For at least one afternoon, the hottest ticket in Las Vegas was the 5 p.m. show at Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada Las Vegas to witness the professional debut of John Wall.
The No. 1 overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft shook off some early jitters and entertained the sold-out crowd who came to see him play in the 2010 NBA Las Vegas Summer League. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard out of Kentucky showcased his blazing end-to-end speed and surprised some with his improved mid-range jump shot in leading the Washington Wizards to a 84-79 victory over Golden State Sunday.
Wall, wearing jersey No. 2, led the Wizards with 24 points on 7-for-15 shooting from the field, was 10-for-11 from the free throw line and had a game-high eight assists. There were some glitches in his first NBA game, but those were to be expected. The 19-year-old led all players with eight turnovers, including three in the first quarter, and appeared a little tight in the first half, missing five of his first seven shots.
“I was just too hyped to play and I was playing too fast,” said Wall, who hasn’t played in an organized game since Kentucky lost in the regional final at NCAA Tournament. He was also nursing a minor groin injury, which forced him to miss one practice last week.
“I was trying to throw lobs and find my teammates, and a little jitters there in the beginning so I had a little bit of turnovers,” Wall added. “But I think I did good running the team and getting to the basket and helping my team to a tough win.”
Wall admitted he got careless with the ball because he was too anxious. But once he slowed down and cut down on the “hot dog” plays, he began to show the skills that made him a first-team All-American as a freshman.
His first shot was so off he clanked it off the backboard, but settled himself quickly and finally made his first basket three minutes into the game when he buried a pull-up jump shot near the free-throw line from about 16 feet. His first assist came at the 6:30 mark of the first quarter when he came around a screen and served a perfect lob pass to JaVale McGee, who slammed it home.
It would be the first of three alley-oop dunks Wall and McGee orchestrated during the game.
“When he comes off the screens and I get enough angle when I get in the paint, I could pull up or I can find him, and I did a great job of finding him today,” Wall said of McGee, the Wizards’ first-round pick in 2008. The 7-foot center scored 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds.
Even though Wall turned the ball too much in his debut, he was still able to make plays for his teammates and showed a great ability to get inside the teeth of the defense and create offense. Twice he drove to the basket, took the bump and finished at the rim for three-point plays. When he didn’t get all the way to the basket, he was able to pull up near the free-throw line and convert mid-range shots, something most NBA scouts thought he didn’t possess during the pre-draft evaluation process.
“What we liked about him as much as anything is his ability to make other people better,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders, who was a spectator in the stands, told the Associated Press. “He doesn’t have to score a lot of points. He’s got the potential to be one of the top point guards in this league. Maybe, [Wall is] the best all-around point guard at both ends, both offensively and defensively.”
One thing that is also noticeable about Wall is he is a quick study. In the third quarter, Wall didn’t bother putting a hand up when Warriors point guard Brian Chase launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key. On the Warriors’ next possession, Chase tried another 3-pointer but this time Wall was there to block the shot.
Later in the quarter, Wall came off a high pick-and-roll and dropped a nice assist to a cutting Raymar Morgan (from Michigan State) near the baseline for a dunk. Moments later, Wall set up Lester Hudson for an open jumper to give the Wizards a 54-44 lead.
Wall’s overall performance was certainly better than his 2010 draft classmates Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, Greg Monroe and Gordon Hayward, who are all struggling to adapt to the pro game. Wall already has a pro game. He just needs to clean up his turnovers and make the simple plays instead of going for the spectacular plays.
“When you consider everything … the atmosphere, the first game,” said Saunders, “to come out and play as he did, he’s got unbelievable intelligence and he’s unbelievably competitive. He’s one of the most coachable guys I’ve been around. He makes a mistake and he wants to know what it is.”
Video courtesy of NBA.com