Less than two years ago, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall was quickly rising through the ranks as one of the elite players in the NBA.
During the 2016-17 season, Wall made his third consecutive All-Star team while putting up 23.1 points, 10.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals as the Wizards had their best season since 1978-79, when they were still called the Bullets and were defeated by the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals.
Having just had the best season of his career while making the All-NBA Third Team, the Wizards rewarded Wall with a massive, four-year extension worth more than $170 million. With Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter under contract for the foreseeable future, Washington had a bright future in the Eastern Conference.
Since then, however, things have changed…dramatically.
Fighting the injury bug
As has unfortunately seemed to be the case for a number of superstar players on big contracts–Derrick Rose earlier in the decade and, more recently, Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward–Wall simply has not been able to stay healthy.
The former No. 1 overall pick played in just 41 games during the 2017-18 season, but he never quite looked like himself. Wall saw a decline in nearly every major statistical category despite actually improving his perimeter shooting, and he was hesitant to make make plays at the rim.
That seemed to change in the playoffs, as Wall averaged over 26 points and 11 assists against a tough Boston Celtics team. However, Wall also shot under 20 percent from beyond the arc and averaged nearly five turnovers per game, and the Wizards lost in the first round.
As discouraging as it was to see Wall take a step back, Beal was rapidly becoming a bona fide star that could take on more offensive responsibility. Between the two guards, Washington looked to have one of the best backcourt duos in the NBA. There was still reason to be optimistic heading into the 2018-19 season.
That optimism quickly dissipated. The Wizards lost seven of their first games to start the year and simply could not recover. Washington was already 14-23 when Wall decided to have surgery on his left heel, but what was expected to be a six-month recovery has turned into a nightmarish saga.
Wall tore his left Achilles tendon when he slipped and fell in his own home, and now his timetable for return is unclear. Aside from this being a naturally debilitating injury, Wall’s inconsistencies as a shooter have made him one of the more frustrating talents in the NBA.
Fans will have to wait a number of months before seeing how Wall looks when he returns to the floor, but is he now officially at the point where durability is a serious issue?
Wall himself has had his priorities questioned on a number of occasions. ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith criticized Wall for partying to hard instead of focus on basketball, with Wall bluntly responding that he would keep enjoying his own free time as he pleased:
John Wall on IG Live: "It's a long season, everybody don't start off great. Keep being a fan, I'm gonna keep hooping. If you don't like it, you can hike it."
"I do go to Rosebar on Saturdays. What, not suppose to party once in a blue while? Where you be at opera? Living room?" https://t.co/QAkUjEWfpT
— Neil Dalal (@NeilDalal96) November 8, 2018
But now, Washington’s priorities as a team appear to be shifting.
Whereas Wall was supposed to be the franchise cornerstone that the Wizards could build around, Beal’s development has made him the star to watch in the nation’s capital.
Beal became one of just 12 guards in NBA history to post a season of at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game, and he also led the NBA in minutes (36.9) and mileage. Reports in July suggested that the Wizards would Beal a offer a three-year, maximum extension, though an agreement has not yet been reached.
The Wizards are intent on committing their financial resources to keeping Beal around, and that could mean the end for Wall in Washington. Yes, Wall has one of the worst contracts in the NBA, but the Wizards also will likely have to accept the reality that they can only afford one of the two stars.
In any case, the injury issues, inconsistencies on the floor and uncertain future are all concerning factors for John Wall. Just years removed from being one of the best point guards in the NBA, it remains to be seen whether or not he can still be a star in the league.