John Wall has matured, that gives Washington a chance

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NEW YORK — John Wall at age 14 was a mess, particularly off the court. As detailed in a must-read piece by Mike Wise at ESPN, Wall was a hot-head nicknamed “Crazy J” who was thrown out of one prominent basketball camp, a guy whose father was in prison for armed robbery then died while Wall was young, and whose brother remains in jail to this day. Wall could have easily gone down that same path.

So what would 14-year-old Wall think of 24-year-old Wall, the All-Star Game starter voted in by fans?

“Very, very proud of him,” Wall said in an Adidas store in Manhattan where he was promoting his shoe line before heading to Madison Square to play last Sunday. “I mean, 14-year-old John Wall played basketball because he loved it, when I got outside of that I did whatever. Just to release my pain and hurt from losing my father and not having a father figure around. I was just doing anything; I didn’t have anyone who could tell me yes or no. I listened to my mother, but it’s not the same when your dad’s like ‘come here, I want to tell you something.’ It’s totally different.”

It wasn’t smooth or painless, but John Wall has grown up.

For a lot of fans that’s evident on the court. Wall is averaging, 17.4 points but more importantly leads the league with 10.1 assists a game. He also leads the league in assist percentage at 45.9 percent (the percentage of teammate field goals a player gets an assist on while he was on the court).

However, it’s on the defensive end where Wall is having a bigger impact for the Wizards. The Wizards are fifth in the NBA in defensive rating (giving up 1 point per possession) and Wall is key to that — Washington is 10.8 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when he is on the bench.

Wall admits he used to take plays off on that end, knowing he had to attack and lead the offense on the other. No longer. Wall said it started with improved conditioning so he could have the energy at both ends, it allowed him to be more aggressive. Then it just became about focus.

“I think just fighting over screens, you’ve got a lot of pick-and-rolls that teams run,” Wall said of what he’s doing better defensively this season. “And just being more locked in and focused, knowing that I’m the head of the snake on my team. So the better I start off the game, going the whole game playing defense, it gets my guys going.”

That commitment to conditioning is something that took shape last summer and is continuing in the season.

“A lot of stuff, changing my diet, and just being in better shape,” Wall said of what he’s done. “I have a chef now, so I’m eating healthier. Just making sure I’m staying with my workouts and staying stronger for the whole season. I think most of the time the second half of the season your legs start to get heavy, you start to lose muscle in your legs, all that factors in to what I’ve got to do to stay healthy.”

It is all part of a more mature Wall — the one the Wizards hoped they were drafting No. 1 back out of Kentucky back in 2010. The one that could be a foundational piece for a team.

“My first two years, me I was just excited to be in the NBA, going through the things,” Wall said. “I came in at 19. I think being injured taught me I need to do things so I’m not injured every year. And I think just maturing, growing up helped me out a lot.”

That maturing includes the people he keeps around him.

“I’ve just never been a person that likes yes people around me,” Wall said. “I want someone to be honest with me — if I’m doing something wrong I need somebody to be able to tell me ‘no’ and keep me out of trouble.

“In the past, you had a lot of people who was leeches, all they want to do is be like ‘yes, yes, yes’ as you’re taking them to shows and inviting them to events and paying for certain stuff. I don’t need you around for that.”

On the court, Wall puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses with his speed, especially off an opponent miss, but his game has evolved into much more than that. Anyone that tells you he’s a shoot-first guard hasn’t watched him play in a couple years (and there still are talking heads saying that).

“They say I’m a shoot first point guard but I’m like how, I only take 12-13 shots a game?” Wall asked, although the answer is he takes 14 shots a game on average this season. “I think I lead all guards in double-doubles, so I was like ‘I don’t pass?’ That’s my job for my team; I key into passing first.”

NBA fans got it, which is why they voted him an All-Star starter for the first time this season.

“It was shocking to me when I first seen the (All-Star) ballots and I was one of the top guys in vote getting,” Wall admitted. “It was a surprise. I know I got some amazing fans, I just didn’t think my fans would vote me so high so quickly. I think my game and the way I developed during the season, they’re starting to see it.”

