Highlights of John Wall’s improved jump shot plus a mini-duel with Michael Beasley at “Clash of the Superstars” in Washington, D.C.
The NBA’s unofficial stand-in—this summer’s suite of pro-am games—have drawn basketball’s biggest names to the delight of frenzied crowds from Northeast Baltimore to Southeast Asia. The exhibitions have clearly meant something to the players, visible in celebrations after big plays as well as reactions to suspect officiating.
That wasn’t so much the case at Saturday’s showdown at Calvin Coolidge High School in northwest Washington, D.C. that featured John Wall, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Michael Beasley, Jeff Green, Greg Monroe and Kemba Walker. Billed as “Clash of the Superstars,” the charity game had all of the star power but none of the flash; it was a sleepy affair that played more like the final run of a pickup game among friends—very little energy and even less defense.
Although the action on the court didn’t exactly rouse the sparse crowd, a few in attendance had high praise for Washington Wizards second-year point guard John Wall. I caught up with Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls who talked about Wall’s “spectacular” summer, and explained that while pro-am competition doesn’t compare to the NBA, it’s still an important part of preseason preparation:
“You got to work on the summer stuff to get you ready for the season. His jump shot has progressed tremendously. The more I see him, the more he progresses; that’s the key thing, his jump shot. And I didn’t know he was that athletic, he’s athletic as I don’t know what. I see the progression and the work he’s been putting in. I’ve even seen the technique change on him. At first it was like a push shot, but now I see a lot of wrist in his shot. So whoever is working with him is doing a good job.”
Proper shooting technique goes a long way. Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose is a pertinent example of a player hitting the gym to improve his accuracy from distance—and succeeding. Rose has become a much more reliable offense weapon inside the arc, and has also made huge strides with his three-point shot.
Derrick Rose Advanced Shooting Statistics
To compare, as a rookie Wall shot just 28-percent from 10 to 15 feet, 30-percent from 16-23 feet and 44-percent from three-point land. Wall was far more effective with his deep ball as a rookie than Rose was, but his mid-range game definitely needed work. Improvement comes at cost; one that Wall is willing to pay for in sweat equity. He has put the work in, setting out to prove to the world that he could hit a jumper.
“That’s really what I wanted, I just want to show people I can make jump shots now,” said Wall. “That’s what I’ve been doing on a consistent basis, out there working. And now that I’m making a mill’, I can’t stop working.”
Wall and Rose have distinct playing styles. Both have supernatural speed, but Rose has an awesome ability to create for himself in half court sets, while Wall uses his vision to create for his teammates. Despite their differences, there is no question that an improved jump shot will make them—or any player for that matter—more effective.
A more efficient Rose led his Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals after taking home his first MVP Award. As for John Wall, time will tell, but finding strength in his mid-range game will make him even harder to gameplan against.
In the third quarter, Michael Beasley and Wall exchanged back-to-back three-pointers, prompting the Timberwolves forward to wonder, “Where’d that come from?”
Wall answered plainly, “Just working, man.”
“I didn’t know he could shoot like that,” Beasley told Washington Post‘s Michael Lee after the game. “Scouting report all year was let him shoot, let him shoot.”
The Wizards’ opponents let Wall shoot, daring him to beat them away from the basket, and though he had his moments where he rose to the challenge, Wall struggled with both injuries and confidence issues during his rookie campaign. D.C.’s favorite point guard is now hopeful that his development will pay dividends.
“It’s just confidence in shooting and just holding my follow through,” said Wall. “Last year, I’m not saying nobody told me, but, uh, sometimes if I missed one or two in a row they told me, ‘Don’t shoot no more.’ It made me lose my confidence. I didn’t have the confidence in myself, and when I sprained my foot I didn’t have the explosiveness I wanted to, or shoot like I wanted to. Now that I’m back to myself, I feel pretty healthy.”
Wall also feels a strong connection to the Washington, D.C. area. He said he plans to finish his career on the Wizards (or whatever the team might be called next year) and appreciated the sincere support from fans despite having suffered through another losing season.
His bold, competitive nature reminds me of an excerpt from When Pride Still Mattered, Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss’ biography of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi. Lombardi, a tenacious but mediocre football talent, and his St. Francis football team had won five of six games one season on their way to the Catholic school title game; Lombardi in particular had performed well enough to gain all-city recognition in The Big Apple. But as Maraniss notes, the moment that stuck with Lombardi more than any other occurred early in the season against Erasmus Hall, a powerful public school team with a long winning streak:
“Led by the golden arm of its crackerjack quarterback, Sid Luckman, Erasmus shut out St. Francis, 13-0. Yet Lombardi, who smacked Luckman with a few good licks on defense, felt like anything but a loser when it was over. He experienced what he later described as a locker room epiphany. As he sat slumped on the bench in his grass-stained red and blue uniform, he was overcome by joy, a rare feeling for him. Nothing on the sandlots felt quite like this. He understood that he was not a great player, but he had fought hard, given his best and discovered that no one on the field intimated him, no matter how big or fast. He was confident, convinced that he could compete, puzzled why other players did not put out as much as he had. He felt fatigue, soreness, competitive yearning, accomplishment—and all of this, he said later, left him surprisingly elated. … It was an intoxicating sensation, one that he would want to experience again and again for the rest of his life.”
Now, I can’t say with any certainty that John Wall has experienced a similar sensation. However, it’s obvious that Wall believes he can not only play in the NBA, but be one of the league’s premier players, a fearless leader who won’t back down from anybody, not even Kevin Garnett. But unlike Lombardi, Wall is a unbelievably talented athlete; one that doesn’t take his skills for granted. And in D.C., his dedication to winning is unmatched.
“We’re just working to get better,” said Wall, who praised the progress of teammates JaVale McGee and Jordan Crawford. “That’s one thing I really care about.”