It remains to be seen what sort of metaphor develops to describe the second-year guard out of Kentucky, who visits the TD Garden on Sunday to face the Celtics. More than any other position, point guard lends itself to a range of comparative descriptions. Nearly every one is a sparkplug, a security blanket or a coach — or all three — on the floor.
One popular comparison — that a point guard is like a football quarterback — is more accurate than many realize. As with young NFL quarterbacks, the coaching point guards receive and the structure they have instilled in them during their first two to three years in the pros goes a long way to determining whether they will be successful.
History is filled with overhyped QBs who fell flat on their faces because coaches failed to groom them correctly during their formative years on the NFL. Others, given the correct system and instruction, have overcome weak throwing arms, limited mobility and reputations for poor decision making to become serviceable and even above-average professional signal callers.
Point guards aren't so different. Steve Nash spent two years backing up all-time greats Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson in Phoenix before becoming one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. John Stockton was an undersized, shoot-first combo guard who became the best pure passing guard ever under Frank Layden and, later, Jerry Sloan. Doc Rivers helped mold Rajon Rondo from a liability into one of the biggest X-factors in the NBA.
This is why, 71 games into his pro career, it may already be time to worry about Wall.
Wall showed flashes of promise last season, scoring 16.4 points and handing out 8.3 assists per game. He would have been the runaway winner of the Rookie of the Year award if Blake Griffin hadn't still been eligible due to missing all of 2009-10 with a knee injury. The Wizards won just 23 games, but with a core of Wall, Nick Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, there was the slightest flicker of hope for the future in D.C.
It took a grand total of one game for some of that hope to dissipate. Blatche ripped coach Flip Saunders' play-calling after 90-84 loss to the Nets, complaining that the offensive scheme called for Blatche to get the ball too much on pick-and-pops and not enough in the post, where Blatche prefers to operate.
Even by Blatche's high standard of absurdity, the complaint was, well, weird. Blatche was "used" (that is, he ended a possession with a shot, turnover or foul) on 16.9 percent of the Wizards' possession in that game — more than any player other than Wall. It's also safe to assume that Blatche at least sometimes had the option to roll to the hoop after those picks. Saunders is too seasoned a coach to order his athletic, 25-year-old, 6-foot-11 forward to retreat for a midrange jumpshot on every play.
Wall is a big boy, and one teammate's miniature controversy should not derail his career. He was able to ignore Blatche's whining to score 13 points (albeit on 3-of-13 shooting), grab eight rebounds and post six assists (along with four turnovers) against the Nets. He diplomatically declined to criticize his coach or his teammate in postgame interviews, and of all the issues facing the Wizards, Wall remains one of the positives.
But this was only game No. 1 of 66, and next season there will be 82 more. Blatche is under contract through 2015, and Rashard Lewis and his insane contract are around for another season after this one. Jordan Crawford shows no signs of growing out of having possibly the worst shot selection in the NBA.
This is not the setting in which a team wants to raise its point guard of the future. Maybe players at other positions can survive — Kevin Garnett came out all right after slogging away in Minnesota and Danny Granger is still an effective scorer despite playing for a few doormats in Indiana — but the point guard is expected to do more than produce for himself. He's expected to take the individual parts and make them whole, and if some of those pieces just won't fit, the frustration can permanently damage him.
There is plenty of time for Wall to be great, but he'll have to do most of it on his own, unlike other recent elite point guards. Derrick Rose had Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and a cerebral coach in Tom Thibodeau. Nash had Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Don Nelson when he became a starter in Dallas. Deron Williams had Boozer and Sloan in Utah. Even Chris Paul, who never made it past the second round of the playoffs in New Orleans, had David West and Tyson Chandler to make his life easier as a distributor.
Wall has Blatche, Crawford, Lewis and Saunders, who is a good coach but who doesn't seem able to corral his young roster. Teach me how to Dougie? What Wall really needs is someone to teach him how to be a professional quarterback.