What better way to gauge John Wall’s game than to scrutinize his performance against the defending champs?
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Overall, as indicated by his numbers — 7-of-14, 14 assists, only 3 turnovers, one steal, 3 blocks and 22 big points — the NBA’s top draft pick was quite impressive. But his hustle, court vision and general demeanor transcended his statistics.
Wall’s speed and quickness are outstanding, which makes him an irresistible finisher on the run. When he’s at full throttle, Wall’s crossovers — whether executed in a frontal or a behind-the-back fashion — are as tight and fast as any of his peers. Zip, blink, and the ball that was undeniably here is now suddenly there.
However, the slower the pace, the more vulnerable his right-to-left crossover is to being tipped and/or stripped.
Wall can pull and shoot going either way, and even has the strength to stop-and-pop from beyond the arc — 2-of-5 from the great beyond on Tuesday night. His release is smooth and the ball is soft when it approaches the rim. Yet launching treys under pressure does compromise his shot — one of his long-range misses was off the back rim (a “good” miss), while the other two were “bad” misses that bounced off the far side of the ring. But Wall also demonstrated that he can effectively catch-and-shoot as well as pull-fade-and-shoot from mid-range.
Early in the game, Wall forced several in-the-lane flippers when he was on the verge of being out of control. Also, one of his turnovers occurred when he left his feet and tried to pass under pressure from an aggressive triple-team. Yet throughout the game Wall exhibited excellent vision, picking up his dribble and completing numerous on-target passes to cutting teammates. It’ll take time for Wall to consistently make better decisions when enemy bigs are converging on him in the lane.
Even though Gilbert Arenas too often dominated the ball even when he played the shooting-guard slot — and made several mistakes in so doing as evidenced by his seven turnovers — and diminished Wall’s ability to establish a rhythm, the rookie has a certain presence on offense. That will only become more pronounced as his career progresses, and once Arenas is sent elsewhere.
Except for one sequence late in the game when he was slow getting back on defense, Wall hustled throughout. One of his swats occurred when he came from behind and nailed a turn-around jumper by Kobe; another resulted when he did the same to Pau Gasol; and Derek Fisher was the victim of Wall’s third block when the rookie chased down an apparent breakaway layup attempt and smacked the ball into the expensive seats.
On another sequence, Wall was also in perfect position to draw a charge on Gasol, but he took the punishment in vain as a foul was called on the pass to the big man.
The Wizards mostly played zone, so there was minimal pressure on the young man’s individual defense. Still, he was switched on to Kobe midway through the fourth quarter and, refusing to be drawn out of position, forced Bryant into unleashing (and missing) a highly contested 3-pointer.
In whatever man-to-man confrontations Wall did face, he yielded two points to Fisher and six to Steve Blake — all of these markers resulting from perimeter jumpers when Wall got hung up on combo-screens. Indeed, Wall tends to lose concentration when playing off-the-ball defense, and he also has a hard time dealing with sturdy screens.
It was clear that the Lakers took the Wizards too lightly. After running up an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter, L.A. went into cruise control and was out-hustled by the young visitors. The lead was down to four points with 20 ticks on the game clock, when Flip Saunders made a critical mistake: The Wiz had just come down with a defense rebound, Wall had the ball in hand, the Lakers defense was disorganized and in full-retreat, and Wall was eager to create a quick score on the run — something that Washington had done with great success all game long. But Saunders called a time-out and Wall couldn’t hide his frustration.
Then, after the huddle, Saunders’ carefully crafted play was jammed by the Lakers locked-and-ready defense, and Wall was compelled to hoist a prayerful 3-ball that missed badly.
In sum, Wall’s miscues were part of any rookie’s education and are therefore highly fixable. At 6-foot-4, 195 lbs, though, he could use some more muscle to help him survive the long, physically demanding season.
But his lively game, wizened court sense and never-ending hustle mark Wall as a future All-Star.
With the season just about one-quarter in the books, here are several teams whose performances thus far have been extremely disappointing:
MIAMI – Don’t be misled by their current “hot” streak or by the hype that they’re coming “together”. In the past few games they’ve done little more than feast on the league’s weak sisters (a process that will for the most part continue for a while after they face the Jazz in Utah), and their problems remain unchanged: LeBron and D-Wade both need the ball to be at their best, neither can shoot, there’s a gaping hole in the middle, and none of their point guards can play defense.
