- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2014

From No. 1 overall selection in 2010 to first time all-star in 2014, the respect for the Wizards John Wall around the NBA is growing.

With almost 400,000 votes, Wall fell behind only starters Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference backcourt for Sunday’s game in New Orleans, and while the starters are determined by the fan vote, the league’s head coaches determine the reserves.

“That let’s me know that the coaches think that I’ve been improving this year and I’m helping out my team as much as possible to be a better leader,” Wall said.

Leadership is a quality that Wall always has possessed. He has been looked upon as a leader ever since his lone season at Kentucky under coach John Calipari.

“Coach Cal just made me a better player,” Wall said. “I always led by example, but he taught me how to be more vocal and taught me to be aggressive.”

Those qualities are becoming more apparent in the midst of Wall’s best season as a pro. Whether it’s delivering a pass right on target or picking up a teammate after a game, Wall has been able to make a positive impact on his team.

Since Wall arrived in D.C., the Wizards roster has undergone nearly a complete overhaul. Only three members remain from Wall’s 2010 debut. One of the three, forward Trevor Booker, has been the beneficiary of Wall’s leadership.

“I’ve seen a tremendous difference in him,” said forward Trevor Booker, who was drafted with Wall in 2010. “He’s grown, not only in his game but as a person.”

With Wall growing into his role as team leader, the time is now for the Wizards to make their mark in the Eastern Conference.

“It all starts with me,” said Wall. “How I start the game, playing defense, getting to the ball, putting pressure on the opposing point guard and still adding pace to the game. Getting everybody involved and touching the ball. Everything starts with me being a leader.”

With that attitude, Wall is leading Washington to its best season since 2007-2008. The Wizards have flirted with .500 for much of the season and are 25-27 at the break, good for sixth in the conference. 

While Wall has never been more vital to his team’s success, his approach hasn’t changed.

“The greatest thing about John is his competitive nature,” teammate Martell Webster said. “He has been very consistent with that. It bleeds throughout the team.”

By combining a unique skill set with a relentless work ethic, Wall is averaging career highs in points (20.1) and assists (8.5). But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Along with the development of his leadership, Webster said Wall also has the ‘it’ factor, the mysterious intangible that helps life the play of others.

“The most important thing to do when you have the maestro like that is to encourage him,” said Webster. “One thing I tell him is that he shouldn’t feel like he has to be Superman all the time.”

To that end, Wall has gotten bettter at picking his spots and expanding his game beyond being a pure scorer.

Wall is enjoying the highest 3-point shooting percentage of his career (33.0) and is on pace to attempt the most free throws in a season, all while learning when to attack and when to get his teammates involved.

Wall also gained respect from his peers. According to Hoopshype, Wall has the fifth-highest number of Twitter followers among NBA players with 154. Behind players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Wall is doing his part building his brand.

And other players around the league are beginning to take notice of Wall’s growth on the court, specifically opposing point guards. Celtics guard Jerrod Bayless, a journeyman in his six-year career, has seen first-hand just how much Wall has improved.

“He’s gotten better and progressed,” Bayless said. “He’s done a great job, and they are building something special here and he’s been the centerpiece of that. He’s grown over the years and improved his shooting, and he’s obviously one of the best point guards in the game.”

The 23-year old, who signed a five-year contract extension last summer, is doing his part to put D.C. back on the basketball map.

“My main goal, and our goal as a team, city and organization was to try and have a good season,” said Wall. “[We want to] make the playoffs and bring excitement back to Washington, D.C.”

To achieve that, Wall has plenty to push him — including being left off USA Basketball’s National Team roster.

“It’s more motivation,” said Wall. “I didn’t make the McDonald’s [high school All-American] game. I wasn’t national player of the year. I wasn’t rookie of the year. So those are just tabs I keep to motivate myself to prove people wrong.”

Another tab that Wall uses to push himself is a photo of the Larry O’Brien Trophy hanging in his locker. The Wizards have not won the O’Brien Trophy, awarded to the NBA champion, since the 1978 season, coach Randy Wittman’s senior year of high school. No current Wizard was alive during the last title run. The teams last championship came 12 years before Wall was born.

Wall has come a long way in his four-year journey with the Wizards. As Washington is experiencing its most suc