WASHINGTON -- The absolute best players don't have just one way of beating you. Dribble-drives, spot-up jumpers, quick hands, physicality ... as Doc Rivers once said of defending Kevin Durant, "You pray. You do. I'm serious."
With each game, it's becoming easier to imagine John Wall being that sort of player.
On one level, the comparison is ridiculous: Durant is so much bigger, so much better at shooting, that this becomes an apples vs. oranges sort of conversation. But part of what makes Durant so unique is his ability to make the right basketball play, fill his role at maximum efficiency, and know when to defer rather than be the alpha dog.
These might be things that Wall is only scratching the surface of realizing, but when it comes to winning close games against good teams, they're often equally as important as lightning-quick speed and dirty handles.
Sunday evening against Toronto, Wall finished the game with 18 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. He made 7 of 15 shots and committed just one turnover. For a player capable of challenging the 50-point barrier, those numbers might not reflect a dominating performance, but such analysis would ignore Wall's evolution in running an NBA offense.
"I thought he did a great job controlling and dictating what we needed to do from an offensive standpoint," coach Randy Wittman said of Wall's effort Sunday. "Who had the hot hand, what calls needed to be made, I thought this was one of his better all-around games."
One week ago, Wall piled a career-high 47 points on the Memphis Grizzlies, arguably the stingiest defense in the Western Conference. Just a few days later, he dropped 35 on the Orlando Magic. And yet, Sunday's performance might say as much about Wall's evolution as any he's had in a month loaded with great ones.
"It was a good game, I didn't have to be super aggressive and score a lot," Wall said. "Just doing a great job of taking the shots I have and getting my teammates open, doing a great job of finding them. So the main thing was really having one turnover and 10 assists."
For a player capable of taking over games at times with his stunning physical gifts and willingness to be aggressive, the evolution of Wall as orchestrator of the Wizards' offense is equally impressive.
"You've got to read where he's on the floor. He's done a much better job of taking what the defense gives him. He's become a much, much smarter player since he's come back," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "He's gotten the experience of going against different defenses, but his improvement is unbelievable, especially with his shot and how it's setting everything else up."
As exciting as those big-scoring games can be, it's clear that people around the league are noticing the improvements in Wall's game beyond his jumper. Has the improved shot helped? Absolutely, people like Casey said as much.
And yet, the core of Wall's improvement goes far beyond his improved jumper and the added pressure it puts on defense. It's also about his ability to capitalize on how those defenses react -- Wall isn't merely altering defenses with his new-found shooting ability, he's picking them apart as they scramble to defend his new set of skills.
John Wall will be a great scorer, that's undeniable. What will make him a superstar is everything else about his game.
- Mike Prada contributed reporting