John Wall takes Round 1 against Wizards, exactly how he wanted to

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Chase Hughes
·5 min read
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Wall takes Round 1 against Wizards, exactly how he wanted to originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Really, it could not have gone any better for John Wall. He made it clear he wanted revenge, that Tuesday night's game against the Wizards, his first time facing them since being traded in December, was personal. Wall not only beat them, he did so in vintage form while telling them all about it. He even had a heated trash-talking exchange with Russell Westbrook, the guy he was traded for.

The Wizards in recent years had grown used to Wall talking plenty, but rarely backing it up. Now healthy, he followed through on his word against them, and in a way that was reminiscent of his peak in Washington.

Wall likes to use the smallest of slights as motivation and now the Wizards are one of those slights. As he explained to NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, he believes the Wizards thought he was "done" following his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Wall reiterated the same in his postgame interview on the Rockets' broadcast.

While that is likely an exaggeration, he certainly doesn't look finished by any means. He has his trademark speed and quickness, and that was best demonstrated by a first-half play where he grabbed a defensive rebound, zipped up the court, brought the ball behind his back and then finished with his left hand. That was the Wall we remember, the one who tore up the league long before his body broke down with injuries.

That likely brought some mixed emotions for Wizards fans, who hadn't seen that version of Wall for years, not since the 2016-17 season when he made All-NBA. He couldn't stay healthy his final three years in Washington, then got traded, only to seemingly regain his old form right after leaving.

The inverse has been seen with Westbrook to this point. He made All-NBA last season in Houston, and has long been known for his athleticism and durability, yet early in his time in D.C. has dealt with a quad injury that has affected his explosiveness, particularly around the rim.

Most confusing has been how he just hasn't looked sharp. Even with the quad issue, he's getting past defenders. It's what happens when he gets past them that is the problem, as he far too often loses the ball in traffic or throws the ball away.

The bigger picture, however, needs to be kept in mind. Though Westbrook's current condition is concerning, this trade was not made because the Wizards didn't think Wall would be good in the short-term. It was about the long-term future of both players and mitigating risk.

In order for Houston to get the better end of the deal, it will depend heavily on whether Wall's body can hold up over three seasons. That is after the surgery to repair his Achilles, which was torn while he was recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs on that same heel. He has also had surgery on both of his knees.

Though Westbrook is not 100 percent at the moment, he does not have anything close to the same amount of injuries and surgeries in his past. The odds of him being available for more games in the next two-plus seasons should be higher. That is important when you are paying a player $40-plus million each season, as both Wall and Westbrook are due to earn through 2022-23.

Beyond the long-term health of both players, it made sense for the Wizards to try something new after so many years of trying to make Wall and Bradley Beal work as a duo. Their peak was really good in 2016-17, but it also did not suggest a very high ceiling. Running it back with them would have been trying the same thing and expecting a different result.

Imagine if the Wizards were going through the same issues they are this season, but with Wall instead of Westbrook, how stale it would feel. Wall looks good, but not good enough to overcome their problems on defense, or the effects Covid-19 has had on their ability to put together competitive lineups.

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The Wizards, let's be honest, were in a tough situation when they traded Wall. They had a player signed to a supermax contract who suffered one of the worst injuries in sports. It was not a position of good leverage.

They decided to flip that player for another who, at least on paper, brought more certainty into their future. Though that hasn't played out as expected so far, the basis of their reasoning remains.

Wall got Round 1, there is no question about that. The two teams will play five more times before his and Westbrook's current contracts are over. They see each other next on Feb. 15 and maybe by then the Wizards will have more players back from Covid-19 protocol. They were missing six of them including some key guys like Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimura. 

If Tuesday night was a preview of more to come, this trade could come back to bit the Wizards. But it was just one game and it's far too early to draw big-picture conclusions, especially given the reasons for why Washington made the deal.