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John Wall: The First of Many All-Star Appearances

Making his first All-Star appearance, John Wall is showing tremendous growth this season and emerging as an up-and-coming star.

Moke Hamilton

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“What do you think about the league implementing a four-point shot? Do you think that would be a good idea?”

“If you could choose any two teammates for a three-on-three competition, one from this era and one from the past, who would it be?”

Among the sea of media and alongside some of the Eastern Conference’s other giants—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, to name a few—John Wall answered some of the most interesting questions he has had to field since his professional career began back in 2010.

But hey, as an All-Star, in New Orleans, it comes with the territory. And if the first half of his 2013-14 NBA season is an indication, Wall should get used to taking part in the NBA’s midseason classic.

“This is a big honor for me, especially for the city of D.C. and my organization and coaches and teammates and fans,” Wall said.

For Wall, though, the true test is how he and his Washington Wizards fare in the second half of this season.

“After this is over, the second half of the season is going to be an even bigger start for me, to try to finish the season the way I started,” Wall said. “You try to reach higher levels.”

Thus far, he has done quite well for himself.

Wasted talent is an atrocity, and that is why the stories of the likes of Eddy Curry, Darko Milicic and even Andrew Bynum reverberate within NBA front offices and among fan bases. In the NBA, young players are drafted and even sometimes given eight-figure annual salaries based on the mere possibility that they may one day become an NBA superstar.

Wall fits the bill, but unlike many of his predecessors, his game has taken an appreciable step forward. His reward is that he has been anointed an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time, and deservedly so.

Now, as he shares the stage with other greats such as Chris Paul and Tony Parker and other budding stars such as Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving, Wall believes that the sky is the limit in his quest to become one of the league’s premier point guards.

On this weekend, Wall has rubbed shoulders with some of the greats and he expects to bring something back home to D.C. with him.

“I think we’re definitely doing a great job of looking up to the older guys in this league and what they have done in the past,” Wall said when asked about following the career trajectory of some of his fellow All-Stars like Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. “It’s a tough thing to reach what those guys have done, but it takes a lot of hard work and time and dedication.”

He seems up to the challenge, though.

“I think I’m trying to take the right steps in the right direction and the main thing I said was me improving my game as a player, for one, and my team just trying to win games,” Wall said. “That’s the biggest thing is us winning and that’s how you get known in this league.”

At just 23 years old, Wall is certainly on his way.

As a player, this season, he has shown a more refined ability to manage a game and find good offensive opportunities both for himself and his teammates. He was always adept at playing a breakneck pace and creating in transition, but his ability to read and react to defenses while playing a slower, more meticulous game is something everyone has noticed. Although the Wizards entered the All-Star break at 25-27, they are comfortably in the East’s playoff picture as the sixth seed and trail the third-seed Toronto Raptors by just three games.

In Washington, D.C., Wall is leading a revival and has his sights set on leading the Wizards to their first playoff appearance since Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were roaming their sidelines back in 2008.

That, above all, is why he has received special recognition from the Eastern Conference coaches, and his team’s collective success is why he has become an All-Star.

When asked, Wall spoke glowingly of Paul, a fellow North Carolina native.

“To be known as the best point guard in the league and having talks of being an NBA All-Star and an MVP in the game – all the things he has done in his career so far – definitely you wanna look at the things he has done and try to improve your game as a player to kinda reach [that level],” Wall said.

Coming into this season, Wall had immense expectations to fulfill. When Ernie Grunfeld made him the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, it was Wall’s freakish athleticism and raw point guard instincts that enamored the Wizards. Even after winning an average of just 24 games over the course of Wall’s first three years in the league, and even after Wall was sidelined for 33 games during the 2012-13 season, the Wizards opted to forgo making him a restricted free agent in July 2014 and opted to sign him to a maximum extension.

The belief was that Wall was a cornerstone, and if this season has been an indication of what is to come, that belief seems true. And as the young professional’s progression continues, he hopes to lead the Wizards to brighter days.

It seems like so long ago that some wondered whether Wall was overrated and if his Wizards were destined to be a perennial disappointment. At least for now, those questions have ceased. At the very least, we now know that Wall is a student of the game and a young point guard who not only wants to get better, but can get better.

“I think me just studying a lot of film and just changing pace into my game,” Wall said when asked what he has done differently to help the Wizards succeed this season. “Late in the game, [coach] coming to me and me being slower and being able to score in a half court set, I’m able to find my teammates and doing a better job of running my team.”

What shall be interesting to witness is how Wall runs the Eastern Conference All-Star team when he is inserted alongside the likes of James, Anthony, Wade, George, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh and Roy Hibbert.

He has emerged as one of the future stars of the NBA, and New Orleans, for him, is an early indication of his personal success.

“I definitely think [the NBA] is going in the right direction,” Wall, one of six players making their first All-Star appearance this season said in New Orleans.

And to the credit of Wall, his general manager Grunfeld and the organization, the Wizards seem to finally be going in the right direction, too.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#2 – Marvin Bagley III – Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings selected Duke’s Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Ben Dowsett

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After a draft process that reportedly involved them also considering Luka Doncic and perhaps Jaren Jackson Jr., the Sacramento Kings appeared to narrow in on Marvin Bagley III of Duke. Bagley, a 6-foot-11 big man, played one year with the Blue Devils before making the leap to the NBA.

