- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2011

The Washington Wizards opened their season at Verizon Center on Monday night against the New Jersey Nets. They were a fitting opponent for the Wizards, since the Nets‘ best player, Deron Williams, embodies everything that the Wizards‘ best player, John Wall, hopes to become.

Williams could be the best point guard in the NBA, depending on whom you ask, but he’s inarguably in the top three, along with the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul and Chicago’s Derrick Rose. Wall would like to become the fourth name in that group.

“Going against all-pro players like Williams is an exciting opportunity for him,” said Wizards coach Flip Saunders. “He’s much more prepared this year than he was a year ago, and he understands what to do going into every game.”

When Wall looks at Williams, it’s not the two NBA All-Star appearances, or the 2008 Summer Olympics gold medal, or even Williams‘ impressive per-game stats — 17.4 points, 9.3 assists and 3.1 turnovers.

It’s his four playoff appearances, including a trip to the Western Conference finals with the Utah Jazz in 2007.

“It doesn’t matter how many points you score or what your individual stats are,” Wall said. “In this league, it’s about winning. All the great point guards in this league, they win.”

Williams reached the playoffs his second season in the league. Wall is hoping the Wizards can make the leap to the playoffs in his second season, but for one of the youngest teams in the league still in rebuilding mode, reaching the postseason will be a long shot.

Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld and owner Ted Leonsis have said that progress and player development, more so than wins and losses, are this season’s goals.

Wall spent much of his offseason studying film of the league’s best point guards, soaking up knowledge of what the great ones do well and understanding what he needs to improve upon.

One of Williams‘ most impressive stats is his 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, an area Wall knows needs improvement in his game. Last season, Wall averaged 16.4 points and 3.8 turnovers.

Nets coach Avery Johnson, who played point guard for 16 years, already has noticed an improvement in Wall’s game from last season, even with the minuscule sampling of two preseason games.

John Wall is a just a young player that’s a lightning bolt,” Johnson said. “He has an improved half court game, he’s a really good passer and he really understand’s Flip’s offense now. When he rests on defense and just plays offense, he’s tough to handle.

“If you don’t go five-against-one with him in transition, you’re going to be in trouble because he’s a one-man fast break.”

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