John Wall could be the leader Isaiah Thomas is; if he was, maybe Wizards would still be playing
Add John Wall to the list of pretend superstars. You know the ones.
They’ve all been hyped as the next best player in the world during the ascent and reign of LeBron James. None has so much as won a single ring as an NBA champion.
And somehow, it’s always about the supporting cast when they come up short.
“We needed more from our bench,” Wall was quoted last night by ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman after his Wizards’ 10-point loss at Boston in game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal. It wasn’t even close.
As Wall then pointed out to Goodman, the benches: the Celtics’ outscored the Wizards’ 48-5.
I could point out something else. Wall: 2-of-13 from the field in the second half. He missed the final 11 shots he tried. A quarter and a half of 0-fer.
Just maybe, it’s about why guys like Wall don’t have support in big playoff games. It could be that’s about them.
At one point or another, each one of these players has been cited in many quarters as a potential hub of a multiple NBA titleholder. You need the superstar, right? You need the guy around whom you can build, the guy who demands attention from the opponent, the one who lifts everyone up.
But I think there’s a common denominator in all of these guys: They aren’t inclusive.
And by that I mean that they demand so much of the spotlight, both in the way they carry themselves and the way they play, that when it’s time for their teammates to share the load, all the second and third bananas don’t know how.
Wall is the reason there was a game 7 for Washington in that he hit a game-winning trey in game 6. But he disappeared last night. Fatigue is being blamed. His teammates are being cited. He’s been trying to do too much.
Not that there’s been any load on the Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, right?
And all will be forgotten next fall. Why? Because all leagues need names around which to build their publicity. It’s these names that draw the crowds through an otherwise meaningless 5-month regular season. You don’t go out to see the Wizards in February. You might go out to see Wall and Bradley Beal.
For Wall, the top overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, this season marked his fourth consecutive All-Star appearance. He averaged 23.1 points and 10.7 assists, both career-bests. So, this was the year when he was supposed to at least reach a conference final.
But even when Beal, the Robin to his Batman, had a career game when it was needed most, Wall managed to have one of the worst halves of his career when his team depended on him. And the rest of the Washington supporting cast dissolved when Wall basically disappeared.
And I don’t mean just on offense. Wall gets lost on defense, stops on screens. His teammates end up cleaning up his messes constantly. They did last night in the fourth quarter. How would you feel if you were one of the Wizards?
Now, why does that happen while role players like Kelly Olynyk and Al Horford and Marcus Smart rise up around their hub Thomas and play great under the highest pressure?
I think it’s because Thomas does anything necessary to win. His teammates know that, they feed off of it, they feel included and they respond.
Thomas doesn’t act the part of a superstar. He simply exudes leadership. That doesn’t always mean taking the ball one-on-three at “winning time” like Westbrook or Harden or Anthony. It means gathering everyone, showing everyone they are a part and making them feel vital.
That’s how you get an otherwise inexplicable performance like that of the 7-foot Olynyk, a 26-point explosion including 14 in the critical fourth quarter. This, from a Gonzaga product I never thought would even stick in the NBA let alone become a playoff star.
Think about this: His last year in college, Olynyk made 9 college-range 3-pointers during the entirety of the 2012-13 season against mostly West Coast Conference competition. In the Celtics’ 13 playoff games this season, he’s made 13 NBA-range treys including two during game 7’s decisive stretch of the fourth quarter.
That’s what happens with a true leader, a point guard like Thomas who nourishes others. They get better. They begin to believe they can do things they have not before. Down deep, they don’t want to disappoint the guy they all look up to.
That’s why the Celtics have a shot at something no one believes is possible against the Cavaliers. On paper, it doesn’t make sense that they can even challenge LeBron and Kyrie Irving and the Cavs. And they don’t have a great shot. They just don’t have the horses.
But, unlike Harden and the Rockets and their despicable give-up in game 7 against the Spurs, you will not see Thomas and the Celtics cash it in. They will battle the Cavs.
I’m glad it is Thomas and Boston giving it the good fight against Cleveland rather than Wall and his pretend superstardom.
Yeah, the Wizards do need more from their bench. They need a guy who inspires them.
DAVID JONES: firstname.lastname@example.org