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NBA AM: John Wall’s Play Silences Critics
Posted By Alex Kennedy On April 1, 2013 @ 7:30 am In NBA | No Comments
Last summer, John Wall spent countless hours improving his game. He spent a considerable amount of time in the gym working on his jump shot, floater and post-up game. When he wasn’t in the gym, Wall was watching film of elite point guards such Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook to replicate aspects of their game. As the 22-year-old entered his third year in the NBA, he was anticipating a breakout season and a playoff berth for the Washington Wizards.
However, everything changed when Wall sustained a stress injury in his knee. With their best player sidelined, the Wizards started the season 0-12 and it quickly became clear that this wouldn’t be the year that Washington’s fortunes changed. Wall missed 33 games, more than three months of action, because it took three lubricating Synvisc injections before his knee responded. By the time Wall made his season debut on Jan. 12, the Wizards were 5-28.
The season was lost, but over the last three months Wall has been showing what could have been had he stayed healthy. Washington is 21-18 with Wall in the lineup, with impressive wins over playoff teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies.
Wall has been sensational in the month of March, averaging 22.4 points, 7.9 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals. For the first time in his career, his jump shot is falling consistently, which opens up the rest of his game. This month, he’s shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from three-point range. He had a career-high 16 assists against the Lakers and, just three nights later, had a career-high 47 points against the Grizzlies. Wall attributes his recent success to finally being healthy, but finding his jumper also has a lot to do with this impressive stretch.
“I think it’s just me getting healthy and finding my rhythm,” Wall told HOOPSWORLD. “I’ve been able to make my jump shot, which is making the game a lot easier for me and my teammates. I give credit to my teammates for helping me out, making shots and making the job easier for me.”
A player’s third year is generally when they take the next step in their development and start to take off. Wall said that the game is slowing down for him this season and he seems much more comfortable on the court.
“It’s getting easier and easier,” Wall said. “When you’re able to make your jump shot, it makes it a lot easier for yourself.”
“I’m doing everything that I worked on over the summer,” Wall told reporters in Memphis. “I’m doing it right now. It sucks that it had to be the last month or two of the season to find my rhythm, but it’s just showing that my hard work pays off. I just have to keep working hard and stay humble and hungry.”
The Wizards’ recent success makes Wall think the team could have easily made the playoffs had they been at full strength all season.
“I feel like we would’ve [been a playoff team], easily. I feel like we could be top five, top six easily if everybody was healthy,” Wall said. “We just started off with a bad record, not having a lot of people there. Our team fought from the beginning, the whole season we’ve been fighting hard, but it’s just sometimes we were [shorthanded] and less-manned and we couldn’t do nothing with it.”
“It gives us a lot [of optimism], but we knew what we had with this team coming into the season if everybody was healthy. Our main thing is trying to finish this season strong. We have nine games left, I think, so we’re just trying to finish strong, prepare ourselves to keep our bodies healthy this summer and come up with some big wins.”
To say that Wall’s teammates have been impressed with his progression is a drastic understatement. Martell Webster raved about Wall and the effect he has had on the team since returning. Chris Singleton has been blown away by how Wall has performed recently.
“Crazy two, three weeks,” Singleton said following Wall’s career-high 47 points. “Crazy. His shot completely changed. He went from having that hitch in his shot to you don’t even see it. I guess the work in the summer paid off.”
Wall made headlines recently when he told reporters that he believes he’s deserving of a maximum contract. He’s still on his rookie scale contract, making $5.9 million this season and $7.5 million next season, but he’ll be eligible to sign an extension of up to five years (if the Wizards make him their one-time designated player) this summer. When asked if his recent play proves that he’s a max-contract player, Wall said it’s bigger than that. He believes he can help the Wizards become a contender in the near future, which is why the team should invest in him.
“I’m not just going to base it on my play lately,” Wall said of why deserves a max contract. “I’m just talking about me in the future and how I want to change the organization around, making the playoffs and hopefully winning a championship here.”
Earlier this year, former head coach Stan Van Gundy and NBA agent David Falk were very critical of Wall’s game.
