Appreciative. It’s the one word that summarizes John Wall’s first — and possibly only — season with the Houston Rockets. When Rafael Stone made the decision to acquire Wall in a trade with the Washington Wizards, the five-time All-Star was brought in as a final attempt to pair James Harden with a high-caliber guard on Houston’s quest to win an NBA championship.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Harden, the unorthodox yet interesting pairing got off to a promising start. Harden and Wall led the Rockets to a 122-119 victory over the Kings, combining for 55 points and 17 assists in the win. As the two walked off the floor together, it appeared that Wall would be celebrating a number of victories during his first season with the Rockets.
Unfortunately, he would only see 16 more wins following the Rockets’ three-point victory over Sacramento, and his All-Star teammate forced his way to Brooklyn 13 days later. The Harden and Wall pairing only lasted seven games.
The turmoil. The roster changes. The losing. And the injuries. All resulted in the Rockets plummeting to the bottom of the league, but Wall was one of a few bright spots in a season of disarray. Yes, his play on the court was subpar at times, but no one could ever question Wall’s effort in the 40 games he played throughout the season.
As the leader, Wall was the one player who stood up for the organization when several players turned their backs and forced their way out. And when the stakes were at their highest for the Rockets, Wall put on a vintage performance.
In his first game against his former team, Wall led Houston to a blowout victory with 24 points in 24 minutes. He tried to ruin Harden’s return to Houston with a season-high 36 points while shooting 40 percent from deep. He notched his eighth career triple-double as the Rockets ended their 20-game losing streak in a win over the Toronto Raptors. And he nearly pulled off an improbable victory over the Los Angeles Clippers with 27 points, 13 assists, and two blocks in the loss.
Wall’s double-double against Los Angeles could have been his best performance of the season — given that he was playing through a knee contusion at the time. The Rockets’ five-point loss to the Clippers was Wall’s final game of the year.
In what has been a tumultuous season for the Rockets, I asked coach Silas about his appreciation for John Wall following his double-double performance against the Clippers on Friday. pic.twitter.com/8M7czOs4a3— Coty M. Davis (@CotyDavis_24) April 24, 2021
What made Wall’s first year in Houston even more appreciative was his performance after a near two-year hiatus. This was the first time since December of 2018 that Wall appeared in an NBA season. It was then injuries began to take a toll on his career. As a member of the Washington Wizards, Wall sustained a heel injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the 2019 season. And a few months later, he ruptured his Achilles on the same foot and it sidelined him for all of 2020.
Too many players in history can relate to Wall’s injury-riddled career. But few can relate to sustaining the same level of play upon their return. After averaging 20.6 points this year, Wall became the fourth player in league history to average 20.0 points or more after returning from a torn Achilles — the other are Dominique Wilkins, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant.
After returning from injuries, Wall lived up to the question of whether or not he could still play at an All-Star caliber level. But now he faces uncertainty about his career in Houston.
At 30 years old, there is a good chance Wall does not want to spend the back half of his career playing for a rebuilding Rockets team, and his actions on social media resemble an agreement.
During Houston’s final press conference of the year, Stone said Wall was ”fired up” about the possibility to return to the Rockets season. But only time will tell whether or not a team like the New York Knicks will make an enticing offer to lure Stone into moving on from the All-Star guard.
Regardless of where he plays basketball next season, there should be an appreciation for Wall in Houston despite ending the year with the league’s worst record at 17-55.