Bagley is an intriguing prospect, one who combines elite athleticism with a high motor and the potential to stretch the floor with his shooting stroke. He’s extremely quick both laterally and vertically, with as much potential as any player in this class if he can harness these athletic properties into basketball skills. His jump shot came and went at Duke, something he needs work on, and there are real questions about his ability to think the game, especially defensively. He doesn’t have the length to project as a top rim protector at the NBA level unless he makes major strides mentally.

Still, Bagley projects to step in to a productive role right away in Sacramento. He was one of the only players in the upper echelon of the lottery to show real interest in playing for the Kings, including providing medical information other agents withheld. The Kings could rue passing on a prospect of Doncic’s stature, especially if the only reason they did so was concerns about ball-handling time with De’Aaron Fox. But they’ve got a high-ceiling player here who could become a star with the right physical and mental development.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#1 – Deandre Ayton – Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns have drafted Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Jesse Blancarte

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One of the few certainties heading into this year’s draft was that the Phoenix Suns would select Deandre Ayton with the first overall pick. In Ayton, the Suns get an elite center prospect with the potential to be a dominant player on both ends of the court.

Ayton stands at 7-foot-0 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He has a big, muscular frame but still has plenty of room to continue developing his body. Ayton is also extremely athletic, coordinate and nimble for a player his size. While some have wondered whether a player with Ayton will be limited by the NBA’s continuing movement toward playing smaller and faster, there’s plenty of reason to believe he is worthy of the first overall pick. If Ayton can become a more consistent weak side defender, improve his consistency in making the correct rotations and improve on his rebounding fundamentals, he could become a Rudy Gobert level defensive anchor. No one should expect Ayton to reach Gobert’s level but it’s a possibility and that alone is arguably enough justification to draft him first overall.

Additionally, Ayton has a diverse offensive game. He is an effective player in the post, can finish at the rim with either hand, he runs the floor well in the open court, is a constant lob threat and can stretch the court all the way to the three-point line. He isn’t necessarily elite at any single thing offensively but he has the potential to be an offensive threat from all over the court.

There’s almost zero risk that Ayton will be a bust and plenty of reason to believe he could be a star-level player sooner rather than later. While there may be other players with higher upside in this draft, Ayton has the ability to contribute today and the potential to be a superstar in the future, which makes him a great addition for Phoenix.

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NBA

NBA Draft Watch: Should You Expect a Flurry Of Trades?

Should you expect a flurry of trades during tonight’s NBA Draft? History says yes!

Lang Greene

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Draft Day. The event that rebuilding teams have been planning months for is finally upon us. The next wave of NBA stars await their opportunity to play under the brightest of all lights on the biggest of stages. But outside of the rising and falling status of the prospects, each year draft week is filled with a flurry of trade activity and there’s no reason to believe things will be different in 2018.

On Wednesday, the trade market kicked off with the Charlotte Hornets shipping former Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for veteran center Timofey Mozgov. The move isn’t all that surprising considering one of the biggest advocates for the Hornets in acquiring Howard from Atlanta last year, Steve Clifford, was fired back in April. In addition to a new head coach, James Borrego, Charlotte also hired a new president of basketball operations and general manager in Mitch Kupchak.

In the deal, Charlotte was able to avoid paying the luxury tax while also creating immediate salary cap flexibility to be players in this year’s market should they choose. For Brooklyn, the team acquires a veteran presence for their youth movement and a consistent double-double anchor on the interior.

The trade also marks consecutive years that Brooklyn was active on the trade front during draft time. Last year, the team acquired former lottery pick D’Angelo Russell from the Los Angeles Lakers. Since the Nets haven’t had the luxury of prime draft assets in recent years, the team has had to resort to trades (Russell, Howard) and free agency (Allan Crabbe) to reshape the roster.

Transitioning to the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the question can be asked whether this will be the third straight year involving a draft day trade. At the top of the Warriors’ lineup max players reside which means the team has had to find talented gems in the back half of the draft to contribute to their success.

In 2016, the Warriors acquired the rights to the No. 38 overall pick, Patrick McCaw, from the Milwaukee Bucks for cash considerations. In 2017, Golden State acquired the rights to another No. 38 overall pick, Jordan Bell, from the Chicago Bulls for cash considerations.

Notice a trend?

With the Warriors needing to lock NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant into a long term deal this summer and future free agency looming for All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the franchise will need to continue finding young role players to complement their collection of stars.

There could also be a deal involving All-Star level talent.

The Oklahoma City Thunder traded for Victor Oladipo back in 2016 in a draft week deal with the Orlando Magic. While Oladipo didn’t emerge as an All-Star caliber until the following season (after being dealt to Indiana), there are usually a couple of big names in play come draft night.

Consider the 2017 draft day deal that saw the Chicago Bulls send Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for talented two guard Zach LaVine.

This year, the most prominent name potentially on the market is San Antonio Spurs All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard. The rumor mill reports Leonard is frustrated and wants a trade to the Lakers. The Spurs are, of course, attempting to keep their franchise player with a series of meetings. Leonard could become an unrestricted free agent next summer and his public trade demand limits what San Antonio could demand in return. Teams will be hesitant to give up prime assets for a player that won’t commit to their franchise long term. While San Antonio doesn’t have to make an immediate deal their leverage hasn’t been compromised with Leonard’s specific trade destination request.

The NBA Draft can best be described as a crapshoot with prospects being hit or miss. There are teams that make their bones via draft day acquisitions, or working between the lines, which is a storyline to watch during the draft tonight.

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