Hanrahan: Changing Of The Guards

Hanrahan: Changing Of The Guards
September 9, 2010, 3:28 pm
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Monday, September 20, 2010 9:23 a.m.
By Frank Hanrahan

"Point guards aren't made. They're delivered from heaven," Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders said about John Wall, after the team drafted him number one out of the University of Kentucky in June's NBA draft. From the skies up above to billboards around D.C., the new face of the franchise has landed. Move over Gilbert Arenas, John Wall is the present and future of the organization.

Saunders added, "Most point guards, some have size, some have the ability to create at the basket, some have the ability as far as to run a team, some have the ability to run the break, some have the ability to defend. Very few have the ability that he ...has to do all those things."

It's crystal clear why Saunders thinks Wall is the real deal. In just one season at Kentucky, Wall showed why hes had scouts drooling since high school. The 6'-4 point guard showed off his pro quickness, hops, handle, the ability to finish and his distribution of the ball in his freshman campaign where he averaged 16 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds in leading the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament as a top seed.

Wall's upside is limitless, but there are a few iffy marks on his scouting report. He is turnover prone and struggles with his outside shot. He averaged 4 turnovers a game in college and shot just 32 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Wall's 94 feet end-to-end speed is second to none but when defenses dare him to shoot jumpers, he needs to make them pay. If Wall can become a consistent jump shooter, he will truly be a triple threat.

In the Las Vegas Summer League in July, Wall was clearly the best player for the Wizards and the entire league, as he showed he is pro ready, averaging 23.5 points and 7.8 assists. But, he did turn the ball over about 7 times a game and went just 1-8 from 3-point range.

What also was taken away from the summer league, was Wall's ability to run the two-man game, with third year center JaVale McGee receiving the benefits from Wall's dishes resulting in easy hoops for McGee. The high pick and roll at times was a thing of beauty, making it appear that Wall and McGee had played together for years perfecting the routine. Wizards fans would love to see that 2 man game progress into the regular season. And so would McGee, a former first round pick, who is looking for a breakout season.

So it's safe to say, John Wall's game is tailor made for the NBA. But can the number one pick become a real factor his rookie season and help the Wizards win more than the 26 games which they did a season ago? This is where the Wizards coaching staff and support system will earn their salaries as they prepare Wall for the more rigorous demands of the NBA. This is not 35 games like college. It is a marathon 82 game season and that's not counting the pre-season -- or, thinking optimistically, perhaps a playoff series come April? Well, probably not as the organization has made it clear that the Wizards are in a rebuilding process but would love to see Wall start baby stepping in the right direction.

With Wall penciled in as the team's point guard for a decade, where does that leave former Agent Zero, Gilbert Arenas, in the mix? Will he accept whatever role the team asks? Can he be a serviceable two guard? It's going to be a different look offensively than a season ago. Thats for certain.

In last year's games before his gun suspension, Arenas seemingly had to have the ball in his hands on every Wizards possession. That was the style Flip Saunders wanted -- then. Rebound the ball, get it to Arenas who ran the show as the point guard with a shoot first, pass second mentality. Now with Wall at the 1, Arenas will likely be a catch and shoot three-point specialist or a fast break finisher from the wing as the 2 guard.

Not only are there questions about whether Arenas will accept his new role but will he be able to stay on the floor? Arenas has had three knee surgeries in three years and has yet to regain the form that grabbed national attention when he averaged nearly 30 points a game and got that huge contract for 111 million dollars. That deal makes the former all-star unmovable for now. Even last season after rehabbing the knee, Arenas still looked a step slow and his average dipped to 22 points a game before he had to sit the rest of the year.

Reports have Arenas working out in Chicago and looking good in preparation for training camp. Even new Wizards owner Ted Leonsis blogged that he watched Arenas in a pickup game a few weeks back and said Arenas looked like he was getting back to form. The bottom line is, it wont be the same old Arenas as long as Wall is operating the offense.

The Wizards lucked into getting Wall with the draft lottery. Kirk Hinrich comes to the Wizards because Chicago wanted to dump his 17 million dollar price tag over the next two seasons while the Wizards, in search of a veteran presence, took him. Hinrich is steady if not spectacular, averaging 13 points and 6 assists in his 7 seasons in Chicago. The Wizards will bring him off the bench to play either point or shooting guard.

Also vying for playing time is Nick Young. Young is purely a shooting guard. He can get hot and be effective or he can get cold and drift down the bench and earn a DNP, coachs decision. Every off-season, fans think this will be the year for the fourth year pro out of the University of Southern California to blossom, but he has yet to bloom. This is a make it or break it season for the former first-round pick.

Wednesday: Breaking down the Wizards frontcourt.