesn’t hesitate on open looks like Kidd once did or, say, Rondo does now).  Wall looks like the kind of guy who believes his shots are going in, even when his 31% 3-point efficiency says otherwise.  And I don’t care what anybody says, this is a good thing. You can’t teach confidence.  Another similarity of theirs is the desire to get their teammates involved early and often.   Wall has more of a scorer’s mentality than Kidd, but both seem preoccupied with getting everyone else their share of touches.

As far as differences go, they are plentiful.  The biggest separation in Wall’s game from Kidd’s (or from just about anyone’s, for that matter), is his otherworldly athletic ability.  Wall’s agility, vertical leap, and ability to stop and change direction on a dime are superior to just about everyone’s.  Kidd was, at one time, one of the best in the league at his position.  He was big, solid, strong, and quick, but he was never invited to any Dunk Contests or in the conversation of Best Athlete in the League, both of which Wall will be next year.

Derrick Rose

Similarities – explosive quickness, lack of an outside shot, Calipari/DDM products.

Rose and Wall are both super-athletic, but in slightly different ways.  Wall’s probably a tad quicker than Rose, but Rose is an inch shorter and roughly twenty pounds heavier.  Basically, Rose is noticeably stronger than Wall, and when you’re an NBA point guard that makes their living getting to the rim, that comes in handy.  However, with the exception of strength, there’s not a single athletic category that you’d give the edge to Rose—vertical leap, raw quickness, end-to-end speed, they all go to Wall.  On top of that, Wall is longer than Rose—6’4’’ with a lanky frame, Wall plays more like he’s 6’6’’ or 6’7’’.  I hate to write this, but with his length and quickness, he’d be hell in a Pitino or Donovan system that employs a full-court trapping system.

But Rose’s name will be the one you’ll hear most next summer when Wall’s being compared to current NBA players, shortly before he shakes David Stern’s hand as the first pick in the 2010 draft.  Both will have become number one picks after playing one year under John Calipari, within the Dribble Drive Motion offense, in a league where rule changes are becoming more and more friendly for elusive point guards (Rose, Rondo, Paul, D. Williams, Nash, et al).

Rajon Rondo

Similarities – superhuman speed, lack of an outside shot, ability to get to the rim, Kentucky products.

In my opinion, this is the guy that should be getting more comparisons to Wall. Starting next year, they might be the two fastest players in the league.  And really, in terms of raw athleticism, they’re almost clones; Wall is just much flashier.  Wall is also a much better ball handler at this stage than Rondo, who relied almost solely on quickness to get by people while at Kentucky.

But really, if I had to choose one statement that best describes Wall’s game at this point, it’d be this one: He’s Rajon Rondo with more upside.  And that’s nothing to scoff at, because Rondo’s potential’s always been steep.  But as skilled and athletically gifted as Rondo is, Wall surpasses him, almost across the board.  He’s just as quick, and I’m not sure if his leaping ability is more explosive (b/c anyone who saw Rondo play at Kentucky knows he can hop), but he tends to show it off more.  While Rondo is a bit craftier when he gets in the lane, with an array of floaters and creative layups, Wall is one of those who almost seek out opportunities to dunk on people.

And—if I may go off on a slight tangent here—he does so in amazingly ambidextrous fashion.  Have you noticed how he dunks with either hand, off either foot, and from any direction, with equal explosion and fluidity?  It’s a thing of beauty.  And I’ve never seen anybody (and I mean anybody) that does it (dunk w/either hand, off either foot) as well as he does.  Not even Jordan or J. Earving could take off/lead with their off foot (in Wall’s case, it’s his right), and get just as high as they would if they took off of/lead with their strong one.   Watch this highlight video and take notice of the different ways Wall dunks; now, watch other players dunk, doesn’t really matter who exactly, and notice the variety of ways Wall leaves the ground and finishes at the rim compared with other players.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

This one is my personal favorite.  Skip ahead to the end (the 10:25 mark, to be exact), and feel free to marvel at the way Wall shoots himself out of a cannon and elevates in transition.  He gets from the half-court to the rim in 2 dribbles and about 1.5 seconds.  He catches the outlet pass, sees he has Mark Krebbs in front of him, puts the ball down to his right, crosses over, kicks that manual V-12 of his into 6th, then takes one power dribble with his left before picking it up, taking one last gazelle stride, then launches himself off his right foot (which, if you’re right handed, is supposed to be your weaker one), elevates until his hairline is level with the rim, before finally (or, if you’re watching it in real speed, all of the sudden) hammering one Shawn Kemp-style with his left (and supposedly weaker) hand.  Seriously, I could talk about this guy all night.

