CLEVELAND — There’s a new guard in the East, literally speaking, and John Wall of the Washington Wizards says he is one of a trio of court generals at the top who will be forever intertwined along with Cleveland‘s Kyrie Irving and Chicago‘s Derrick Rose.
“I think between me, [Irving] and Derrick, we’re always going to be rivals, in my opinion,” Wall told ESPN.com before the Wizards’ 113-87 loss to the Cavaliers on Wednesday. “Number one picks, all in the Eastern Conference, I think it’s going to be a battle for a long time, I mean as long as everybody is healthy and playing. That’s what everybody is going to want to see.”
Rose went No. 1 in 2008, followed by Wall in 2010 and Irving in 2011.
All three players’ teams figure to be a part of the playoffs this season, with Washington owning the conference’s No. 2 record, Chicago holding No. 3 and Cleveland at No. 7 despite a rocky start going into Wednesday’s games. The postseason is where rivalries tend to flourish in the NBA, and Wall’s Wizards beat the Bulls in the first round last spring with Rose sidelined because of injury.
Irving has yet to make the playoffs in his first three seasons. In the absence of any bad blood from intense playoff battles between them so far, both Wall and Irving were effusive in their praise of one another.
“He makes their team go,” Irving said of Wall after shootaround Wednesday. “He’s such a great point guard in our league and he just makes everybody better out there. And that’s what separates him from all the guards. He has a change of pace now that he didn’t have in his first year, but now the game is slowing down for him so much and he’s become so much better.”
While Wall has had the taste of the playoffs that Irving is still waiting for, the Cavs point guard got a leg up on Wall this past summer when he was named MVP of the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain while the Wizards guard failed to make the cut for USA Basketball during tryouts in Las Vegas.
Despite the snub by the national team, Wall had plenty of compliments for Irving in return.
“He’s a scoring point guard, you know what I mean? So he already could shoot the ball,” Wall said when asked to describe how Irving has progressed since coming out of Duke. “He came in his rookie year and he had a lot of offensive gifts, offensive skills. I think he’s been getting better defensively and things like that and taking the challenge of guarding other players. This is what this league is all about. Just trying to get better every year and improve. … I think he’s still getting better.”
They both have a ways to go to match the accomplishments of Rose, a one-time league MVP who has made the playoffs several times, but they both have their health, whereas Rose as been in and out of the lineup for much of the past three seasons.
Irving and Wall also were linked during the preseason when Wizards guard Bradley Beal declared that he and Wall were the best backcourt in the East, prompting Dion Waiters to call that claim “nonsense” and give the title to Irving and himself.
Wall doesn’t take the theoretical ranking too seriously.
“It’s just talk, you know what I mean? It’s competitive, though,” Wall said. “You’re never going to want to say somebody else has a better backcourt. That’s just how you are. But when I get on the court and play, it’s the Washington Wizards versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s not me and Bradley Beal versus Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. I mean, that’s what people like to see. That’s how you make the game more exciting, and it makes the game more intense. But you know, we’re playing for the team that we have across our chest and our city. So, that’s who I go out there and compete for every night.”