John Wall’s vision and speed are the main reasons Flip Saunders knew he would be drafted No. 1 overall by the Washington Wizards this past summer. Everybody else obviously knew it too, or there wouldn’t have been a Sports Science study done on him. Still, amidst all the Wizards’ struggles, it’s been easy to forget the positives of just how good Wall really is.
Wall has hit bumps in the road while learning the NBA game, but that’s certainly to be expected. His brief “rookie wall” can mostly be attributed to nagging foot, knee and left hand injuries. But after missing 12 games in a 19-game stretch from November 16 to December 22, Wall has appeared in 41 straight games since. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder last week, an incredible play from Wall as he blew past Serge Ibaka caught my eye and reminded me that hey, the Wizards may not be very good but at least we’ve got John Wall to watch.
Ibaka should be familiar with Wall. They were both at All-Star weekend, playing against one another in the Rookie Challenge. Wall ran the floor all night, recorded a Rookie Challenge-record 22 assists and helped JaVale McGee outdo Ibaka in the Slam Dunk Contest, despite Serge’s toy-snatching, role model-acting, free-throw jumping first round. And yes, Ibaka is quite an athletic player. He’s become a perfect fit for Oklahoma City’s youthful and energetic style of play.
For a quick sequence on March 14, as Wall sprinted with the ball past Ibaka, the Thunder big man probably wished he hadn’t been so eager to play defense. Maybe he should have let the rook roam free or wait for his teammate Russell Westbrook, who was having his way with Wall all game long. Instead, Serge took himself out of the play by getting spun around by Wall, and awakening fans inside the Verizon Center in the process. Good thing for Ibaka that Mr. Durant was there to hush the crowd soon thereafter.
“Whoa” is right, Mr. Chenier.
There’s a reason why Wall scores 6.2 of his 15.8 points per game with 10 seconds or less on the shot clock (more than doubling his point total during the first 14 seconds). It’s the same reason why he shoots a 47.8-percent Effective Field-Goal Percentage during that short amount of time (stats via 82games.com). Why? Because he uses his pace to blow by defenders for layups.
Wall has also uses his speedy athleticism for defense. Against the Chicago Bulls on February 28, Wall again had his hands full with MVP candidate Derrick Rose — a lightning quick, energetic point guard who’s very similar to Russell Westbrook. On the play below, Wall hounds Rose until he gets what he wants — a steal and sprint up court for what becomes two free throws and a foul on Rose:
This next play against the Toronto Raptors on March 18 not only shows Wall’s incredible speed, but what I hope is a turning point with his approach — a fast, yet controlled pace. He smoothly pushes the ball up court and surveys the court while doing so, which allows him to find Yi for a rare dunk from the big man. It’s perfect play that will be present in more meaningful, winning ways as Wall’s career in Washington progresses.