In Year 2, John Wall says he knows 'what it takes'
As Day 1 of Year 2 in the NBA for John Wall drew to a close, Wizards coach Flip Saunders awarded the point guard a construction helmet symbolizing the hardest worker in the first practice of post-lockout training camp.
''You can keep it,'' Saunders told the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, ''or you can give it to someone else.''
Wall plopped the white hard hat with the team's new red-and-blue ''dc'' logo atop his own head, then sat for a chat with Saunders in a corner of the gym Friday night, while other players shot free throws.
Later, looking ahead to his second season, Wall said: ''I kind of know what it takes to win games. I know what it takes to lead a team. I know what it takes to control things. I think it's going to be a little easier, but it's still going to be tough going against top point guards every night and trying to lead a young team.''
Washington figures its inexperienced group - more than half the roster is 23 or younger - will need to rely on top-flight effort and energy from everyone, along with a healthy Wall, to improve on last season's 23-59 record.
''John hustled today. He was on the floor, got a great steal in the backcourt and got dirty. For this team to be good, we're going to have to have guys get dirty,'' said guard Roger Mason, who signed a one-year contract Friday to return to the Wizards, a team he was with in 2006-08. ''We're going to have to have guys on the floor, blocking shots, getting rebounds, loose balls. That's where the game is won a lot of times, and I think Flip sent a message, honestly.''
Saunders called the hard hat ''a little bit of a carrot'' and acknowledged that ''it's maybe not original'' - although he said he wasn't aware that the Washington Capitals, the NHL team that shares an owner and an arena with the Wizards, have handed out such helmets after victories.
It also fits with the slogan Saunders came up with on the fly when asked by reporters what the theme of training camp is this year.
''Work in progress,'' he said.
Wall is about as polished a player as the Wizards have. Wearing the blue jerseys of the potential starting lineup at Friday's practice were Wall, Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Jordan Crawford (who appears to be slotted for the shooting guard spot that would be vacated if Nick Young doesn't re-sign).
''Our main thing right now is defense and rebounding. This whole practice today was about defense and rebounding,'' Blatche said. ''There was nothing about offensive sets, really. It was just mainly about focusing on defense.''
Saunders echoed that, emphasizing that his team's best chance at overall improvement will involve getting better at that end of the court.
He also knows that having Wall around for as many of the shortened-season 66 games as possible is vital.
As a rookie, Wall dealt with right knee and left foot injuries, and he missed 13 games. He wound up averaging 16.4 points, 8.3 assists, and 4.6 rebounds.
Asked what he'd like to see Wall improve, Saunders began by saying: ''His biggest thing is staying healthy.''
Continuing, Saunders pointed to Wall's ''ability to be able to finish at the basket. He gets there a lot, he scores a lot, but I think he can score a lot more and not turn the ball over and just kind of lead the team. And then defensively, just be in a situation where he can pick up full court and use both his speed, his strength, his length and his quickness.''
Diving for loose balls wouldn't hurt, either.
Notes: Mason has averaged 6.9 points and 1.8 rebounds in 372 games over seven NBA seasons with five clubs since being drafted in the second round in 2002. ... The Wizards signed their three draft picks Friday: Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack. They also signed three other players, bringing their training camp roster to 14: Mardy Collins, Mike Wilks and Aaron Pettway.