by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

Whenever a new issue of SLAM is dropping, we do a post here on SLAMonline that we call the “On Sale Now…” post, meaning the issue is on sale now. Duh. Today is my turn to write one of these posts, because I wrote the cover story for SLAM 144. This issue is actually going to be available a few days from now, but we wanted to drop it before the holidays.

We’re actually going to debut the cover live this afternoon on on The Jump, the show that airs live on at 1 PM and then re-airs a few hours later on NBA TV. (I’m in Atlanta sitting in today on “The Jump” and then doing my regular spot on “The Beat.”) Once the video goes online, we’ll link it up here.

Anyway, about this cover. You may have noticed that one of the best rookies thus far this season has been John Wall down in DC. He’s leading the entire League in steals, he’s fourth in assists (well, he was earlier today), and he’s generally playing about as awesomely as we at SLAM suspected that he would.

SLAM 144: John Wall portrait. We shot John down in DC earlier in the month, and I went down for the shoot and to interview John. He talks fast, and it wasn’t until a couple of days later when I was listening to the interview that I was struck by how much John’s voice reminded me of another NBA player: lower than you’d expect, a little bit of a Southern accent. A few days later I asked my main man Michael Lee at the Washington Post, and he agreed. It wasn’t just me—Wall sounds a little bit like Allen Iverson.

It’s not just the voice, or the fearlessness or the creativity, or John becoming the new face of Reebok. More than anything, Wall reminds me of AI because of his speed. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone as fast with the ball as John Wall. Earlier this season, at the end of the first half in the Wizards loss to Cleveland, Wall was trying to score before the clock ran down. Wall took an inbounds pass and went end to end with two dribbles, taking just over 2 seconds. Before the Draft, Wall was tested by ESPN’s Sports Science program, and they found Wall was able to react to a light trigger in 253 milliseconds, which is faster than a cheetah at top speed takes a single stride. Josh Smith called him “a blur,” Lou Williams called him “a rocket.”

For all of Wall’s physical gifts, he still has room to improve, and he knows it. Teams early this season have regularly been going under picks against him, daring him to take midrange jumpers. John has mostly been passing up the shots, instead sharing the ball and perhaps even overpassing. But the Wiz and Wall have been working diligently to remedy this, mostly by having Wall do drills led by Wiz assistant coach Sam Cassell. And if there was ever a guy who dominated in the midrange game, it was Sam Cassell — I once wrote that when Cassell was done playing, instead of retiring his number, teams should retire a spot on the court about 16 feet from the basket on the free throw line extended.

Wall seems to be embracing the coaching and working hard to improve. “I got goals,” Wall said. “Hopefully win Rookie of the Year, that’s everybody’s goal. I want to keep developing, improve my jump shot and prove I can make it so people will stop going under screens. Keep learning as much as I can, prepare every day, get better every day. Watch film. Listen to Coach Saunders, Sam Cassell, listen to all the coaches I can. See how teams are going to guard me so I’ll know how
other teams will try and guard me. But the main focus is really the team goal. I really want to see what we can do as a team.”

He’s going to improve. But for now, he’s all speed. And that’s pretty dope to watch.

There’s a lot of great stuff in this issue, from a great old school piece on Manute Bol to…oh, right, I’m here to talk about the cover.

So here’s John Wall’s first NBA SLAM cover. I have a feeling you’ll be seeing plenty more as the years roll on…

SLAM 144: John Wall cover