But LBJ did demonstrate his fearlessness by repeating his look-at-me talc thing in Cleveland.
CLEVELAND – These guys have no heart and not one iota of self-respect.
MILWAUKEE – Andrew Bogut’s right arm is paining both him and his team. Still, the Bucks can’t shoot and can’t score.
CHARLOTTE – When was the last time any team coached by Larry Brown was so sloppy and so listless? Meanwhile, Brown’s never ending search for a point guard in his own self-revered image continues.
LA LAKERS – Kobe’s shooting too much, Gasol not enough, and Artest is MIA. Plus, without Andrew Bynum the Lakers are short on bigs.
SACRAMENTO – The worst team in the league has only minimal prospects of improving. Especially since they can’t pass or shoot, and their blue-chip rookie, DeMarcus Cousins, is such a knucklehead.
MEMPHIS – Both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are too slow afoot to protect the basket.
On the other hand, several teams have done surprisingly well.
SAN ANTONIO – Even though Tony Parker’s marital problems have made him timid on the court, Richard Jefferson has finally adjusted to SA’s half-court game plan, and the Spurs are still the sharpest team in the NBA. The only other caveat is their penchant to begin games in a haphazard fashion, forcing them to struggle and overcome double-digit deficits.
NEW YORK – There’s certainly more pizzazz in their offense but their defense remains porous. Fortunately, their early schedule has been bottom-heavy with some of the NBA’s worst teams. Still, in seasons past the Knicks have routinely lost to the league’s cellar-dwellers.
UTAH – Al Jefferson has given the Jazz an inside scoring threat and is learning how to play Sloan-ball.
DENVER – A beneficial case of collective amnesia has enabled the Nugs to focus on the here-and-now and not fret about Melo’s status. Also, with Kenyon Martin still down and out, the team is more authentically tough.
DALLAS – Tyson Chandler’s command of the paint has provided the Mavs with enough interior defense to take the pressure off of no-D guys like Dirk Nowirzki and Jason Terry. Plus Shawn Marion is enjoying a rebirth.
MINNESOTA – The T-Wolves are still losing, but are more competitive than they have been in recent memory.
NEW ORLEANS – Chris Paul is shooting less, which impacts their ability to put points on the board. But a thinner, trimmer David West has combined with the wide-body of Emeka Okafor along with the stopper-midsets of Willie Green and Trevor Ariza to tighten the Hornets defense.
NEW JERSEY – Still awful, but even that’s better than pitiful.
INDIANA – The addition of Darren Collison and the improvement of Roy Hibbert plus the part-time toughness provided by James Posey and Josh McRoberts have returned the Pacers to marginal respectability.
Q: I believe point guards are born not made. If I’m wrong, who are the current players not natural point guards that learned to play the position? — Damon Peden, Lincoln, CA
A: There’s no hard and fast rule here, but to answer your question, these are the current players who have successfully made the transition from shoot-first to pass-first points guards: Mike Bibby, Chauncey Billups, Jameer Nelson, Tony Parker and Deron Williams.
Non-points still climbing the slope of their learning curve are: Carlos Arroyo, Jerryd Bayless, Aaron Brooks, Toney Douglas, Goran Dragic, Tyreke Evans, Jordan Farmar, Brandon Jennings, Nate Robinson, Derrick Rose, Rodney Stuckey, Russell Westbrook, Louis Williams, J. J.Barea, Will Bynum, Mario Chalmers, and George Hill.
Guys who have never achieved a complete makeover include Gilbert Arenas, Leandro Barbosa, Baron Davis, Daniel Gibson, Ben Gordon, Willie Green, Devin Harris, Luther Head, Eddie House, Beno Udrih, Mo Williams, D. J. Augustin, and Steve Blake.
Just to complete the survey, the natural points are Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Luke Ridnour, Rajon Rondo, Mike Conley, Darren Collison, Raymond Felton, T. J. Ford, Eric Maynor, Andre Miller, Ramon Sessions and Sebastian Telfair.
It should be noted that the players’ respective talent (or lack thereof) does not figure into the above categorizing.