'Phenomenal' rookie Wall has Wizards optimistic

BY foxsports • April 15, 2011

Another losing season for the Washington Wizards has come to an end, making it three in a row in which the team has finished at least 30 games under .500.

At least this time, there isn't a major scandal or any significant doubt over the direction the franchise should take in the future. In fact, there is genuine cause for optimism despite a 23-59 record, and it can be summed up in two words: John Wall.

''He was phenomenal,'' coach Flip Saunders said Thursday. ''His competitiveness, just how he approached the game every night. Win or loss, the next day, he had a positive attitude. He held himself accountable. He didn't point fingers. He would take responsibility and that's the first step of (becoming) a great leader.

''I gave him a lot of responsibility. He had the ball in his hands a lot. He knows the things he has to work on to get better. John doesn't want to get better - he wants to be great. He wants to be the best. Because of that, he'll work at it.''

The No. 1 overall pick from Kentucky averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals and had the additional burden of being a team captain at the ripe age of 20. Needless to say, it was learning experience, especially for a someone so unused to losing.

''These are grown men you're talking to, so it's different than college,'' Wall said as he and his teammates cleared out their lockers. ''I learned a whole lot about leading, how to step up more and how to put your foot down and just being a point guard on the NBA level. I think I did a decent job. Next year, I'll do a better job (because) I have a year under my belt. I feel like I can say more, lead the team more.''

Wall doesn't plan to tolerate losing much longer. He's already guaranteed the playoffs for next season, an idea that's not too far-fetched. Some savvy moves, including the trade of high-priced headache Gilbert Arenas, have left the Wizards with tons of salary cap space and two first-round picks in the June draft. The best midseason pickup was rookie Jordan Crawford, who flourished after he was acquired from Atlanta in February.

Wall, who acknowledged that he'll lose out to Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers for the NBA's rookie of the year award, is the first to say that he needs more help.

''You can't win with one player,'' Wall said. ''We've got to add certain pieces, maybe a big man, a wing player and a backup point guard. We want to be in the playoffs next year.''

Saunders was happy that the Wizards played their best at the end of the season, winning five of their final eight games. It helped take some of the sting from the team's 3-38 road record.

''It's been a long year, but we finished more on a high note,'' Saunders said. ''You're hoping that the process we've gone through, the evaluation and the development of the players, that we're going to reap the benefits of that next year.''

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