John Wall

John Wall sounds like he knows he needs to have a big year


It’s time for John Wall.

He came into the league as a No. 1 overall pick with the promise that he could be one of those few and hard to find true franchise anchor players in the NBA. That he could be a guy who changed the fortune of a franchise for a decade or more.

And it hasn’t been that way. There have been flashes of that potential, but for the most part Wall’s first two seasons in the NBA have been good but not great. He scored 16.3 points per game and added 8 assists last season, but he has no jumper — he took 4.4 shots a game from 16 feet out to the arc last season and hit 29 percent of them. And when he went up for a three everyone cringed (at least he did that less often). You go under the pick on him.

This is the year Wall is going to show he can live up to the promise, or he’s going to show he’s a good but not elite point guard. And he seems to know that, from the tone of his comments to Dime Magazine (via the Washington Post’s Sports Bog, who gives us these quotes).

“You wanna do it all,” Wall told Dime. “You wanna be an All-Star. You wanna be one of the top five best point guards. You wanna make the playoffs, and get this city back to where they know they can be. When you have the playoffs, I heard how crazy it could be when everybody is wearing all white. That’s what I want to get to. I want to be the savior.”

“As a player,” Wall said, describing what would make him feel successful, “I think be where everybody expects me to be: lead my team, being a clutch performer, being a superstar. That’s what I think about putting it in exact words that I need to, so I can finally lead to my superstar statement and be one of the top five point guards in the league.”

Here is why I think fans need to give Wall one more real shot this year before moving on — fit.

Where you land matters. And Wall landed in a locker room that was a steaming pile of… well, you know. His rookie year the locker room’s dominant personality was Gilbert Arenas following his suspension for the gun incident. Then the personalities of JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Nick Young started to take over and you had a team with a lot of talent but lacking professionalism in preparation and focus.

Ask yourself this question — what if Wall had instead spent the last two seasons around the Celtics’ locker room? How would his approach to the game and his understanding of how to be a professional be different? (And on the flip side, what would Rajon Rondo be like if his first two seasons were in a locker room like the Wizards?)

The Wizards have a better culture in the locker room now. You may say Nene is overpaid but the guy shows up and is a professional. Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor come ready to play every night. Rookie Bradley Beal looked good at Summer League.

But this team will only go as far as John Wall takes them. It is all on him now to be the franchise player. At least he seems to recognize that.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.