By the time the first week of the "Lockout League" was coming to a close in Las Vegas, there was widespread disappointment over the fact that Blake Griffin never showed up as expected.
John Wall, meanwhile, was on the premises and as potent as ever.
It was, one could say, the exact opposite of the 2010-11 season.
For all the hype that surrounded the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft and former Kentucky point guard, he and every other first-timer in the league were overshadowed by the Clippers' rookie. While Griffin recovered just fine from the left knee fracture that kept him out in 2009-10 and was the runaway Rookie of the Year last season, Wall simply didn't have the showing he had hoped for in the Wizards' 23-win campaign.
But the NBA's answer to Roadrunner spent much of his debut campaign with bad wheels, missing 12 games while playing through pain on so many other nights. And beyond the bruised left knee and the sprained left foot, it was the tendinitis in his right knee that was most troubling of all.
For a player whose jump shot has been suspect but whose end-to-end speed was elite upon arrival, it was a relevant and regretful part of his first act. Yet despite a foreboding forecast from Washington coach Flip Saunders at midseason that he didn't "think, with [Wall's] situation, having tendinitis, that he's ever going to be pain free from that," Wall is not only healthy but also pain-free again. Whenever the season starts, he'll be off and running in ways we simply didn't see the first time around.
"I'm better," Wall said when asked last week to offer a medical report. "Totally like myself. The knees are feeling good. No tendinitis right now. No bone bruise. My foot is great. Since this lockout is going to be a little bit of time, I'll maybe take a little bit of rest and make sure everything is fully healthy so when the season starts you're ready to roll."
Not that he didn't show up at all last season. Wall finished with 16.4 points and 8.3 assists per game, but his average of 3.8 turnovers was second most behind Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (3.9), while his field-goal percentage (40.9) and three-point percentage (29.6) ranked 44th and 56th, respectively, among point guards.
The perimeter game has been a major focal point of Wall's offseason training. He showed flashes of improvement during his
"I had great numbers as a rookie, but I feel like I wasn't myself throughout most of the season," Wall said. "You'd see at the end of this game I had 28 points, nine assists and those types of things, but it's not all about scoring. It's just that that's the type of player I want to be so I can be myself and run my team.
"Sometimes when I wasn't myself I was putting my team in jeopardy and putting myself in jeopardy [because of his ailing health], but I just wanted to play."
Unless 20-year-old Ricky Rubio starts at the outset for Minnesota (which is possible), Wall will remain the league's youngest starting point guard. His 21st birthday was on Sept. 6, nearly three months after that of 76ers starter Jrue Holiday, approximately nine months after possible Clippers starter Eric Bledsoe's and more than a year after Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings'.
If judged among that promising group and if using the well-respected Player Efficiency Rating of ESPN's John Hollinger, Wall (15.85) edged Jennings (15.66) and Holiday (15.49) last season among the youngsters but was a long ways from the elite company he so badly wants to keep (see 22-year-old wunderkinds Westbrook, with a PER of 23.63, and MVP Derrick Rose, at 23.62, in their third season). Yet, as evidenced by the rapid development of the aforementioned All-Stars who have both logged three seasons, experience will play a huge part in Wall's progression. To wit: Westbrook's PER as a rookie was 15.20, while Rose's was 16.05.
"It's great," Wall said when asked about the experience factor. "You know how to get certain calls. You know how a team is going to guard you. You know what you really need to work on, and you know what to really expect from different players every night.
"It's just being smart, trying to talk your team through and be a better leader. Some guys, like Rose and Westbrook and Chris Paul, developed through the years. ... I just want to make a big jump."
A pain-free jump, of course.