John Wall joins elite company with stellar performance in home debut
About an hour after winning his first NBA game, John Wall showed up for his post-game press conference wearing a black checker-patterned backpack over his shoulders. It matched his shirt and shoes, and Wall rarely leaves an arena without one. When a reporter commented that Wall looked uncomfortable with that backpack on and was free to take it off, the No. 1 overall pick smiled and said, "I got you."
He kept it on.
Wall was coming off a performance in which he wore a figurative backpack, filled with Wizards, for 45 minutes as he carried his team with a performance that placed him the history books. After notching career highs with 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals in a 116-115 victory over Philadelphia, Wall joined some truly elite company through his first three games.
He now has scored 71 points and dished out 31 assists, numbers that have not been seen by a rookie in the NBA since ... Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. Yes, Wall is now the only player besides Robertson to have at least 70 points and 30 assists through games (Robertson had 72 and 30 as a rookie for the Cincinnati Royals in 1960-61).
Wall also moved into a three-way tie with Damon Stoudamire and Jamaal Tinsley for the most assists after three NBA games. He also tied Gus Williams and Michael Adams for the franchise record with nine steals. But as he sat at the podium after the game, looking like he was ready to head to attend study hall rather than recover from playing 45 minutes of basketball, Wall wasn't too caught up everything he did right.
"The main thing I need to work on, is my turnovers," said Wall, who nearly had a quadruple-double with eight turnovers, surpassing by two his total from the first two games. "I had too many turnovers to help them get back in the game. So yeah, I had a great impression with scoring and my assists. The main thing was turnovers and my team having a win. That was the main for me."
Coach Flip Saunders said he joked with Wall after the game about his flood of turnovers, "I think they missed a couple."
Cartier Martin's last-second three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left in regulation to force the extra frame, and Andray Blatche's go-ahead free throws with 7.1 seconds left in overtime, stand out among the many plays that helped the Wizards get the win. But Wall made a play at the beginning of the overtime that perhaps rescued his team.
Andre Iguodala, one the best skywalkers in the league, stole the ball from Blatche and sprinted down the floor for what should've been an easy breakaway dunk. Wall, however, didn't give up on the play and chased down Iguodala. He didn't get a clean block, as he was called for a foul.
But Wall's relentless attack and refusal to give up on the play let his teammates know that he was trying to win the game -- even as he logged heavy minutes while still recovering from a sprained right ankle.
Iguodala made just one of the two free throws. The Wizards won by a point.
"Just a part of the NBA. Guys try to make hard plays for their teams every night," Iguodala said. "He's another player, just like that, who wants to win for their team. He's a pretty good talent. If he continues to improve, he has a chance to be up there with a lot of the good guards in the league."
Wall doesn't appear to be willing to take his time, on the path up those ranks. He certainly wanted to separate himself from No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner, who had nine points and six rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench. The first time he matched up against Turner in the third quarter, Wall went directly at him. He drove left, nudged Turner aside, then got fouled as he attempted to drive past him.
Wall again downplayed his individual matchup with Turner (which really isn't a fair comparison right now, with both players in drastically different situations for their franchises). He might not admit it publicly, the comparisons irk him.
"I try not to get into a one-on-one battle," Wall said. "He got picked two, I got picked one and I just wish the best of luck for both of our careers. Going down, I knew a lot of people was going to speculate about it being a matchup with both of us when we got a chance to guard each other. I was just trying to do my best to help the team and hopefully, he was doing the same for his team."
But no player on the court was able to dominate both ends of the floor the way Wall did on Tuesday night. After the game, 76ers guard Lou Williams said about Wall, "Dude's a rocket."
Williams was describing Wall's speed in the open floor, but although it's just three games underway, it could also be a description of Wall's career trajectory. The kid who can soar, while wearing a backpack.
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