Flip Saunders Happy to Raise Expectations for John Wall
He happily raises them.
After watching a summer of workouts and seven exhibition games, Saunders has seen enough to believe.
When asked for comparisons, he mentions LeBron James, Dwight Howard and Kevin Durant -- young, established superstars who single-handedly lifted franchises from the dregs to make them contenders.
They aren't point guards like Wall, but they are centerpieces and expected to become future Hall of Famers.
As the No. 1 pick of the draft, Wall is expected to do the same in Washington, even before he plays his first real game. He will make his debut Thursday night in Orlando against the Magic, expected to change the course of a downtrodden team. And make it a contender.
"You can go down the list, Orlando with Dwight, Cleveland with LeBron, Durant in Oklahoma City, there is a process you go through,'' Saunders said Thursday before a morning workout. "He (Wall) is the main part of that foundation for us.''
Since he was drafted after one season at Kentucky, Wall has done nothing but solidify the Wizards belief that he can take them to new heights -- and very quickly. He averaged 23.5 points and 7.8 assists in the Summer League. He averaged 15.7 points and 7.9 assists during the exhibition schedule.
His combination of size (6-foot-4, 195 pounds), quickness, athleticism and leadership skills has been dazzling.
"He has an opportunity to rewrite what a prototype point guard (in the NBA) is,'' Saunders said. "As a point guard and leader, so much of what he does will help the team.''
Wall's defensive potential had Saunders talking about a comparison to nine-time All-Star point guard Gary Payton. Wall's leadership skills had Saunders talking about Chauncey Billups, a point guard he previously coached. Wall's status as a No. 1 pick even had Howard talking about him Thursday.
"I'm sure he'll do fine in Washington,'' said Howard, a former No. 1 pick like Wall. "He doesn't have any pressure of him. He just has to go out and play, and have fun. I didn't care about being a No. 1 pick. I just went out and enjoyed what I was doing. Things take care of themselves.''
The issue of pressure had Saunders smiling, dismissing any thought of it causing a problem with Wall. Playing at Kentucky, where the scrutiny and pressure to win is among the most intense in college basketball, prepared him well.
"He's a guy when he sees the lights go on, and he smells the popcorn, his game is going to go up,'' Saunders said. "That's why we took him No. 1.''