But back to Rondo.  Rondo’s biggest advantage over Wall is his defensive prowess.  He’s an excellent anticipator and has some of the quickest hands in the league.  More importantly, he has two things you must have in order to be a great NBA defender:

1)      A genuine enjoyment of locking people down.

2)      A nasty streak.

There’s a reason people are starting to call Rondo the next Isiah Thomas: He’s a dick.  He loves mixing it up, and once he knows he’s under your skin, you might as well throw the proverbial gas on the flames—it’s only going to get worse.  This psychological attribute has served Rondo as well as any of his physical gifts thus far, and not that I think it’s something Wall necessarily has to develop, but history has shown that it’s not easy to be the nicest guy on the court and a great point guard.  Isiah, Stockton, Magic…all those dudes were tough as nails and, depending on which NBA historian you’re talking to, dirty players.  Remember when Chris Paul punched that guy in the nuts when he played at Wake Forest?  That’s when we should’ve all known he was legit.

Baron Davis

Okay.  Even I’ll admit this one, at least at first, is a bit ridiculous.  Davis is, at least currently, a largely disappointing and occasionally overweight member of the worst franchise in professional sports.  He was the 3rd pick of the 1999 NBA Draft, and has since terrorized and disappointed the citizens of Charlotte, New Orleans, Oakland, and, currently, Los Angeles.  All of that is why it’s so easy to forget that, in 1997, Davis was the Gatorade National Player of the year, and one of the most athletic prospects anyone had ever seen at his position.  He dominated the McDonalds All Star Weekend, winning the slam dunk contest at 6’2’’, then pretty much being a human highlight reel throughout the actual game.  Take a look at these highlights from his time at UCLA and tell me they don’t remind you a little of what we are currently seeing at Kentucky.  Dude was super athletic.  Does anyone remember that play from his freshman season, during the NCAA tournament, when he A.I.’d somebody (a reference to a crossover move that was popular in its day, but now deemed illegal, because, well, it was), went baseline, and dunked so hard he tore his own ACL?  Ridiculous.

Luckily, Wall doesn’t seem to have inherited the same fat gene that Davis has battled his whole career.  And I’m not trying to imply that Wall is the next B. Davis or even that B. Davis is terrible (he did make two all-star teams, after all) or could be a potential bust, but what I am saying is that if you don’t work in the NBA, you don’t excel.  Davis is living proof.  Fortunately for UK fans and NBA fans alike, Wall supposedly has a fantastic work ethic.  He is working hard to improve his game’s only glaring weakness (his outside shot), is the team’s vocal leader, and Calipari has publicly stated that Wall is ahead of both Rose and Tyreke Evans (his other DDM lottery pick) at this stage in their careers (although, what else is he going to say?  No, Tyreke and Derrick were both a little better).

So whose game compares best with Wall’s?  For my money, it’s Rondo’s.  Physically, they’re by far the most alike.  Both are long, lanky, explosive point guards with exceptional hops.  As far as skill sets go, Wall is a bit more developed than Rondo at this stage (ball handling and outside shot being where Rondo lacked most), but Rondo put himself on an accelerated learning curve once he got to the league; he got a lot better, ridiculously fast.  He went from borderline no-name to one of the top 5 PG’s in the league in three seasons.  Of course, a lot of that was a benefit of his situation, something Wall almost certainly won’t have.  He’ll likely be the first pick, and will inherit a crappy, poorly coached, skill-less team that will force him to try to do too much, too soon.  (Hilarious side note:  The Knicks, who, if you haven’t been keeping up, are giving it their all to surpass the Clippers as the laughing stock of the league. And, given their D’Antoni-lead run-n-gun offense, also happen to be the team that could use Wall the most next season.  However, they’re forced to give up their potential lottery pick in 2010, because of the terms of the ’04 trade that brought Stephon Marbury (speaking of PG busts) and Penny Hardaway to New York.  How funny would it be if the ping pong balls were to finally align in NY’s favor?  If David Stern has a sense of humor, and does indeed fix things such as the draft lottery, how could he not give New York the first overall pick in next June’s draft?  The potential for hilarity is through the roof.)

Final Verdict: Wall is a rich man’s Rondo, which, as Celtic and Wildcat fans already know, is saying a lot.


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