Of all the great John Wall moments in the third quarter of tonight's blowout win over the Clippers, two really stood out to me.
The first came early in the quarter. Wall and JaVale McGee ran a typical pick and roll that resulted in Wall throwing McGee a lob pass that should have been a dunk. Instead, McGee came down with the ball, took one dribble toward the other side, pivoted back to the same side he caught the pass, leaned away from the hoop and hit a fadeaway jump hook while drawing the foul. As McGee started his typical post-move celebration, Wall immediately ran over to him and shouted "COME ON! DUNK THAT S*** MAN!" A high-five soon followed, but the message was clear - just because the shot went in doesn't mean the shot was the right one.
The second came at the very end of the quarter. Nick Young had the ball deep in the corner, mostly because the Wizards' end-of-quarter play had broken down. With about five seconds left, Young launched a ridiculous fadeaway three-pointer that somehow fell through the bottom of the net. He, of course, pumped his fist and strutted a bit down the court. Wall, on the other hand, didn't even glance at him. When Young was spotting up and knocking down open shots earlier in the quarter, Wall was the first to come up and give him a high five. This time, he didn't really acknowledge him. Again, the message seemed clear: sure, the shot went in, but it wasn't a good shot.
These two plays bookended a quarter in which Wall drove and dished for wide open three after wide open three as the Wizards eventually pulled away for the 89-64 win. After the plays were over, he was right there celebrating with his teammates, running over to them to thank them for knocking down the open shots he created. At one point, he drove down the lane for a layup and kicked his feet together three or four times before finally going to shoot his free throws. But most importantly, Wall understood when a play deserved praise and when it didn't, even if the result was the same. He celebrated good process, not good results.
"I'd rather see my teammates score a lot of points than me. I don't even want to score, unless I have an opportunity to score and I need to score to help my team win," he said. "I'm just trying to get my teammates involved running the floor, and if they are making shots like Nick [Young], KP [Kevin Palmer] and Cartier [Martin] was today, it's always a good time."
It's very easy to go overboard with Wall's leadership abilities, especially because it can detract from his actual production (which, for the second straight game, did include a ton of turnovers). I realize I'm running that risk. Still, the most impressive thing about the guy is not how many points he scores or how many assists he has, it's how he's able to find the right balance between pumping his teammates up and calming them down. That's a skill few 30-year old leaders master. Thus far, it appears Wall already has.
"It helps you relax and helps you become more comfortable," Cartier Martin said afterwards on the atmosphere Wall creates. "It helps you go out and do what you do instead of trying to do too much or get too worried. ... It helps you play your game."
Wall once again didn't play perfectly, and graded himself in the same C-B range that he graded himself yesterday. He knows he has to cut down on the turnovers.
"Same problem: too many turnovers today. Most of my turnovers were basically trying to split the defense in the open court. Yesterday, it was in the half court; today, it was in the open court," he said. They hedged a whole lot and they were trapping me with their big men helping out, so I had to make passes out. Some nights, you have to make those passes, and I'm still working on that."
But judging from all the open three-point looks he created today, the Wizards' guards, whether it's Young, Gilbert Arenas, Kirk Hinrich or whichever small forward the team signs, better be ready to rain some deep threes.
- Young's game was pretty much a microcosm of what it always is with him. When he acts as the finisher of the play rather than the creator, he was outstanding. In particular, his chemistry with Wall looked pretty good. But when he was the one initiating the play, which did happen a lot, he faltered. Here's hoping the presence of Wall continues to push him to finish plays rather than start them.
- Here's an encouraging quote on that front from Young: "Me being a scorer, when he's slashing, I'll just be lingering in the corner all by myself, so I just got to knock down shots."
- Many of you were critical of Young playing in Summer League, considering he's in his fourth year and was not on the roster. I tend to disagree here, simply because any time he can get playing with Wall is good, but I understand the whole "he should be beyond this" angle. Anyway, Young said he's not playing any more games this year, joking that they should retire his jersey.
- Speaking of, Al Thornton told me he's not going to be playing in any games either. He'll be sitting on the bench, but he said he won't suit up.
- One thing I am concerned about with Wall is his pick and roll defense. There were two times early in the first quarter where he didn't recover quickly enough and allowed Eric Bledsoe to get into the lane for layups. Wall clearly has the desire to compete on the defensive end, but he's probably going to need some time to adjust to guarding NBA sets.
- Trevor Booker had a much better game tonight, filling in the blanks with strong defense, great hustle and an improved jump shot.
- Martin was pretty much invisible until the third quarter, when he hit two big threes that really got his confidence going. After the first one, Sam Cassell and the rest of the bench got on their feet, and Martin himself held his follow through for several minutes as he jogged up the court. "That wasn't what I was doing earlier, when I was struggling," he said, laughing.
- Martin also couldn't help but playfully complain about an over-the-back call he earned on the Clippers that nearly got sent the other way. "Even when I draw the foul, they try to take it away!"
- This was not JaVale McGee's strongest game, as he only scored 10 points on 10 shots while picking up seven fouls trying to deal with DeAndre Jordan. However, he did do a much better job on the defensive glass, snagging 12 rebounds and getting his hands near many more.
- I wondered in the game thread how Wall would deal with going up against his college teammate Eric Bledsoe. Ultimately, that probably energized him in a good way. He admitted he was talking trash with Bledsoe before the game as a way for both of them to pump each other up and spur them to new heights.
- Wall shot eight free throws tonight after taking 11 in the opener, and is relishing the new NBA rules. "I like this stuff better, because if you're driving and making moves, [the defender] can't give you that little bump that you can get away with in college. If I hear a bump or a whistle, I'm throwing the ball at the rim and try to get two free throws," he said.
- Two guys who really impressed me down the stretch were Lester Hudson and Kevin Palmer. Palmer was on fire from the field, hitting four of his five shots and two of his three three-point attempts. Hudson, meanwhile, is a jet-quick and crafty offensive player that can really get to the rim. He put a nasty crossover move for a three-point play at one point late in the fourth quarter.
- Perhaps the funniest moments of the game occurred when Darrell, the notorious Clippers superfan, was heckling Wall. Kyle Weidie wrote more about that on ESPN's Daily Dime here. The important thing to remember is that Darrell doesn't take himself too seriously, so don't take his heckling seriously either. Think of him as a more light-hearted Robin Ficker.
This concludes my trip to Las Vegas. I wish I could stay longer, but real work calls. The Wizards' next game is on Thursday.