Sunday, December 28, 2014

Washington Sports Aren't A Lost Cause

No, this is not a post about how terrible the Redskins are now, and will forever be hereafter. They may be. But while the Redskins' season has come to a horrible yet merciless finish, the focus for sports fans around the DC Metro area should turn to hope.

You see, there's a star who had early success, struggled, dealt with fan and media backlash, came back from injury and showed flashes. No, I'm not talking about embattled QB Robert Griffin III. I'm talking about Washington Wizards' point guard John Wall. The major difference between the two, is that John Wall has now found his groove and started to really come into his own.

Wall is perhaps the most exciting athlete to watch in Washington sports right now. He's very young, and has a lot of growing left to do on the basketball court. But the promise he shows now only makes his capabilities later that much more intriguing, and hopefully special. Wall is as complete a defender in the NBA as there is, whether he earns honors or not. Wall is one of the most dynamic, electrifying offensive players in the NBA, whether he earns honors or not. Wall is one of the best teammates and leaders in the NBA, whether he earns honors or not.

The addition of Paul Pierce has been somewhat of a Godsend for the Wizards, but more so for John Wall. Pierce is playing on younger legs than he has since he was holding the trophy in Boston. But what Pierce brought to Washington besides his athleticism, is his savvy and mature presence. Pierce knows all the little tricks of the trade on and off court, and while he may not be the most outstanding and boisterous motivator, it's apparent the team looks up to him. In situations where last year the Wizards would have been likely to cool off or become complacent, Pierce is urging his teammates to hustle and push through. In the final moments of the game, the Wizards are not just trying halfheartedly to leave the arena with a win, they're fighting as if they have to take a lead they may already have.

But Pierce has rubbed off on John Wall. We saw hints of it last year after the All Star break. Wall was clearly aware of things he could do as a teammate that other stars around the league do. But this year it's different. Pierce is not the only player urging his teammates to keep fighting through. John Wall is actively sprinting back on defense after a score, not only signaling strategy, but getting his teammates to recognize they need to keep up the tempo and control the pace of the game. Defensively, every single one of Wall's teammates is able to play more sound, because Wall is playing defense at the highest level in the league for a point guard.

It reflects in the Win/Loss columns. The Wizards have gotten off to one of the best starts in franchise history, and they are on pace to have one of the best seasons in franchise history. Washington went from a team that could make the playoffs and push any team to the limit, to a band of brothers who can give fans hope that they will not go down easily.

John Wall and Bradley Beal both broke down in tears on the court after losing in the playoffs a year ago. Marcin Gortat's expression was utter disappointment. They knew they were better than losing to a Pacers team who had all but begun to crumble, but they needed to learn a lesson. They needed to experience more and have it taken away from them. Much like Wall needed that All Star appearance to realize what his contemporaries did to be successful, the team needed to get close.

Regular season performances and wins do not guarantee you can win it all. The Wizards may be in striking distance, and they may come up short. But there will be even more fight in them this year than there was a year ago.

Bradley Beal still has a lot of room for growth. There are times when you see hints of him trying to get it, and there are times when you wonder just how far away he may really be. But Beal, like Wall, shows that potential and has plenty of time left to develop into that player. His journey will be even easier with Wall leading him, not just on the court, but through the progression of becoming a more complete player. And when Beal one day finds his groove and starts to come into his own, John Wall should already be the complete player we believe he is becoming, and that day will spell Hell for every team in the NBA.

But for now, the focus is on getting through the regular season healthy, continuing to grow as a team and being able to communicate on the floor. No matter how many tattoo stories there are from Jason Reid or how many times Colonoscopy Cow-turd tries to suggest John Wall is just an exciting player who is not ever going to win a championship, the important thing is there is a team in Washington who has a legitimate shot at competing for a championship soon, and if all goes as planned, will be able to compete for them for many years.

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