When Wizards coach Randy Wittman described the type of point guard he believes John Wall can be, he was indirectly talking about a player in the mold of Jason Kidd.
Kidd, 39, is at the tail end of a Hall of Fame career with the New York Knicks. He won an NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks two years ago.
The NBA’s No. 3 all-time three-point shooter with almost 2,000 made, Kidd has averaged a double-double four times in his 19 seasons. He has been an All-Star nine times, to the NBA finals three times and has more than 100 regular-season triple-doubles. Only Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson have more.
Wall, in just his third season, has never been to the playoffs, is barely above 40% shooting overall, has made only 38 threes.
Wall, however, didn't have the tutoring that Kidd had coming out of St. Joseph of Notre Dame High School in Alameda, Calif., near Oakland. Perhaps no one has. Kidd played against older players who already were in the NBA, such as Gary Payton, a 6-foot-4, nine-time All-Star.
Kidd learned from an early age how to influence a game without needing to score. Payton drilled into him that if he wanted to remain on the floor after an inevitable bad shot, he had to play defense.
"You got to play defense," Kidd said after his Knicks defeated the Wizards 96-88 last week. "That's the only way I'm staying on the court right now."
Would he have been the player he is today without the experience with Payton?
"No, I needed that. That gave me the total package," Kidd said. "If I didn't have that influence, I never would've made such an impact."
Coincidentally, Wall will be going to Seattle to work with Payton, now well into his 40s and retired, this summer. Known as "The Glove," Payton was the NBA's defensive player of the year for 1995-96. He's the last guard to win the award that's dominated by low-post players, and he's the only point guard to be named.
Payton's observations about how Wall could improve his defense stuck with him most.
"That's what kind of persuaded me to talk to him. He told me I could do it if I put my mind to it and keep developing," Wall said.
Wall showed desire against the Knicks. He ran the length of the floor to pin Kidd’s layup on a fast-break. The play appeared to be legal, but the officials ruled it goal-tending.
In the Wizards' locker room, there's a chart of how often their players contest the shots of opponents. Wall ranks the lowest on the team at about 68% going into Wednesday's game at the Minnesota Timberwolves (CSN, 8 p.m. ET). Compare that to teammates Trevor Ariza (81%) and Bradley Beal (84%).
"He can do it. He can put pressure on anybody," Kidd said of Wall's ability to defend. "He can get to the basket. Everybody's talking about his shot, but he'll be fine. "
During the Mavericks’ run to the championship, Kidd didn't get nearly enough credit for orchestrating it all. They played in flow, not calling plays after a Game 1 loss to the Heat. Instead of going with set plays, coach Rick Carlisle allowed Kidd to run the offense and defense.
The Mavericks confounded the Heat with a 2-3 matchup zone defense. Kidd's teammates followed his lead. When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade thought Dallas was in a man defense, it often was in zone and they were funneled into shot-blocker Tyson Chandler.
In the series before, when they beat the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, the Mavericks put Kidd on the 6-10 Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter. Even at six inches shorter and contending with Durant’s long arms, Kidd consistently forced him into bad shots.
How? He knew where Durant’s sweet spots were on the floor and made him pick up his dribble a count early. Knowing he had no chance at bothering Durant’s jumper when he raised up, Kidd disrupted his timing and didn't allow him to get the shot up cleanly. The Mavs won in five games, even though almost every game came down to the last two minutes with four being decided by seven points or fewer. Kidd wasn't bigger, stronger or faster. He was just smarter.
“He's the most unique player I've ever been around. He sees the game and thinks the game at a savant-like level," Carlisle told me before those finals began even though Kidd averaged just 9.9 points, 7.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds in the playoffs up to that point. "There's a simplistic genius to his understanding of the game.”
Wall has a long way to go before he gets anywhere near that description. Maybe Payton can help fast-track him, much the way he did with Kidd.