Its been 27 years now, but Wizards coach Randy Wittman can still remember the feeling he had entering his third season in the NBA.
All of a sudden that third year was lights out, lets go, Wittman recalled. There are no surprises any more. I know what I have to do to be a good player in this league.
Wittman proved it, scoring a career-high 1,043 points for the Atlanta Hawks that 1985-86 season. And he believes 22-year-old John Wall is ready to have that same breakout season in his third year with the Wizards.
This is a big year for him, Wittman told a room full of reporters Wednesday at Verizon Center. Its time to take that next step.
Taken first overall by the Wizards in the 2010 NBA draft, Walls numbers in his first two years in the NBA were almost identical. After averaging 16.4 points, 8.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game as a rookie, Wall averaged 16.3 points, 8 assists and 1.4 steals per game in his second season.
Wall improved his shooting percentage from just under 41 percent as a rookie to just over 42 percent in Year 2 and Wittman believes Walls willingness to work with a shooting coach for most of the summer will pay big dividends when he and the Wizards open training camp on Tuesday at George Mason University.
A lot of times, whether its through your agent or through your family or friends, you hear a lot of different messages, Wittman said. Your brother might tell you one thing. Your mother might tell you another. Your agents telling you youre crazy.
I think it was beneficial for John to have repetition to be consistent. Hes still going to go through some tough shooting nights, no question about it. The key is trying to get him better and more consistent. If we can do that it will help elevate his game.
With eight players on the Wizards roster with two or fewer years of NBA experience, Wittman said the key is getting his young players to understand the work that is involved with turning his team from an Eastern Conference cellar dweller to one that can make a serious run at a playoff spot.
A lot of these kids that come into the league, theyre hearing one thing, Man, its great, Wittman said. You made the NBA, youre going to have a lot of money, youre going to have a big house, youre going to have a lot of cars.
Nobody tells them how hard its going to be. They dont hear that, so they dont know. Its not a knock against any of them. Its just that they dont hear those things and when it comes to that point, wow, its really difficult.
Wittman says many of his players faced that challenge for the first time in their careers last season, when they saw their coach fired and their season end well out of playoff contention. The key, he says, is whether they learned from their experience.
Who do you have when it gets difficult? Wittman asked. Are you going to have someone who steps over that line and digs in deeper? Or someone who says, Nobody told me about this. This isnt for me. Thats what were trying to put together here.