John Wall had the jitters before the game. I had goosebumps, but only because I had just settled down to watch Wall’s debut in the 63-degree chill of my basement. I grabbed a blanket; it was showtime.
The Wizards put on a pretty good show en route to an 84-79 win over the Golden State Warriors. Wall and JaVale McGee made their presence felt in the first quarter, which could be viewed as a microcosm of the game as a whole. Highlights below:
John Wall ended up with 24 points (7/15 FG), 8 assists, 8 turnovers, and 2 steals. Six of those assists were alley-oops to McGee, who finished with 21 points (8/12 FG), 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Ten things you should know:
- John Wall is much more confident in his shot. So much so that he was smiling and chatting it up as he hit two free throws to extend the Wizards lead to 4 with 17.4 seconds left in the game. He didn’t get discouraged after missing some jumpers early and looked natural rising and firing from mid-range as the game went on.
- Wall is a lot more comfortable in transition, which will surprise no one. His speed in transition is just as effective as it was in college. The Warriors couldn’t keep up, desperately fouling him around the three-point line, near the paint, and at the hoop, where Wall was able to finish after contact.
- The Wizards are giving John Wall a lot of reps in the Pick & Roll. The Wizards ran a P&R with Wall on virtually every offensive possession. He is dangerous in this set. With his improved jump shot, Wall punished guards for going under the screen, but slashed to the hoop when they pursued over the top. When he did use the pick to create for himself, something Flip Saunders has asked Wall to do, he caused serious problems for the defense: he scored, forced fouls, and attracted a lot of attention, which left his teammates with open shots. There are two things Wall can improve on in the half-court. First, he should look to hit the cutting roll-man with a pocket pass (Wall is often double teamed, leaving the cutter wide open in the lane). Second, he should keep his head up and look for open teammates on the wings (several times, Wall failed to see Raymar Morgan and Cartier Martin left wide open in the corner).
- Without the ball, Wall takes himself out of the offense. There were numerous occasions where Wall would pass to a teammate in the half-court and then take himself completely out of the play, sometimes even out of picture. The Wizards coaching staff will surely take a look at this on film and figure out how to improve his spacing and movement off the ball, and keep Wall engaged in the offense.
- Final Wall bullet: Wall can play defense. Unlike Nick Young, Wall fights through every screen and chases the play when he gets caught up. He stays home on pump fakes, pressures the ball handler, and makes the right slides to help teammates. In the third quarter, I remember criticizing Wall for allowing his mark to hit an easy, uncontested three-pointer (Note: I wonder if he is still getting used to how deep the NBA three-point line is). But, he redeemed himself by blocking a shot on the next possession.
- Trevor Booker is a rock on defense. This was evident early in the game. After a defensive switch on a P&R, Booker was matched up with Golden State center Andre Brown, who tried to back Booker down to establish better position in the post. The physical Brown failed to gain an inch of ground. Booker also closed well on the perimeter, fought for rebounds, and picked up a couple of blocks. He impressed, keeping up with guards and battling forwards and centers down low. He finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds.
- Booker can hit the long ball. And follows the game easily on offense, cutting to the basket when appropriate and supporting John Wall in transition.
- JaVale McGee has an arsenal of unconventional post moves. McGee showcased Dwyane Wade’s signature two-step and even Kobe’s hanging turnaround jump shot. I can’t wait to see what he pulls out against the Clippers.
- Sun Yue was a pleasant surprise. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but did all of the little things right. Sun played good defense, grabbed some rebounds, and got a steal. Unassuming. Crowd favorite, too.
- Cartier Martin looks like a professional. He was very focused on both ends of the court, operating intelligently on offense, and analyzing the Warriors’ attack on defense. Martin made some pretty moves to the basket, chased down loose balls, and played solid team basketball. He scored 8 points and had 7 rebounds. We’ll be seeing Martin in October.
The Wizards were far from perfect, but on a night where even the scorekeeper was making mistakes, they looked like the team to beat in Las Vegas.