At Wizards Media Day on Monday, Scott Brooks laid out an ambitious goal for John Wall:
“John Wall is one of the best players in basketball. Last year I thought he made a big step, not only on the court but leadership. That’s not always easy to do. But I think now you can really talk about him being in the MVP conversation.”
His lofty goals elicited a reasonable and measured response from Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post:
Wall probably won’t be the MVP; he finished tied for seventh in last season’s voting, with seven points, 881 fewer than Russell Westbrook. He is, though, staring at a crack in the NBA’s inner sanctum, with an outside chance to wriggle his way through. Wall often has lamented the way injuries hindered his rise; now he’s coming off a surgery-free offseason during which he worked out like a demon.
Broadly, I agree with Dan’s line of thinking here - it’s unlikely he wins MVP. It’s very difficult to be considered the best player in the league, after all.
However, I don’t think we should dismiss Wall’s MVP chances as just some little pie-in-the-sky dream either. Thanks to several developments in the league over the past couple of years, the path for Wall to win MVP has never been easier.
The MVP field is cannibalizing itself
Thanks to this summer’s player movement, it’s going to be a more difficult for some of last year’s top players to make strong MVP cases.
Isaiah Thomas, who finished ahead of Wall last season, will miss time thanks to his hip injury, so he’s out of the running. His new teammate LeBron James, could benefit in the short-term since he’ll be asked to do more, but voters may also dock him for any struggles the team has because of the uncertainty around his future in Cleveland.
Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will cut into Russell Westbrook’s workload, so it will be difficult for him to keep up the gaudy triple-double numbers he racked up last season. James Harden and Chris Paul may very well prove to be an efficient pairing, but they’ll likely cancel each other out in MVP voting, in much the same way Steph Curry and Kevin Durant did last season. Plus, the Harden-Paul pairing clears the way for Wall to lead the league in assists next season.
The East is weaker
As we’ve discussed before, there’s a window of opportunity for Washington to make a power move in the East this season. Cleveland and Boston will need time to develop chemistry with their new players, and Toronto is probably a little bit weaker after losing Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, and Cory Joseph this summer.
Washington’s stability gives them an early head start in the race for East dominance. If Wall can put up similar numbers to last season on a team that’s at the top of the conference, that’s a major boost to his MVP résumé.
Wall still has room to grow
As impressive as Wall was last season, he can get better. His shot gets better year by year, and now that he’s been able to focus on improving it, rather than rehabbing from surgery, it could be much better this season. A spike in efficiency would do wonders for his game and his MVP candidacy.
Plus, all that extra workout time should give him the extra stamina to be more effective on the other side of the ball as well. Kobe Bryant put the challenge out for Wall to be First Team All-Defense, and now that the Wizards have more national TV games for Wall to show what he can do, it gives him a great platform to demonstrate what he can do on both ends. If he’s up to the challenge, plenty of voters will take notice.
The model I’m laying out here is very similar to Derrick Rose’s path to MVP in 2011. After a summer filled with player movement and stars consolidating power, he took a notable step forward on a team that kept key players together and that was enough to elevate him to MVP status.
Much like Rose, Wall needs a lot to break his way to make the jump to a legitimate MVP contender. Just one injury to Wall or another one of the starters could unravel all of this before the season even starts. But still, there’s a great opportunity for Wall to do something really special here. All the conditions are there and Wall has never been in a better position to take advantage of the opportunity before him.