It’s often said perception is reality. For three veteran NBA players, their perception of reality painted a portrait of John Wall that proved unreliable once they joined forces with the point guard in Washington.
Ten players spoke with members of the media on Friday, one day after their season ended with a Game 6 loss to the Indiana Pacers and hours if not minutes before they truly began their respective real life off-seasons. Questions of all kinds filled the day and answers from players filled audio recorders and video cameras.
The topic of John Wall came up frequently in various forms, including initial opinions of the 2010 No. 1 overall pick. Responses from Al Harrington, Andre Miller and Marcin Gortat, all players that joined the Wizards this season, stood out.
Harrington: “From the outside looking in, I thought John liked the lifestyle more than the game. That’s just from me looking outside."
Miller: “Your perception is [from the] TV and media. You see the dancing and having fun, which basketball is fun. A young guy enjoying his early NBA experience and I was like – I thought he was a goofball at first. Just a little bit too playful.”
Gortat: “Coming here to Washington, I had a lot of fear. I didn’t know how it was going to be. I was afraid of the city. I was afraid of the team. Obviously there were a lot of rumors about John and what kind of player he is.”
Asked later for any specifics on those rumors, Gortat would only offer, “It was just that he’s not that good and stuff like that. It was totally nonsense.”
Perhaps some of that nonsense and certainly the aforementioned dancing focus came via criticism of Wall starting with his first NBA game.
Tough evaluation of his game gained momentum last season during the time Wall missed 33 games with a knee injury. One site didn’t list him among the top 25 players in the NBA under the age of 25. Other league voices questioned whether Wall was a “franchise player.”
Now Wall is coming off his first All-Star nod, his first postseason appearance and his first season leading the NBA in assists. Though he struggled in stretches of the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers, Wall scored 27 points in Washington’s stunning Game 5 win over the Pacers to keep the series alive. The 23-year-old also took more of a leadership role in the locker room this season according to several accounts.
Having been around Wall, those perceptions have now changed, at least for a certain 30-something veteran trio:
Harrington: “Then when I got here, then I saw this kid really wants to win. He’ll do anything to win. That’s what it takes. Especially when your point guard has that type of attitude, it’s going to trickle down to everyone. The more he continues to work, the more guys continue to have faith in him and respect him; he’s not only going to leave his mark on this team but the whole NBA."
Miller: “Coming around [Wall] and Beal, those guys are professionals. They have something that I’ve never seen in probably 70 percent of the players: They have a certain level of passion for basketball where you’re like I can go play pickup ball with this guy and he’ll play this game without money. I see those two guys who are definitely passionate and care about basketball. They care about the guys around him and they care about winning, they care about competing. That’s one thing I enjoyed.”
Gortat: “He’s a tremendous kid. He’s a tremendous talent. He’s improved his game since the first game in Detroit I was watching him to the last game. It’s just huge, huge step forward for him. I’m fan of him now.
“Just like I told him [before Game 5] in Indiana, it doesn’t matter how it goes, good or bad I’m with you. I’ll jump into a fire behind this guy.”