I'm kind of a sucker for things that combine basketball people, places and things with cool artistic methods of expression and storytelling — that's what Pretty Pictures is about, after all — so this slick, Reebok-produced animation about how the shoe company's signature NBA star, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, went from unheralded North Carolina high schooler to top national recruit and top overall draft pick is right up my alley.
If the style looks familiar to you, blog reader, it might be that you've seen the work of artist James Blagden before — he's the dude behind the fantastic No Mas shorts celebrating Muhammad Ali's 1974 encounter with James Brown and Dock Ellis' legendary LSD no-hitter. While the narrative of Wall bursting onto the national high-school basketball scene due to his performance at a pair of summer showcases back in 2007 isn't quite as compelling as a face-off between the Greatest and the "Godfather of Soul" or a man hallucinating his way into history, its presentation — from Blagden's rendering of a young Wall being cut from his high school's varsity squad, M.J. style, to the quick-hitch perspective shifts indicating that Wall's just blown past an opponent on his way to making his name on the court — never disappoints. It's a really cool way to spend four-plus minutes.
It's also interesting, though, because spending that time focusing on how Wall rose from obscurity to Next Big Thing status tends to remind us that, after a lone season at Kentucky that ended with an All-America selection but an Elite Eight loss and two years with the Wiz that have been largely unspectacular (though that's due in part to how chaotic the franchise has been in that time), there doesn't feel like there's much more to Wall's narrative yet than that "highly touted" tag. Like: We know you're fast and we know you're athletic. What else ya got?
As much as any young player in the NBA, it sort of feels like Wall needs to add another chapter to his story — to create some new talking points and start developing an NBA identity. And based on comments he made to Hoopsworld's Joel Brigham at Las Vegas Summer League, it sounds like Wall knows it:
"It's time for me to be in the playoffs. It's time for me to be an All-Star," Wall told HOOPSWORLD [...]. "Those are all things that I've been wanting. I want to help the Washington Wizards get better as an organization, and that's all up to me to lead my team."
The second goal might be a lofty one at this stage — while the injury to Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose does open up a point-guard spot on the team, Wall's going to have to leapfrog incumbent Eastern Conference All-Stars Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics and Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets, plus the likes of reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, new Toronto Raptors trigger-man Kyle Lowry (who at times looked like a fringe All-Star in Houston) and the Philadelphia 76ers' possibly ascendent Jrue Holiday, among others, to earn a slot on the East's roster come midseason.
If Wall plays to that level, though, then he could accomplish the first goal, too, because this year's Wizards squad has the best chance of making the postseason of any in his brief NBA career.
After several frustrating years, owner Ted Leonsis made a decision to steer Washington's organizational culture away from the irregular, frequently irresponsible and often embarrassing play turned in by talented knuckleheads like Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee. The edict spurred trades that shipped out Young, McGee and the never-really-wanted-to-be-there Rashard Lewis (who came over when the Wiz moved Arenas, the first indicator of the shifting tide) in exchange for veteran talents Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, as well as the jettisoning of Blatche via the collective bargaining agreement's amnesty provision — the Wizards were willing to pay Blatche $23 million just to go away, so that they could continue the change in course.
With a full season of Nene and the expected steadying defensive influence of Okafor down low and Ariza on the wing, if gifted rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal catches on quickly (the early Summer League returns have been encouraging, but, y'know, it's Summer League) and young frontcourt pieces Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Trevor Booker continue to progress, if things break right, the Wizards might have enough to break into the lower tier of the East's playoff bracket. It's a lot of "ifs" and "mights" and "maybes" for a roster that, as BDL Editor Kelly Dwyer wrote at the time of the Okafor/Ariza deal, probably tops out at 45 wins ... but considering Washington's only reached 45 wins once in the last 33 seasons, that ain't nothing, you know?
For it to happen, though, Wall has to be the guy everyone drooled over after those '07 summer breakouts and that sensational freshman campaign in Kentucky. He told Brigham he's "very confident" that the Wizards, himself included, will live to the expectations; it'd be nice if he was right. You can never have too many young stars on the uptick in the NBA, and I'd love to see another one of these animated shorts this time next year about Wall's NBA breakthrough, a moment three years in the making.