John Wall: Pass-First Point Guard, Has Wings, Skips, and And-1 Tricks | Wizards Blog Truth About

John Wall: Pass-First Point Guard, Has Wings, Skips, and And-1 Tricks

Updated: January 12, 2015
[via ESPN the Magazine body issue]

[via ESPN the Magazine body issue]

John Wall has … wings?


The Wizards made a lot of noise in their 16-point win over the Chicago Bulls last Friday night, but it was John Wall who made the biggest statement.

I know, ‘statement games’—cliches and all of that. I’ve got a statement for you: John Wall’s insistence, after the game with ESPN’s sideline game curators, Hubie Brown and Mike Breen, that he is a pass-first point guard.

Wall beat Derrick Rose for the first time in six career contests on Friday night. Washington is now 11-8 versus teams above .500, but their 102-86 win over Chicago quenched a thirst for a seriously parched Wizards Nation.

Rose scored 19 points on 19 shots (1-for-7 on 3-pointers). Wall scored 16 points on 15 shots. Neither player lit up the night with individual buckets. It was Wall’s ability to manage the game, his team, and to be a true point guard—pass-first—that separated him from Rose on this evening. Rose was drafted first overall two years before Wall, but because of various injuries Rose has only played in 14 more regular season games and 511 more regular season minutes than Wall. The point guard in Washington has, nonetheless, collected 486 more regular season assists than the point guard in Chicago.

Wall played four more minutes than Rose on Friday and touched the ball six more times, 81-75. Wall passed the ball 14 more times, 63-49, and totaled 12 traditional assists, five secondary (“hockey”) assists, and two free throw assists. Rose’s assist totals: 2-0-1.

Of course, Rose’s teammates didn’t hit shots. As a team the Bulls shot about 10 percent worse than the Wizards in contested shots (WAS: 22-50, 44%; CHI: 16-47, 34%) and uncontested shots (WAS: 19-36, 52.8%; CHI: 16-36, 44.4%).

It was just one night, one game. Rose is good, the Bulls are very good (and controlled the first meeting in D.C., but not quite like Washington did on Friday). These two teams will face off again, on ESPN, next Wednesday in Chicago.

At shootaround on Friday morning, Wall was asked about his ability to lead by a reporter who works reports on the Bulls (for the team)—Wall’s full comments can be seen via this video from TAI’s Adam McGinnis. That same Bulls reporter, Sam Smith, ranked John Wall and Bradley Beal the NBA’s eighth best backcourt back in mid-October, writing, “They’d move up if Wall gains a better understanding of playing point guard.”

It was a ‘What are you talking about, old man?’ moment—a question that people in their 30s, like me, hate to ask. (Wait, no I don’t.)

No one wants to grow old and out of touch. Or in touch but simply too lazy to use the modern marvel known as the Internet for research. Perhaps Google being ever-available to answer life’s questions will keep people like me from becoming crotchety one day with assumptions and opinions that time cements as self-contained fact. The world, now, is good at exposing the belligerently ignorant. Smith’s ignorance lies in that he was either unaware or ignored the fact that Wall led the NBA in total assists last season, finishing second to Chris Paul in assists per game. Rose, who entered the NBA as more of a scoring-first point guard, is now, amidst finding confidence through so many injuries, struggling to understand the position.

This digression needs to bring its toes out the water. This isn’t a take down of Smith, or Rose. This is a celebration of Wall.

“I don’t think it was a question for me, but a lot of people had a question. But I think…,” said Wall, starting to answer the question at hand from Smith on his ability to lead a team. It was oozing in irony. ‘John Wall, can YOU lead a TEAM while I discount the clowns you were paired with to start your NBA career—Blatche, McGee, Young, Crawford, whomever; even pouty veterans like Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas?’

We’ll never really know what type of mad science Ernie Grunfeld and, later, Ted Leonsis were practicing when surrounding Wall with such buffoonery upon his entry into the league. Several such players were already in Washington when Wall was drafted, but that doesn’t make it any less curious that John’s NBA initiation was burdened by them. Was it to make the Wizards “bad by design” (Leonsis’ once-blogged words) for the rebuild? Or maybe they were trying to break Wall down, military style, and make him hate losing in the NBA, make him recognize bad teammates, condition him into being a leader … before building him back up.

Smith interrupted Wall’s answer, wanting to ensure that Wall knew that ‘people’ were questioning his game.

“Yeah, you hear everything. You hear everything,” Wall said with a half smile, being aware of Smith’s prior questions of his game or simply figuring, by default, that he was one of those motivators. “I don’t say much ’cause I’m not going to be the one that questions… that’s y’all’s job, that’s y’all’s opinion.”

Wall then got back to his answer, an admission that he did need to take steps to improve his game.

“Just studying a lot more film, being better with shot selection, not forcing the issue a lot of games, and just reading what the defense gives me and giving my guys an opportunity to get in a rhythm.”

An admission that goes far past his own words. Observing Wall over his career now in year five, he’s proven himself a persistent student of the game, striving to be a smarter player and to allow that basketball intelligence to complement his freak athleticism. Coaches have raved about Wall’s quick absorption of concepts through film study, and such is even evident in his willingness to go below the surface when discussing basketball strategy.

Just learning to be a point guard, even though he always was one.


And-1 Tricks: Skip to My Lou.

Jumpers off the screen.

Actual skipping.


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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.