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John Wall is the NBA’s misunderstood star

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Portland Trail Blazers v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In today’s NBA, there are point guards like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, and Chris Paul, whose names command respect around the league off their high profile status. And then there are point guards like Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, and Kemba Walker, who may not have the same star power as the first group, but are universally revered for overcoming long odds with great skills grit to lift their teams to playoff contention.

Then there’s John Wall, who doesn’t fit in either group. It’s hard to paint him as a plucky underdog because he was a top overall pick with amazing talent, but he doesn’t get star treatment because the Wizards don’t get much time in the national spotlight.

As a result, Wall gets the worst of both worlds sometimes. People see the amazing highlights, but since they don’t see how much he has to do just to get the Wizards to be in the playoff hunt, it leads to an unfair perception that he doesn’t want it bad enough.

The latest example of this dynamic at work popped up in a recent interview Wall gave to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. He talked about some of the injuries he’s battled through in recent years have distorted some people’s view of his work ethic:

Putting the work in before and after practices was a sensitive topic for Wall as he played through pain and injuries prior to surgeries. He heard people question his commitment to basketball. Why wasn’t Wall the first one on the court? Why wasn’t he the last one to leave the court following practice?

“I wanted to put the work in but I couldn’t because I needed to spend an hour to stretch just to get prepared to practice. That was frustrating,” Wall said. “People would tell me I don’t take the NBA seriously. I take this as seriously as possible.

“Now, I can do a regular stretch for 10 minutes and get a full workout in without having any problem afterward. That’s the key to why I am playing at a higher level.”

Yeah, the season started off rough for Wall and the Wizards as a team. Wall even admitted “he wasn’t in the best shape yet” which is understandable given his recovery timetable. But since he got back to 100 percent, there’s been no question that he’s been able to reach a higher level. In his first month he was able to play without minutes restrictions, he earned Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors while leading the Wizards to a 10-5 record.

He’s averaging career-highs in points per game, assists per game, steals per game, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage. He’s also posting a career-best Player Efficiency Rating, which puts him ahead of both of the point guards who were named starters in the 2017 All-Star Game, as well as other notable guards like Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, and Kemba Walker.

This season has been a great reminder of what Wall can do when he’s healthy, but hopefully it’s also serves a testament to what he did while playing through pain the past few seasons. He earned multiple All-Star nods and got the Wizards deep into the playoffs while playing on sore knees and battling through several other ailments. He wasn’t loafing and relying on his athleticism, he was quietly grinding through pain and doing great work in spite of his challenges. It’s unfortunate that so many people won’t ever understand the whole story with John Wall.