John Wall shows out in Atlanta.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @Basketballista
John Wall was in Atlanta Saturday for his second career game as the Washington Wizards were trying to bounce back from a 29-point loss to the Orlando Magic in the opening game of TNT’s Thursday doubleheader. It was initiation by fire, as Wall’s first game was shown, judged and analyzed on national TV.
Asked about the game, Wall says, “It was a great experience to see my first NBA game…It was a disappointing loss that we had, we didn’t compete like we know we could. We not taking no credit away from Orlando, they’re a great team though, went to the Finals two years ago…We just wanted to compete against them and I don’t think we did that very well. We been practicing hard the last couple of days, but when we got to the game, it seemed like we didn’t compete like we was in practice so that was our key thing coming to this game [against Atlanta] is competing and play harder than our opponent.”
Wall was drafted first overall by a franchise in upheaval—a Wizards organization trying to reclaim an identity after a futile 26-win campaign in which the team’s core players were moved in separate trade deadline deals. Wall would be given the reigns and everybody knew it from the get-go.
Does Wall feel the weight of the city’s hopes? “When I first got drafted and I had my press conference, I told them there was going to be a process for us,” he says, “You know we’re rebuilding all over again, you know great coaching staff, we got great players that we added and great players that’s coming back so the key for us is going to be ups and downs. We going to win a couple games, we going to lose some games but the key for us is just to keep getting better every year and every game and that’s what we trying to do starting now.”
Wall had a solid preseason, highlighted with the 20-year-old rookie being named co-captain of the Wizards. In Wall’s first game against the Magic, he took 19 shots to score 14 points and finished with nine assists, three steals and three turnovers.
Despite shooting poorly in his first game, Wall says any struggles with his jumper were more mental than physical. “It’s key, you know I’ve been working on it all summer, and I can make it,” he says, “it’s just when I’m so wide open I’m hesitating to see if I want to shoot a jump shot or shoot a set shot. And you can’t do that, cause once you do that, you’re in between two different shots. So the key thing for me is to come off and shoot it like I’m already wide open and just shoot like a regular jump shot…it’s different if I was just catching, that’s a set shot. When I come off the dribble, I have to shoot it as a jump shot.”
Wall’s second game against Atlanta showcased decisiveness with his shot selection, demonstrating a precocious ability to quickly adjust his game and mindset. A lot of rookies say the NBA game moves fast. But when John Wall is on the floor, he looks faster than the game.
And not only can Wall correct his mistakes from game to game, but he was able to make adjustments from quarter to quarter. After struggling with his own speed on a play and rushing when he should’ve paused to draw contact under the rim, Wall was able to read the defense to his advantage the rest of the game and get to the line 10 times. Wall’s composure belied his experience and he looked both comfortable and confident running the offense in a tight game.
The score was locked 70-70 after three quarters, and in the fourth, Wall was spectacular. He scored 10 of his 28 points in the final quarter, on 4-6 shooting, including 2-3 from beyond the arc. Wall had three of the Wizards’ five fourth quarter assists–a delicate balance between dominating and distributing, which the first-year point guard made look effortless.
On his late-game performance, Wall says, “I just felt my confidence build up, you know working with (assistant coach) Ryan [Saunders] the last couple of days. I been coming in early, you know we had practice at 10, I’ve been coming at nine getting extra shots up…I was just trying to find a rhythm and working on what (assistant coach) Sam [Cassell] and Ryan taught me the last couple of days.
Head Coach Flip Saunders sees the extra effort Wall has put in. “From his standpoint, he’s worked on [his shot]. He caught a lot of criticism the last two days that he couldn’t shoot…He spent a lot of time with Ryan before the game,” says Saunders, “It’s gonna pay off eventually. I think everybody knows that if he gets to the point where he can knock down that 15, 18, 20-footer consistently, he’s gonna be extremely difficult to defend.”
While the Wizards didn’t get a victory, Wall sees promise in the way the team played. “It was a great effort, to be honest,” he says, “we accomplished a lot that we worked on the past couple days since that tough loss against Orlando. So we came back, we fought hard on the rebounds, we played great defense.” He said the team needs to learn how to finish out games “and that’s what coach was telling us, the game is going to be won in the fourth quarter.”
Despite the outcome, Wall was fearless during the decisive last period. At times, he made getting the shots he wanted look too easy, choosing between driving to the rim and pulling up behind the arc for a step back jumper. Since it’s only his second contest, he still has to prove he can consistently make shots late in the game. But he showed that he’s not afraid to take them.
On Wall’s poise, Saunders says, “He plays with a great amount of enthusiasm, he’s very confident in his ability to do things and to make plays. He doesn’t get too rattled, he’s very competitive…almost as far as too much of a perfectionist at times, but he’s competitor. We expected him to play how he played.”
“I don’t get overwhelmed too much,” says Wall, “You know, it’s a long game. I realized that, like I said against Orlando, I was trying to score as much as possible in the beginning, took too many shots in the first quarter…So I just try to get a couple of shots here and there, but if they’re open, I’m gonna take them. So you got to be poised and you gotta be mature and I think I’m mature enough for this level and to run this team.”
Wall will be able to fine-tune his jumper and shot selection as he goes, but composure—perhaps the most telling and valuable trait in a team’s point guard—is already there.