“John Wall is a talented guy, a very good player. I don’t think he’s good enough that you can build a franchise around him,” Van Gundy told Ben Standig of Comcast SportNet. “I don’t think he can be your best player, certainly not clearly your best player. You need one guy better than him or a couple of guys at his talent level for them to win. … In the NBA, your franchise guy has got to be a guy you can put the ball in his hands late in the game and he can get you a basket. I don’t see that from John Wall at this point in his career. Maybe it will develop, but I don’t see it.”
“You guys are in dreamland,” Falk told Mike Wise of The Washington Post. “Because this team [stinks] so bad you guys want John Wall to be someone he will never be. Before Wall becomes Nene, I would trade him and get rid of him. I’m serious. He doesn’t have a feel for the game. He only knows how to play one speed. Magic Johnson had a great feel, a court sense, by the time he was a sophomore in college. Chris Paul had it by the time he was a sophomore in high school. … John Wall will never be as good as Kyrie Irving was in his first week in the NBA. … I just think people want him to be something he’s never going to be. He’s a big tease. He doesn’t have a good enough feel for the game to be an elite player. I don’t think he’ll ever be the player you think he is.”
Did those harsh words serve as motivation for Wall?
“A little bit,” Wall said. “I know what I can do. You just get better year by year, learning. I know how to play this game. I’m still learning, I don’t know everything, but I knew I had to get myself better before I could help everybody else get better. That’s one thing I knew. When you’re pushing yourself, you can push everybody else around you. I feel like I’m a leader and I can help my team.”
Wall has certainly helped his team this season. The Wizards are above .500 with him in the lineup and the numbers show just how valuable he has been since returning, as Van Gundy recently pointed out when he “reevaluated” Wall and admitted he was wrong about the up-and-coming point guard.
“I don’t think anybody has done more for a team this year than John Wall has,” Van Gundy told ESPN 980. “Look, they were 5-28 when he came back. Five and 28. The worst team in the league. And they’re 21-16 since then. And if you look at the numbers, they’re the ninth-best team in the league if you compare defensive numbers and offensive numbers — the ninth-best team in the league, fourth-best team in the East since he’s come back. So this is a team that you could project, with John Wall, could be not only a playoff team but be sitting with home-court in the playoffs. And they were the worst team in the league before he came back. Nobody else has done that for a team. … His presence has been huge for that team, and they went from being a good defensive team, to a great defensive team when he came back. They’re second in the league defensively since he came back. … I think that he has proven me wrong in terms of his value to a team.”
That’s the kind of season that Wall has had. Even his biggest critics have changed their tune and offered praise.
Once the season is over, he’ll do exactly what he did last summer: Train, study, repeat. Wall is determined to be one of the best players in the league and lead Washington to the Promised Land. Wall has been impressive lately, but expect even more out of him next season. After another summer of fine-tuning and hard work, Wall and the Wizards will be even scarier in 2013-14 and may finally turn their playoff hopes into reality.
Sixth Man of the Year Voting Results
In this space last Thursday, I looked at the top 10 candidates for Sixth Man of the Year and asked you to vote on who should win the award. The options were J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Kevin Martin, Manu Ginobili, Ray Allen, Jarrett Jack, Ryan Anderson, Wilson Chandler and Andray Blatche. Hundreds of you voted and here are the results:
Smith was by far the winner, finishing with 56 percent of the votes. This year, Smith is averaging 17.4 points as well as 5.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals in 33.5 minutes. Smith is shooting 41.1 percent from the field, 34.9 percent from three-point range and 77.9 percent from the free-throw line.
Crawford was the runner-up, finishing with 24 percent of the votes. Earlier in the season, Crawford seemed like the frontrunner for this award. The voters may decide that he’s more deserving than Smith since he has put up similar stats while playing less minutes and taking less shots. This year, Crawford is averaging 16.7 points, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals in 29.5 minutes. Crawford is shooting 43.9 percent from the field, 37.4 percent from three-point range and 85.6 percent from the free-throw line.
Jack finished third in voting with seven percent of the votes. Allen, Ginobili and Martin tied for fourth place, each receiving three percent of the votes. Anderson, Redick, Chandler and Blatche each received less than two percent.
As the article suggested, it seems that this year’s Sixth Man of the Year race will come down to Smith and Crawford. HOOPSWORLD’s voters gave the award to Smith in a landslide. We’ll see if the NBA’s voters do the same.
