Over the past five years, basketball has given us a clear example of the age old developmental psychology conundrum of nature vs. nurture. We have seen two point guards from John Calipari schools get picked first and watched the Petri dish as the careers of Derrick Rose and John Wall have played out. While it may be that Rose is simply better than Wall, there have been many extenuating factors around Wall’s first three years in the NBA that have caused his development to slow. One can only wonder what their careers would have been like if they had switched teams. Let’s take a look at the only two point guards since Allen Iverson to be drafted first.
Both Wall and Rose are coming back from knee injuries in 2012-13. Wall recently returned and Rose is slated to come back some time after the All-Star break. Neither guard has learned how to make a 3-pointer consistently. Rose took a great number of threes (385 long range attempts) in 2010-11, but only made 33.2% of them. Wall only took 42 3-pointers last year and converted just three. Wall and Rose played on loaded Calipari teams that may have caused their stats in college to be held down a bit. In 2009-10, I thought Wall’s Wildcats were clearly the best team in the nation. Rose was on the last Calipari squad at Memphis and led the team to the finals in the NCAA tournament. Wall and Rose are approximately the same size (6-4, 190 lbs).
The differences in their games are that Rose is a better halfcourt offensive option (one of the best in the NBA) and Wall may have slightly better court vision (although assists may not tell the entire story). In 2008, I argued that Michael Beasley should be taken over Rose because of Rose’s somewhat underwhelming stats at Memphis. That argument has not turned out so well in hindsight. The Memphis freshman averaged just 14.9 points and 4.7 assists. That was largely because Calipari did not unleash him until the NCAA tournament in which he decimated a string of future NBA guards (D.J. Augustin, Darren Collison, and Mario Chalmers). The Tigers only lost two games (at Tennessee and in the finals to Kansas in overtime).
The 2009-10 Kentucky team is the best team that Wall has played on. I am not saying that a team of DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, Darius Miller, and Wall could beat any of the Wizards’ teams of the last two plus seasons, but they had more talent than any of the Washington teams with Wall. They would lose to any NBA team because of their lack of experience. That team lost three times: twice in conference play at South Carolina and Tennessee (how about those Volunteers?), and in the NCAA tournament to West Virginia, which was led by Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks in the biggest upset of that season.
Since 2010, Wall has played for Flip Saunders and Randy Wittman. His best teammates in his first two seasons were Nick Young, Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee. That’s a rough group to learn from, unless you want to learn a great deal about hero ball. Management for the Wizards has been uncertain. Saunders’ coaching resume relies on having the best defensive player of his generation (Kevin Garnett) on his squad. Granted, no coach has been able to win without stars, but Saunders and Wittman are not exactly coaching stars. The Wizards flipped McGee for Nene and brought in Emeka Okafor for 2012-13. While neither forward/center is going to be an All-Star, they should add some professionalism to the frontcourt for the Wizards. Once he gets healthy, I am curious to see what Wall does and if the current Wiz bigs can help him.
Rose came into the league under Vinny Del Negro. Based on his current ability to stay out of Chris Paul’s way, maybe Del Negro isn’t the worst coach in the league. The Bulls were led in Rose’s rookie year in scoring by Ben Gordon, but he was jettisoned before 2009-10 and Chicago started surrounding Rose with competent big men. They already had Joakim Noah, who is one of my favorite bigs for his relentless defense, and drafted Taj Gibson in 2009. In 2010, they signed Carlos Boozer, brought Tom Thibodeau (another Garnett beneficiary and another thing, like Beasley, that I was wrong about) as coach, won 62 games, and made it to the Eastern Conference finals before getting ousted by the Heat. Rose was the league’s MVP. Perhaps Washington hoped to follow in this pattern when they brought in Nene and Okafor, but the Wizard frontcourt is not terribly close to Boozer and Noah (without even mentioning Luol Deng who has forged a nice career as a small forward in Chicago).
As LeBron showed in Cleveland, no one player can push his team to a championship. Rose has had a lot of help in Chicago. He has had organizational stability, competent coaching, and excellent teammates. Thus far, Wall has had none of that. While I still believe that point guards are seriously overrated in the NBA, I think Wall could be a big part of a winning team like he was at Kentucky. He may not be an MVP candidate like Rose, but given the proper environment, there’s no reason why he can’t succeed.
Perry Missner is a college basketball enthusiast who writes for RotoWire along with several other fantasy outlets. He welcomes your comments on Twitter at @PerryMissner or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org