Midseason grades: Is John Wall a franchise player?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

No, but let's all stop worrying about it.

If you're enough of a hopeless Wizards addict to read Midseason Grades on a Tuesday afternoon, you probably remember when Stan Van Gundy was asked about John Wall on January 2nd and said "I don’t think John Wall’s good enough to be the guy that you build around."

He added, "I think maybe they thought it was gonna be John Wall – maybe they still think it is. I think there’s a lot of people in the league – I’d certainly be one that would share this opinion – I don’t think John Wall’s good enough to be the guy that you build around. I think he’s got great speed and quickness, but point guard is a decision-making position. That’s what makes you great as a point guard, is your decision-making. I haven’t seen any indication that John Wall is a great decision-maker.”

Wall hadn't played a game all year at that point, the team was a mess, and it felt like Van Gundy wasn't so much piling on as stating the obvious. Now it's more complicated.

With Wall back the Wizards have been transformed from an unwatchable disgrace to... something watchable? They've gone 10-8 since Wall's return with wins over the Bulls, Knicks, Clippers, Nets, and Nuggets. And losses to the Kings (twice), Pistons, Jazz, and Sixers. Still, there's hope for the first time in three years. With Wall back the Wizards run, play D, and it's all pretty chaotic on offense, but it's fun to watch them figure it out on the fly. With Wall around, they usually do.

The numbers echo all this: Wall's made the Wizards more efficient on offense AND defense, they're scoring more fast break points, and the whole team's shooting has improved. For a Wizards team that spent two months finding new, impossible ways to lose, Wall helps them find a way to win. That's what a great player can do.

So now that Wizards have transformed from a league-wide punchline to something like a dangerous young team, Stan Van Da God clarified his comments: "I said this: John Wall is a talented guy, a very good player. I don't think he's good enough that you can build a franchise around him."

"To me that's not a negative," he said. "I didn't say it as a negative. I think some people took it that way. I just don't see John Wall as a franchise player because - a lot like Rajon Rondo; I don't see him as a franchise player even though he's an All-Star - he's not a good enough shooter yet and he's not a reliable go-to scorer."

To review: In the past six weeks he's gone from discounting Wall entirely to calling him a potential All-Star, but still not a franchise player. Which sounds about right. John Wall is something between the no good horrible waste of time that David Falk sees and the Ovechkin/Durant savior the front office apparently sees.

He's been billed as a savior, and that's part of why we've had trouble totally loving him the past few years. So, since "Is John Wall a franchise player?" will be an article that'll be written approximately 10,000 times between now and next summer, let's be clear: No.

He's a franchise player if the Wizards want to have a competitive franchise that never really contends for a title. Which is fine for a lot of teams. Kevin Love is a franchise player for the T'Wolves. James Harden is that guy for the Rockets. LaMarcus Aldridge wears that hat in Portland, Zach Randolph in Memphis, and you can go right down the list. But if the Wizards ever want to get serious about winning big, John Wall can't be clearly the best player, for all the reasons Van Gundy mentioned.

No point guard since Isiah Thomas has led a team to a title, and really, outside of Chris Paul and maybe Derrick Rose, it doesn't look like that'll change anytime soon. If the Wizards expect Wall to be D.C.'s Isiah, all this rebuilding probably leads nowhere.

The only Hall of Fame superstar the Wizards have is Steve Buckhantz.

But for the past month we've been able to ignore this conversation and all the nitpicking bullshit about Wall's superstar credentials. It's been the most enjoyable stretch of his career since his first month in the league. Our expectations were so low in January that once Wall came back we just wanted him to be good. He has been, the Wizards have been much better, and life's gotten a lot more fun. This should be a lesson for the next year or so.

We don't need Wall to be some magical unicorn for his career to be a success.

There are only 3 or 4 players you can truly call franchise superstars--guys who can win 50 games with just about anyone. LeBron, Durant, CP3, and maybe D-Rose. For every team that doesn't have those guys? Maybe the blueprint's not as simple as having LeBron, but it's not hopeless. Look at the recent champions that weren't the Heat:

  • The Lakers needed time and luck to build around radioactive Kobe, adding Pau as the perfect compliment and then Lamar Odom as a do-it-all third weapon.
  • Ditto for the Celtics who stubbornly hung on to Paul Pierce and then lucked into Ray Allen and KG to build around three superstars who complimented each other's strengths and muted weaknesses.
  • Or look at Dallas. Dallas struggled for a decade with Dirk as the cornerstone, but then they surrounded him with the perfect mix, got hot at the perfect time, and ... you know.

The key is that those teams stuck with their flawed superstars long enough to get lucky and build a nucleus that worked. The lesson of the past month is that Wall and this nucleus might be good enough to make things interesting in the next few years, especially if the Wizards luck into one more star through the draft or a trade. John Wall's not Kobe or Paul Pierce or Dirk, but he's good enough to stick with. Good enough to overpay on a second deal if that's what it takes. (They can't/won't tank to get Andrew Wiggins next year, so what other option is there?)

The one thing that's clear is he really does make everyone better, so the cost of keeping him around is a lot lower than say, investing in Tyreke Evans. His defense and ball-handling (stop dribbling so HIGH) should improve, his shooting and decision-making maybe not. But if he's been slow to develop, we should probably be patient--something the Wizards never were with Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, Richard Hamilton, or even Kwame Brown (Happy Birthday MJ!).

It can't be overstated how horrible this organization has been the past few years. From the training staff to management to the coaches to the teammates Wall's had. If the Wizards are going to succeed, it all needs to get better and there's no magic bullet. We need the Wizards management to understand this. It's going to take a lot more than Wall to make this work. They'll need a replacement for Nene sooner rather than later, coaches need to start coaching, the drafts have to get better, dead weight needs to go elsewhere, and ... We need a lot of stuff, when you start getting serious about it.

For now, though, just enjoy John Wall without waiting for him to change everything. It turns out he's a good start toward rebuilding, not the end all by himself. The rest of the steps will take time and luck and we have no control and all the usual disclaimers apply.

But that's cool. Because in the meantime, have you watched the past month?

It turns out John Wall is pretty awesome.

GRADE: B+

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