It is no great shock to learn that NBA players are confident in ways that exaggerate their measurable on-court contributions. However, that's not even typically a mark of a delusional personality — irrational confidence is often a necessary component of success in the league. Guys can't believe they have skills they don't have, but they do sometimes have to think they're better at something — like, say, shooting — than they really are in order to perform better. It's illogical, but that's not exactly a foreign concept to human psychology.
Sometimes, though, such a statement has implications well beyond a player's belief in his own abilities. Take, for instance, these statements from John Wall in a wide-ranging, substance-heavy interview with Zach Lowe of Grantland:
Have you started thinking about your contract extension talks yet?
I haven’t started thinking about that.
Really? The deadline isn’t that far away.
That’s true. Look, I’m just enjoying D.C. This hasn’t been going the way we wanted it to, in terms of winning, but I think we are building something here.
Do you feel like you deserve a max contract? That you’re a max guy?
I feel like I am. I do, definitely. [...]
People have noticed lately that you’re shooting about 50 percent from the right elbow and below 30 percent, or worse, from most other midrange locations. But I checked this morning, and you only hit 31 percent or so from that spot last season, meaning it wasn’t really much better than any other spot — and it was worse than one or two.
So is this just random? Or is that spot really becoming a sweet spot for you, since you’re right-handed and can dribble right into that part of the floor?
It’s not a random thing. You know when it’s the fourth quarter, and you need a basket in an isolation situation, and you need to score, that’s where I’m comfortable. Everybody has a sweet spot where they want to get to.
So you’re officially calling that your sweet spot?
Everywhere is my sweet spot, but right now, the right elbow is my best elbow.
For now, let's not consider the term "my best elbow" and its vague creepiness. The numbers are exactly what Zach claims. As Wall's NBA.com shot chart shows, the right elbow is easily his most efficient shooting zone:
Wall's statement makes little sense, because he clearly feels comfortable taking shots from this area of the floor, if only unconsciously. At the same time, it makes sense that he would consider other areas of the floor viable places to shoot from, although calling any of them a "sweet spot" is an exaggeration. If Wall is going to become the star that the Wizards want and expect him to be, he can't limit himself to certain zones. He needs to be everywhere, and he won't be able to succeed in other areas of the court if he doesn't first consider that he can.
Wall's sense of his own abilities ties into talk of his contract, as well. It's hard to imagine that Wall hasn't thought of a potential extension at all, but a claim that he deserves a max deal is a statement of intent regardless of circumstances. Objective measures might not consider Wall worthy of that contract, but he at least considers himself to be a player who should be able to get one. Effectively, he's saying that he intends to become that player at some point, because he sees himself as having the ability to do so.
The Wizards would be stupid to give Wall a max-level contract for that reason, but that doesn't mean extension talks this summer can start at a significantly lower figure (i.e. one in line with Wall's observed value) with no repercussions. If he thinks himself deserving, he's not going to like any offer that places him at a level below that of a burgeoning star. In some ways, the Wizards and Wall might be better off tabling extension talks until the summer of 2014, because at least then there will be 29 other teams to render his contract wishes silly or sound.
As we've seen in the case of Eric Gordon and other players, not offering a player the best deal possible can be taken as an insult even when logic dictates that it was perhaps too generous. Teams must tread lightly even when players are wrong on the merits. Otherwise, a relationship could be altered forever.