Today’s poll takes a look at the Eastern Conference and if any team has a shot at beating the Miami HEAT. Cast your vote because the data will be used in an upcoming HOOPSWORLD article.
Thabeet Developing in Oklahoma City
When it comes to developing players, there aren’t many organizations better than the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s why it was so interesting to see the Thunder sign Hasheem Thabeet last summer. If any team could help Thabeet save his career, it’s Oklahoma City. Not only would he have a structured development plan to help him succeed, he wouldn’t be under much pressure. All Oklahoma City needed him to do was defend and rebound in limited minutes off of the bench.
Thabeet, who was the second overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, had been labeled a bust after just three seasons in the league. The Memphis Grizzlies selected him above James Harden, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans among others. The 26-year-old center is now on his fourth team in four years and he has career averages of 2.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks. However, Thabeet is still intriguing because he has all of the tools to be successful in the NBA. He has an incredible wingspan and, at 7’3, he’s currently the tallest player in the league.
Thabeet says that earlier in his career, he wasn’t taught much at all. He was simply told to use his size and length to affect games. This didn’t allow Thabeet to develop. However, in Oklahoma City, that has changed. Thabeet is constantly working with Thunder coaches and players to expand his game.
“It’s been great, man,” Thabeet told HOOPSWORLD. “I tell the guys every day, it’s a blessing. I went through some tough times, but I stayed with it, kept working and now finally I’m in a situation where everybody believes in [me] and where everybody is very positive about the situation. I’ve got to capitalize on it.”
While Thabeet raves about the Thunder organization, he chooses not to look back on his unsuccessful stints with the Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.
“I try not to compare anything,” Thabeet said. “It’s a special situation for me. God works his ways. I’ve learned some things throughout my career. I’m here now and that’s all that matters to me. I’m focusing on that. I’m approaching it with a focus on the next game. That’s all that matters. The past, you can’t control it. It’s the past. What I’m facing now, I can control. All you can do is come out and work hard.”
This season, Thabeet has appeared in 60 games for the Thunder. He has averaged 2.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 11.3 minutes. When he plays big minutes, he often gets in foul trouble. However, he has provided the Thunder with some solid interior defense. He has 15 games with two or more blocks and he alters plenty of shots.
There’s no question that Thabeet is still a work in progress, but he feels like he’s finally in an environment that promotes development and learning. The coaching staff works with him on a daily basis, as do Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison. He may not have been taught much earlier in his career, but now he says he’s learning on a daily basis.
“Oh, definitely,” Thabeet said. “Playing behind Perk, Nick and playing with these two great guys K.D. and Russell, all of my teammates have been helpful. Even if you’re doing an individual workout with a coach, they’ll step in and ask the coach if they can throw something in there. It’s a great situation. I learn something new every day. I just have to keep working.
“I’m in the right situation at the right time. All of the hard work that I went through, right now it shows. I’m happy to be part of this great family.”
Thabeet has also developed close relationships with his teammates. His transition has been easier since Oklahoma City has plenty of players in his age range. He’s been able to relate to his teammates and enjoy their company.
“We hang out with each other all the time,” Thabeet said. “I think that helps us a lot on the court. I get to know what you like and don’t like, you get to know what I like and don’t like. That helps us. … It’s great being on a team with guys who are the same age.”
Will Thabeet turn into a serviceable NBA center? That remains to be seen. One thing is certain: He’s in the right situation. The Thunder will continue to work with him and teach him the lessons that he missed out on earlier in his career. This is the supportive environment that he needs and Oklahoma City will help him tap into his potential and possibly shake the bust label that currently follows him.
March Madness Coverage
The Final Four match-ups are set. Michigan will face Syracuse and Louisville will face Wichita State. HOOPSWORLD has plenty of content to ensure you’re up to speed on the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
You can find previews for every game here. They have in-depth stats, players to watch and a poll so that you can vote on which team will win. Once it tips off, feel free to discuss the game in the comment section.
If you want to take a look at the bracket, we’ve been updating it here.
We will continue to push out NCAA Tournament coverage over the next few days so be sure to check back regularly.
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