As the Wizards prepare to host the Boston Celtics on Monday in the final game at the Verizon Center this season, thoughts have already turned to next year. The rebuilding of this franchise will take center stage this offseason, and standing front and center on that stage is rookie point guard John Wall.
The 82-game NBA regular season can be a big adjustment for a rookie used to playing less than half that many in college, and Wall understands he had a lot to learn this year.
"The league is tough, playing against teams every night," Wall said. "You play against some great defensive teams that make it tough on you. You've got to move the ball side to side; you can't score just keeping it on one side. I learned that I had a lot to work on.
"I think I was getting better. In the last couple of games, I've been working on what I need to work on to prepare myself for next season. I'm just trying to finish the season strong."
By all accounts, Wall has had an impressive rookie campaign. He was the first player in franchise history to be named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for three consecutive months - January, February and March.
Wall also leads all rookies in assists per game (8.9) and steals per game (1.73). His 16.4 points per game is second only to Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (22.4). On the negative side, Wall also leads all players in turnovers with 3.9 per game.
Part of the problem, as Wizards coach Flip Saunders is quick to point out, is the number of lineup changes the Wizards have had to make, owing to the mounting number of injuries.
"In our offense, we put the ball in his hands a lot," Saunders said. "With all the injuries that have gone down, with so many lineup changes, you have to take into consideration you've got a rookie point guard who has to deal with that. That's a tougher adjustment for him, as far as who's on the floor. It's not consistent, the guys he's playing with on a night-in and night-out basis."
Wall is in the conversation for Rookie of the Year, although the consensus pick appears to be Griffin, whose Clippers (31-50) are languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference and will be a lottery team just like Wall's Wizards.
The unknown factor that could change everything in the immediate future is the impending lockout, expected to come after the NBA's collective-bargaining agreement ends June 30. But Wall prefers to focus on the positives and on things he can control.
"How we're playing now gives me excitement that we can do a lot of good things next year," Wall said. "I just hope that all of us work hard this summer and come back next year and have a better season."
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