"I think John Wall's the guy who turned the game for them, with his intensity on defense, his deflections and steals."
That's Kevin Durant, unprompted, talking to David Aldridge about our favorite star point guard. With those 21 words, the Wizards' All-Star mission was a success.
All-Star Weekend is a showcase. Every important player, general manager, media member and league power-broker is there. There isn't another event on the NBA calendar that brings all those people together in one place at one time. Players don't attend the draft. Only two teams make the NBA Finals. The trade deadline is conducted within each team's headquarters. Summer League and the predraft camp are not really important events.
It's an exhibition, sure, but things happen behind the scenes. All-Stars grow close to each other. General managers discuss trade possibilities. And certain players show the rest of the world that they belong in the hierarchy for years to come.
John Wall showed he belongs in that hierarchy. Ask any impartial observer what was more memorable about 2014 in New Orleans, and it won't take too long to list Wall's name. He won the dunk contest with a spectacular reverse dunk over a standing G-Man, proving his worth as a winner even as many complained about the format. He didn't play as much as some of us would have liked in the All-Star Game, but he made an impact when he did play. He belonged. Kyrie Irving may have won MVP, but I guarantee you people will think of Wall first when they think about this weekend. (Not that it's a competition, mind you).
I know Irving won the MVP award, but it was hard not to think of this as Wall's weekend. After he was snubbed (I said it) by Team USA when he didn't get an invite to the 28-man roster of players who will compete for spots in the FIBA World Cup and the next Olympic Games, it looked as if Wall were on the outside, looking in on basketball's elite. As if there were still some sort of "Not Ready for Prime-Time" sign hanging around his neck.
This weekend, he lit that sign on fire.
That is not a unique opinion, either.
Buzz, as we've covered, is a big part of the Wizards' future plans. They want to be in the conversation as a team on the rise so that, eventually, some big-name free agent that will have many suitors and can pick their destination will think to themselves, "Hmm, the Wizards have John Wall and Bradley Beal, a great fanbase in a great city and a really solid foundation. Maybe I want to be a part of this." As we've cautioned several times, it's not clear if this is a viable strategy for success. It's also possible the plan is sound, but the execution fails because it's ultimately just Wall (and Beal, to a lesser extent) covering up the problems with the rest of the foundation.
But thanks to Wall's All-Star breakout, the Wizards have some buzz right now for the first time since Gilbert Arenas was here. Now, it's time to capitalize on that buzz by coming out strong right after the break. Games against fellow Eastern Conference contenders Toronto and Atlanta are on the docket right away. No more messing around. No more flat performances.
The Wizards have 30 games to build on whatever intangible thing John Wall brought them this weekend. It's time to step it up.
- NBA All-Star Game: John Wall scores 12 points, helps East win, 163-155
- 2014 NBA All-Star Game open thread: Root on John Wall here
- Watch John Wall win the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest
- John Wall pushing through while worried about mother's health
- Slam Dunk Contest recap: John Wall wins Dunker of the Night as the East triumphs