It was difficult for me to consider John Wall's eruption against the Grizzlies without considering Brandon Jennings' 55-point outburst playing the Warriors in opening weeks of his rookie campaign. The more I looked, the more it seemed the two virtuoso performances formed a curious bookend counterpoint for the opening chapters of these two up-and-coming point guards' careers.
There were different expectations coming into the league, of course. Wall was the most hyped prospect since LeBron James, and rumor suggested that should the Nets win the draft lottery, the King would be holding court in New Jersey/Brooklyn. Jennings was the first American player to skip college for European pro ball before entering the draft. No one knew what to expect from him.
Jennings lit up Golden State from downtown that first November, hitting 7/8 from beyond the arc while going 14/26 from everywhere else. All this after going scoreless in the first quarter. The national media sat up and took notice. Expectations followed. If there was an asterisk on the win, it was the five assists to four turnovers. The question of whether or not Jennings was a 'true' point guard would prove to be a lingering one.
As Andrew Sharp reminded us Tuesday morning, Wall was no slow starter himself. But even if there were times it seemed like superstardom was inevitable, jumper or no, Wall was the pure point guard coaches dream of having. He was correspondingly limited by a dysfunctional supporting cast when he was unable to create offense for himself in the half-court. Frustrated, he worked furiously to exploit any opportunity in the transition game and even the half-court with his blazing speed. Before long the media narrative read: Wall has that gear no one else in the NBA has. Unfortunately, he seems to be stuck there.
Their respective early fireworks ratcheted up expectations for a shortened development counter to the slow-developing point guard archetype suggested by Mike Prada. Yet with both Wall and Jennings struggling to develop their games on offensively-challenged NBA squads, the success enjoyed by Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson quickly (and astonishingly, in Wall's case) relegated both players to the land of second-tier prospects. Kyrie Irving's offensive explosions further buried their stars.
Then, March 2013 happened.
Both Wall and Jennings have made noise about expecting a max contract, and that's definitely far more likely now than it was a month ago. Has Jennings abruptly made the 'pure point' leap following the All-Star break? Has Wall's jumpshot finally been weaponized? Just like Jennings' 55-point game and Wall's early triumphs showed the NBA what they could be, their recent performances must lead fans, media and team personnel to ask if they are finally here.
There's no obvious decision for Bucks GM John Hammond and Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld to make when it comes to offering a contract to their respective players. Milwaukee runs the risk of losing their point guard of the future in restricted free agency, while the Wizards weigh which max contract to offer theirs. You get the feeling that with their up-and-down development history, it couldn't have been any other way with these two.
At the same time, you also know that whatever happens next, you're going to want to watch the fireworks when Wall and Jennings hit the floor for the 2013/14 season.