Washington Wizards fans got their first glimpse Sunday night of what dreams may come. In a packed Sin City gym, for the first time, John Wall(notes) played NBA basketball. It was an imperfect debut for the 2010 NBA draft's top overall pick, but the skills he showcased should have D.C. fans salivating.
The former University of Kentucky star and first-team AP All-American scored 24 points (7-for-15 from the field, 10-for-11 at the charity stripe) and dished out eight assists in the Wizards' 84-79 win over the Golden State Warriors' Summer League contingent. But despite the impressive stat line, Wizards head coach Flip Saunders told reporters that Wall "played kind of an average game," an assessment backed up by the eight turnovers marring an otherwise stellar line.
Wall looked a little jittery at the start of his first professional contest, and perhaps a little rusty, too — after all, it's been 3 1/2 months since Kentucky's Elite Eight loss to West Virginia University during last spring's NCAA men's basketball tournament, his last live-game action. The point guard's vaunted speed worked against him in the early going; he was moving too fast for his own good, and it led to some miscues, including three first-quarter turnovers.
Early in the first quarter, Wall sharply crossed over to his right hand, jumped to separate from Warriors counterpart Brian Chase and strong-armed a mid-range J on his first field-goal attempt, chucking up an ugly brick from just beyond the free-throw line that NBA TV color commentator Kevin McHale dubbed "a Scud missile." Moments later, after a slick spin move through the lane, Wall's right-handed layup attempt was blocked from behind by D-League stalwart Reggie Williams(notes) (who co-starred on the evening, scoring 34 points on 10-for-22 shooting). On one break, Wall streaked down court and air-mailed a pass, intended for a wide-open Cartier Martin(notes), that wound up clocking an NBA TV camera.
As the game wore on, though, Wall started to look much more at home, moving fluidly with the ball, confidently directing traffic and looking comfortable going to both his left and his right. While he turned the ball over too much for Summer League coach Sam Cassell's(notes) liking, Wall also showed great court vision, finding Raymar Morgan cutting along the baseline through defenders' outstretched arms for a third-quarter dunk and connecting several times with springloaded big JaVale McGee(notes) for picture-perfect alley-oop finishes.
Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN's TrueHoop Network spoke with a number of attendees, including international coaches, NBA executives and fellow players, who keyed on Wall's speed, on-ball defense and ability to get teammates in rhythm. Also writing for the TrueHoop Network, Kyle Weidie of Truth About It highlighted Wall's constant on-court communication, calling the rookie "a natural born leader." ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin lauded Wall's "great length, good defensive instincts, and some real feel for setting up teammates ... all at age 19," though he also pointed out that the kid's maiden voyage "didn't blow anybody away."
Michael Lee of the Washington Post praised Wall for "[finishing] the game much stronger than he began." Legendary former Georgetown University head basketball coach John Thompson told Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears that he liked how Wall "gets through traffic. He's tough. I like the way he pays attention to people, too. There's not a whole bunch of [drama]." Mike Prada of Bullets Forever gave high marks to Wall's "much-improved mid-range jump shot," which Weidie once called "almost painful to watch," but looked much smoother after the first quarter, especially coming off the dribble.
One second-quarter sequence showed both how far Wall has to go and how quickly he can get there. With the Wizards up by three, Wall closed out softly on Chase, leaving his hands down and basically daring the Golden State guard to make an uncontested 3-pointer. Naturally, Chase did, popping the J right in the No. 1 pick's eye from the top of the key to tie the game.
On the next trip down the floor, however, Wall saw the ball swing to the right wing and closed hard — with his hands up this time — to contest a 3-point attempt, taking advantage of his 6-foot-9.25-inch wingspan to get the block and light out in transition ... before promptly losing control and possession.
Inexperience got him burned, basketball IQ got him even, remarkable physical tools got him a scoring chance and a touch of recklessness got him a turnover. Such is life for a 19-year-old point guard in the NBA.
While he only gave Wall a C for his overall performance last night, NBA TV's McHale said he thought the middling debut was the start of something special.
"I liked what I saw ... you can see the physical ability that this kid has," McHale said. "He's going to have some big games."