I finally made it back to D.C. from Las Vegas after a bit of travel adventure. Below is John Wall’s Summer League ‘exit interview’ video, if you will, and below that is a recap of his time in Vegas that I wrote for ESPN’s Daily Dime on Sunday. More follow-ups on the Summer League to come.
The hype surrounding John Wall has been akin to a well-crafted campaign by Don Draper of “Mad Men,” as good as advertised. His product, basketball-speaking, was flying off the shelves during a four-game stint at the 2010 NBA Las Vegas Summer League, but he performed better than expected in areas that don’t require physical talents, such as leadership and communication.
Wall sat out of the Wizards’ fifth and final game on Saturday, a 109-107 overtime loss to the New York Knicks, Washington’s only defeat of the summer. Afterward, Wall cited tendinitis in both knees as the need to rest, something the 19-year-old said he’s always dealt with.
But Wall’s fans need not worry. He will be healthy, and he will be more than relevant on the NBA scene. Cast aside notions of “it’s just summer league”; this kid has proved he has the mental capacity to succeed.
In his first game action since the NCAA tournament, Wall averaged 23.5 points, 7.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals in four contests.
His quickness was the most surprising aspect he brought to the court. “The way he moves with the ball, it’s like the ball sometimes isn’t even there,” NBA referee hopeful Gerald Williams told ESPN TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz. “He’s just moving with it, and the ball just follows him. It’s an amazing talent.” Williams worked the Wizards-Hornets game in which Wall scored 18 points in the third quarter, bringing his team from down 13 at the half to up six by the end of the quarter and ultimately securing the win.
Once past the defender, usually with ease in the half court and even more so in transition, Wall showed the ability to absorb contact and finish at the rim or get to the free throw line. In total, he shot 41-for-47 (87.2 percent) from the charity stripe — 13.1 free throw attempts per 36 minutes.
Kevin Durant led the NBA with 840 free throw attempts last season but averaged only 9.3 attempts per 36 minutes. This comparison comes with the caveat that summer league is vastly different from the regular season. Still, complaints that Wall already gets superstar calls have begun to surface.
Wall most impressed upon his teammates an air of unselfishness, which just might be contagious to the likes of JaVale McGee. Wall loves to get assists and is not afraid to display a Magic Johnson-esque gratification from rewarding teammates with dimes, even though he hesitates to compare himself to Magic. “It’s good to be compared to somebody, but it doesn’t mean nothing until you prove it on the basketball court,” Wall said.
But he’s clearly not without faults. Wall shot 37.7 percent from the field and made just 1 of 8 3-point attempts. After his final game on Friday, he readily admitted that he was trying to fade too much on his jumper and that he wasn’t holding his follow-through.
Wall is well aware that he needs to improve from midrange and beyond, citing how Derrick Rose improved his jump shot between his rookie and sophomore years. He also understands that teams will guard him like Rajon Rondo (he mentioned the Celtics guard specifically on Saturday), and that he’ll need to prove his ability to be a floor-spacing threat in addition to an attacker.
Turnovers also have been an issue. Wall surely doesn’t want to be like his childhood idol, Allen Iverson, and give the ball away at a rate of 4.4 times per game during his rookie season. Turnovers came up when Wall was asked to grade himself. “Probably a ‘B’ average,” Wall said. “The last two games I really turned my turnovers down, and that was the biggest plus for me.”
Wall averaged 9.4 turnovers per 36 minutes during the first two games and 2.6 per 36 in the last two. Once Wall adjusts his speed to the pace of the NBA game, he should be able to reduce his mistakes and improve his decision-making. Getting better accustomed to the more physical defenders he will see in the league is also a must.
Displays of coachability is what has largely instilled confidence that Wall can quell his glaring inefficiencies. He’s getting heavy doses of tutelage from Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell and is ever-vocal with his teammates. Even on Saturday, while in street clothes, Wall planted himself toward the front of the bench, making sure he was always the first to stand up and support those playing. He also served as a de facto player-coach by yelling out defensive assignments and by making sure to alert bench players when they were being summoned by Cassell to check into the game.
Want an example of the bond built between Wall and Wizards coach Flip Saunders? Just observe when Wall jokingly flicked the ear of his coach after Saturday’s game. Or take a look at this photo, which depicts the hands-on approach the two have developed with each other. A love of a simple game clearly has brought them closer together.
“He still has a lot to learn, but he’s a sponge,” said Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld. “He’s a very approachable guy, he’s a very willing learner and a very hard worker.”
One person with knowledge of the Wizards’ scouting and player-development department simply wrote “IT” in all caps on his notepad and circled it (twice) when asked about Wall, indicating that those in the front office knew what their draft target brought to the court. However, they were surprised by the grace with which he has handled the heightened attention.
“I was just expecting to just come out here and play basketball,” Wall said. “I know a lot of people wanted to see me play and see if I was going to live up to the hype. But I just wanted to come out here and play basketball.”
From “Go All In,” to “Ready To Rule,” to “Character, Commitment, Connection,” the Wizards haven’t had a ton of success with their players backing the team’s marketing campaign slogans. Now, “Game Changer,” seems to work on so many levels. The folks of Madison Avenue would call it a drop in the bucket, something Wall hopes to create in abundance next season.