With all that notoriety comes opportunities, and Wall has a lot going on off the court now. He has his shoe deal and a lot of apparel with Adidas. He’s one of the guys that’s part of American Express’ new pivot campaign.

In the end, Wall’s personal success will be judged through the prism of how the Wizards do as a team. Wall knows if his team is one round and out in the playoffs this April he will take the brunt of the criticism. So what does he have to do for the Wizards to advance?

“My job is to just keep playing the way I am, and I got to play a little better,” Wall said. “When guys get injured a little bit, or we lose a couple close games, I have to do a better job of closing out games and getting those guys open shots.”

If he can do that come the playoffs — and if the Wizards are healthy and execute consistently — they are capable of pushing, if not beating, anybody in the East. The Wizards defense and Wall’s play on offense makes the Wizards a team that is a threat to be in the conference Finals.

And that would be another step in the maturation of John Wall.

Gregg Popovich gets ejected, Tim Duncan takes over coaching, Spurs still fall to Trail Blazers

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tim Duncan was back in charge in San Antonio and the Spurs were flourishing under his leadership again.

Duncan was directing players on defensive assignments, encouraging them and providing needed leadership. But in the end, he couldn’t provide the same late-game heroics from the bench that he long did on the court.

CJ McCollum scored 32 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Spurs 121-116 on Saturday night to spoil Duncan’s first shot at coaching following Gregg Popovich’s ejection.

Duncan took over just 13 games into his first season as an assistant coach. Popovich was ejected after walking onto the court to berate official Jason Goldenberg over a non-call. Popovich calmly walked off the court following his first ejection of the season (you can see it in the video above).

On Twitter, this led to a debate as people tried to figure out who took over as coach. Assistant Coach Becky Hammon ran one time out, but it was Duncan — the assistant coach assigned to scout Portland on the staff — who was the main man. Duncan, Hammon and Will Hardy coached by committee, but it was Duncan calling the plays and screaming out instruction.

“It was cool,” Spurs guard Bryn Forbes said. “It didn’t really feel like a huge difference. I think he did a good job. He took control. He helped lead us to a big lead.”

Popovich was asked if he considered having Becky Hammon take over to make history as the first woman to lead an NBA team.

“I’m not here to make history,” Popovich said.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 13 rebounds but the Spurs lost their fifth straight and fell to 5-8.

Damian Lillard added 22 points and Hassan Whiteside had 21 points for Portland (5-8), which rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snap a four-game skid in San Antonio.

“We’ve blown leads before, so we kind of know what to expect,” McCollum said. “Once you do it, you’ve got to stay grounded, focus on the little stuff.”

Before the game, Popovich said coaching could only go so far and it was up to each player to take responsibility for his own mistakes and performance during this losing streak. Popovich put that responsibility squarely on the Spurs when he was ejected early in the third quarter.

McCollum had 23 of his points in the first half.

Bryn Forbes added 17 points and DeRozan and Rudy Gay added 16 apiece.

 

Jamal Crawford finds it “baffling” no team has called to sign him yet

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Iman Shumpert got his call from the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony got his call from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jamal Crawford is still waiting for his call, and he’s confused why it hasn’t yet come. From Shaun Powell of NBA.com.

“I know I can play,” Crawford told NBA.com, “and I would think my reputation is still solid. It’s baffling to me…

“Physically, I feel better than I did last season,” he said. “I’m able to get my body together. My skill set is sharp. I feel that I’m good. My mindset is be patient and hopefully something good comes about it. I’ll be ready for the opportunity.”

Like Anthony, Crawford needs the right role, but he can help teams.

He’s not young at age 39 but, in the right situation, he could help a team get buckets off the bench. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, and his defense is a bigger concern to front offices, but the man still averaged 7.9 points per game last season off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last season (including a 51-point game against Dallas). 

Some team is going to give Crawford a chance. Probably. Until then, he is staying ready, waiting for the phone to ring.

 

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks over not one but two Pacers (VIDEO)

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Once Giannis Antetokounmpo gets rolling downhill, good luck.

The Pacers found that out the hard way with not one but two players getting dunked on by the Greek Freak. On the same dunk.

Damn. That’s not fair.

It’s also not the only highlight play for Antetokounmpo on the night.

