Originally posted on Chasing 23  |  Last updated 2/23/12

In what will hopefully be remembered as one of the most fitting epitomizations of a season in recent memory, Javal McGee’s brain fart against the Raptors aptly demonstrated what should’ve been obvious to all a long time ago: that the Washington Wizards are literally and figuratively heading in the wrong direction, much to the chagrin of John Wall, whose bemused reaction to his teammate’s idiocy was an equally apt summation of his own predicament. For after experiencing what will inevitably constitute two dispiriting seasons in our nation’s capital, Wall must be on the verge of a psychological breakdown on par with that suffered by Martin Sheen’s character in Apocalypse Now while waiting for his next mission. Indeed, I can easily envision Wall freaking out in a hotel room in some godforsaken city (sorry, Cleveland), practicing bizarre yoga moves and punching a mirror before finally collapsing in tears at his bedside.

And yet while it’s tempting to chalk up his squad’s struggles as the inevitable growing pains of a youthful and incomplete team, Wizards fans would be entirely justified in worrying over the long-term prospects of both their franchise and their star point guard. NBA history is replete with cautionary tales of young, talented players who were granted too much responsibility too early in their careers, and who were thus forced to adopt bad habits in order to prevent their teams from tumbling into the abyss completely. From Pete Maravich to Stephon Marbury, there’s a seemingly endless supply of examples, each one as dispiriting as the last.

So what does the future hold for John Wall? Unfortunately, Wall’s situation has begun to bear a striking resemblance to those of his more disappointing forebears, particularly in regards to his own progression as a player;  he has failed to adequately address and correct those flaws enumerated by Sebastian Pruiti prior to the start of season. Indeed, one could go so far as to argue that he’s actually regressed to some degree. While his shot-selection has improved slightly (according to 82games.com jump shots have constituted 56% of his field goal attempts this season, down from 64% in 2011), he’s committing more turnovers (from 3.8 last year to 4 this season) and directing his team’s offense less effectively (he’s averaging only 7.5 assists this season, down from 8.3 last year).

His teammates are, of course, in large part responsible for this stagnation. Leading a team composed of Nick Young (gunner), Javal McGee (crazy), Andray Blatche (ditto), Rashard Lewis (washed up), and Jan Vesley (not ready), would undoubtedly be enough to convince any player that jacking up shots is an infinitely more attractive option than deferring to the worst supporting cast since Waterworld. The incompetence of the many inevitably breeds selfishness among the competent few, usually to the detriment of both parties.

Yet if guys like Kyrie Irving or Jeremy Lin, neither of whom can even hope to approximate Wall’s physical gifts, can shoulder their relatively inept squads and carry them to respectability, why can’t Wall, who earned favorable comparisons to Derrick Rose prior to the 2010 Draft? Are we really expected to believe that the Cavs’ or Knicks’ role players are that much better than the Wizards’? And aren’t superstars supposed to compensate for their teammates’ deficiencies, and wring as much from a bad situation as possible?

Probably. But fortunately enough for the Wizards (and their fans), there will be ample opportunity for Wall to work out the kinks in his game and transform himself into a more efficient and (by extension) more effective playmaker. He is, after all, only 21 years old, and because he appears (despite whatever Colin Cowherd may believe) to be a decent human being (something which cannot have been said about Marbury, Steve Francis, and the myriad  number of other players who’ve failed to cash in on their potential) and a “natural-born leader,” there’s more than a good chance that his play on the court will eventually match the hype which accompanied his entry into the league. As his contemporaries (Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, etc.) have demonstrated time and again, the difference between the great and the very good in the NBA is that insatiable craving for self-improvement which, conversely, has so often been lacking in the countless flame-outs and busts that the league has seen since its inception. If Wall can avoid that fate and meld his tremendous talent with an indomitable desire to best his peers? Watch out.

And if not? Well . . .

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