When Washington Wizards point guard John Wall signed his max-level contract extension last week, pretty much all immediate analysis correctly noted that he hasn't yet earned that kind of money by his performance on the court. In three seasons since becoming the first-overall pick in the 2010 draft, Wall has shown flashes of brilliance and struggled with consistency. While he played very well after returning from injury last season, Wall got this deal on the strength of his considerable potential and the reality that the Wizards can't succeed without him. The franchise is banking on his continued development — it's a gamble they consider worth taking.
Of course, that progress won't occur unless Wall improves at a steady rate. To that end, he's made plans to work with a nine-time All-Star soon to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. From J. Michael for CSNWashington.com (via PBT):
Wall still plans to hook up with Gary Payton, a Hall of Fame point guard who was one of the best of his generation, in Seattle before returning to train with the Wizards on Aug. 20. Plus, he had ample time to watch the nuances of Tony Parker as he led the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA finals and the Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Conley, who helped his team advance to the Western Conference finals.
“Footwork also, just like catching the ball and working on pivots and stuff,” Wall said about what he has done this off-season in addition to refining jump shot. “Floaters. Watched a lot of Tony Parker throughout the playoffs and I see how Mike Conley added to his game after I went to two of his playoff series."
Wall also is going to lobby coach Randy Wittman to allow him to do something else.
“Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to post up this year,” he said.
That’s where Payton, who also stood 6-4 and could be too physical for opposing point guards, could help most. Like Wall, he wasn't the best jump shooter to start his career but became a solid one. By his fourth season, Payton shot better than 50% from the field. He only was a career 31.7% shooter from three.
Hakeem Olajuwon has forged a sort of second career out of his one-on-one sessions with players looking to expand their post games, so it makes sense that this practice would extend to other positions, too. While Portland Trail Blazers star and reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard plans to be involved in the Wall/Payton sessions, too, it seems like Wall is seeking the same sort of legend-to-pupil instruction that benefited players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant when they met with Hakeem.
As Michael suggests, Wall might have picked the perfect tutor. Though he has plenty of time to develop a better jumper, Wall has shot only 24.3 percent from three-point range and 42.3 percent from the field in his pro career. Payton arguably relied on the three-pointer too much as he aged, but he's still a player who figured out ways to excel at the offensive end without elite shooting. Wall is already beginning to develop a sweet spot and find dependable offensive tendencies. If Payton can help him along in that process, then these sessions will have been worth it. (It's possible that "The Glove" would have even more to teach Wall at the defensive end, but that does not appear to be part of this bit of training.)
Coaching big men is often discussed as if it relied on teaching a few moves. That's an oversimplification, clearly, but it does stand in contrast to the typical characterization of developing as a point guard, with its dependence on feel and in-the-moment creativity. It'll be interesting to see if Payton's tutelage has any effects on Wall, or if they're even noticeable. We may be on the cusp of a new era for high-profile offseason basketball instruction.