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Ball Don't Lie

Flip Saunders thinks John Wall played in too many summer leagues

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Wall and Saunders (Ned Dishman/Getty)

Anyone who appreciates both joy and basketball, especially simultaneously, found something to like in the NBA player takeover of America's summer leagues. There were highlights, moments of community outreach, and a general sense that these men who play basketball for a living would be in love with the sport even if they weren't paid millions of dollars. Truth be told, it was a nice respite from the overwhelming corporatism of the NBA experience.

Now it's the real season, though, and the joy of barely organized basketball must give way to the demands of professionalism. If you haven't noticed, the Washington Wizards are having a rough season, with rising star John Wall seeing his stats regress in a year when most people expected him to make a major leap. So, with so much going poorly for Wall and his colleagues, head coach Flip Saunders decided it would be a good idea to say his best player played too many summer league games during the lockout. From Benjamin Standig for CSNWashington.com:

"I've never been a proponent of all those things," Saunders said after Monday's practice. "I think you pick up too many bad habits and a lot of things you think are going to be very easy [are not]. I don't think I saw a change all summer long."

As for the bad habits, just watch a Wizards game this season for proof. With greater repetition than during his strong rookie season, Wall often speeds past teammates into 1-on-3 situations or zooms into a congested lane with the most creative of intentions. [...]

Wall was not the only Wizard in those wild and woolly games or the only player to recklessly freelance. Yet, as the team's point guard, Wall has more responsibility. As the franchise player, he receives more scrutiny, especially on a winless team.

"Usually what happens is it's on the best player and the coach. That's part of the responsibility that we all have," Saunders said. "The positive thing is that when you're the best player, you're usually the one that can [help most]. You can help change things around as the coach can."

With all due respect to Standig and Saunders, this claim is a bunch of manure. Many players with room to improve this offseason took part in these games, and they're doing just fine over the season's first few weeks. It would only be a problem if the summer leagues had been Wall's only form of basketballular activity for six months, but that seems extremely unlikely. For most players, they were add-ons to a typical offseason training regimen, not a substitute for more formal workouts. Unless Wall really did just take the summer off, this suggestion is borderline insulting to his work ethic and drive as one of the league's most talented young players.

It's much more likely that the Wizards are simply in a state of more general rot. The problem with that take, of course, is that the blame falls largely on the shoulders of Saunders, who would seem unlikely to argue for anything in favor of his firing when that outcome is only a matter of time. There are lots of potential reasons for Wall's problems, from the team's personnel makeup to its system to his own failings as a professional. So it's somewhat uncomfortable that Saunders would point to one of the few things related to Wall he controlled in no way shape or form. It couldn't possibly be his fault, right?

I don't know if Saunders gave this answer of his own volition or simply responded to a line of questioning. Either way, though, it's poor form. Wall's disappointments have little to do with a bunch of harmless games from the summer. NBA success is about much more than that.

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