Milwaukee was up double digits on the Pacers early in the fourth quarter, and of course, Antetokounmpo was leading the way.

NBA teams enhancing fan experience with high-tech replays

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ATLANTA (AP) — NBA fans will soon be able to look up at the big videoboard above the court and get a different look at that deep Trae Young 3-pointer early in the first quarter. Or see a different perspective of that monstrous Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk.

In a reversal of roles, NBA teams are bringing the video game experience back to the live action – one arena at a time.

The Atlanta Hawks Friday will become the fifth NBA team to unveil significant financial investments into new 360-degree replay technology designed to eventually give fans the power to change the way they see the game.

“It’s the wave of the future,” said Hawks vice-president of live experience Joe Abercrombie, who says the technology also is “one more thing to give people a reason to come” to the arena.

The Bucks, Mavericks, Pacers, Wizards and now the Hawks are using the technology to package and replay highlights in the arena during games. The Bulls, who host the 2020 All-Star game, are scheduled to come online next month.

“It’s very nice. I especially like that up-above view,” said Allen Hazlett a fan from New Berlin, Wisconsin, after seeing the new technology at Thursday night’s Bulls-Bucks game in Milwaukee.

“I think it’s an added benefit for the fans. For those that aren’t here all the time, to see that, I think, really ups the fan experience for them. I don’t think people realize until you go somewhere else and you don’t see it how lucky we are to have this arena. Everything here is state of the art.”

The six teams have joined NBA partner Intel, which provides the technology for the new video replays. The process begins with 38 5K video cameras strategically located around arenas. The high-tech cameras work together, bringing 360-degree replays to in-game video boards, TV broadcasts and fans’ devices through social media.

It’s the latest effort by teams to entice ticket-buying fans to come to new and renovated NBA arenas. Atlanta spent almost $200 million to renovate State Farm Arena; Milwaukee last year opened its $477 Fiserv Forum.

“For us it was really a no-brainer,” said Matt Pazaras, the Bucks’ senior vice president for business development and strategy.

“There’s nothing like seeing a Giannis dunk live, and if we can supplement that experience with this technology, great. But if people are experiencing the Bucks wherever they are, hours away or thousands of miles away, we can still make the experience better.”

NFL fans already have seen 360 replays on TV. Those replays start from the traditional side camera before swinging around to bring the viewer behind the quarterback.

Not that the NFL was first in line.

Gamers have been manipulating all-angle replays for years. Video game-savvy kids may roll their eyes when their parents come home from NBA games eager to share their stories about their first looks at 360-degree replays.

Those video games were designed to mimic the real games. Now it’s time for some role-reversal.

Rich Green, Intel’s director of sports, said popular video games Madden NFL 19 and NBA 2K20 “have camera angles and if you do replays, you can spin the camera around.”

Added Green: “Now we’re going to have that in live games. Now they can watch their favorite player and follow just him. It increases their level of engagement.”

The new technology isn’t just for the fans.

Coaches and scouts can make use of the enhanced replays to improve player evaluations.

“I think the future of this is going to weigh heavy for basketball operations and player development,” Abercrombie said.

Players now have better tools to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Abercrombie said players who take dozens of shots in a practice can now study their shooting form in a new way.

“Players have asked ‘Can I shootaround and you take a look at the way I’m shooting and I want to spin around and take a look at the way I’m releasing,”‘ he said. “You think about traditional coverage of a game, there’s only four angles. Two on the floor and two up.

“When you think about 360 view and repetitive shooting over and over again, they can say ‘Oh, I see where my tendencies are.”‘

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, a former executive at Turner Entertainment, says TV sports leaders have dreamed for years of the day fans could control the way they watch a game.

“We’ve been reading for years that ‘You can be the director,”‘ Koonin said. “Actually, you can do that with this. The capabilities are unbelievable. … We think it’s the next generation of sports media.”

Green said there is more to come as new ways to utilize the technology will be found that are not yet possible.

Green said such high-tech terms as “voxels” – similar to pixels in the 3D age – and “volumetric video” will become common. He said fans will be able to follow a game from the viewpoint of their favorite player.

“How you watch a play could be completely different from how I watch it based on how we control what angle we want to see,” Green said. “That’s why we’re just scratching the surface.”