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NBA PM: John Wall Enters MVP Conversation

John Wall is dominating this season and emerging as a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate.

Alex Kennedy

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Wall Has Entered the MVP Conversation

It’s hard to believe now, but back when John Wall signed a five-year, $80 million extension with the Washington Wizards in July of 2013, there were some critics who felt like he wasn’t worth that kind of investment.

NBA agent David Falk, who represented Michael Jordan, was the most vocal detractor. When asked about Wall, he told The Washington Post that the Wizards should “trade him and get rid of him,” that he “will never be as good as Kyrie Irving was in his first week in the NBA” and that “he’s a big tease [who] doesn’t have a good enough feel for the game to be an elite player.”

Falk’s rant was harsh even at that time, but the fact that it sounds so ridiculous today is a testament to how much Wall has improved over the last year and a half. Now, at 24 years old, Wall is clearly one of the NBA’s best point guards and his critics have been silenced (or turned into believers, in the case of Stan Van Gundy).

These days, his $14,746,000 salary is a bargain, especially with contracts about to increase significantly due to the NBA’s new television deal. Wall is just the 26th-highest paid player in the NBA this season, behind plenty of players who are less productive than him. To compare his contract to some recently inked deals, consider that his salary is virtually identical to Gordon Hayward’s and Chandler Parsons’, who just went through free agency this past summer.

JohnWallInsideOnly1Not only has Wall become an elite point guard in 2014, he has emerged as a legitimate candidate for the Most Valuable Player award this year. Wall is averaging 17.8 points, 10.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals this season. And over the last two weeks, Wall has taken his game to another level, averaging 19.6 points, 15.1 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 48.2 percent from the field.

It’s no coincidence that the Wizards have won nine of their last 10 games and have climbed to the second seed in the Eastern Conference with an 18-6 record.

Take an even closer look at the numbers and you’ll see just how much of an impact Wall is having on each game. This season, he ranks first in points created off of assists per game (24.5), first in total assists (238), second in assists per game (10.3), first in assist percentage (46.4 percent), first in assists that lead to free throws per game (1.3), second in secondary assists (AKA hockey assists) per game (2.1), second in steals per game (2.2) and fifth in defensive win shares (1.5).

“It’s probably the best I’ve played since I’ve been in the NBA,” Wall said. “My confidence and the way I’m playing is totally different from what it was my first two years when I was here. It’s just [from] a lot of hard work and dedication, the fans and the organization sticking behind me and letting me develop as a young player.”

Perhaps the biggest improvement that Wall has made this season is his defense. In addition to being one of the league’s best facilitators, Wall is putting a lot of effort into becoming a lockdown player and, as a result, has become a two-way monster. This is a big reason that Washington has the fifth-best defense in the NBA (allowing just 98.9 points per 100 possessions).

“Defense is the thing I’m most proud of what he’s done up until this point… John has been leading us in that department,” Wizards head coach Randy Wittman said. “I tell you guys all the time, it trickles down. When John is engaged defensively, it just kind of filters right on down. As a defense, you see John, he is always picking the ball up. John starts our defense.”

“When we play defense first and don’t worry about offense we’re a pretty good team,” Wall said. “When we don’t turn the ball over a lot, have more assists than turnovers and we keep teams under 100 points, we can’t lose that way and that’s the way we have to keep playing… I think this season we know we’re a defensive-minded team and don’t have a lot of turnovers. When we put pressure on guys and get guys not to run their offense, it makes them do things they don’t want to do. I think that’s the difference from last year to this season.”

“He’s a freak athletically,” Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said of Wall. “I thought in the past it was only on the offensive end and now he’s a two-way player and that makes him a heck of a basketball player. I’m kind of happy for him.”

Wall’s teammates have been blown away by his excellent play this season.

“John’s truly amazing,” Gortat said. “He kind of backed what I posted on Twitter [awhile] ago. He is definitely the top point guard in the league right now. He is playing tremendous basketball. His finishes around the rim are crazy, but he is capable of doing that. As a team, we just play better every time he is leading the right way. He is not taking crazy shots. He is delivering the ball to the right person and we just try to knock down shots. … John’s outstanding and doing beast stuff. The stuff he’s being doing the last 10 to 15 games is great.”

“I am just the recipient of playing with one of the best point guards in the NBA in John Wall,” Rasual Butler said when asked about his resurgence this season. “He does a great job reading defenses and manipulating defenses.”

However, Wall downplays his contributions and points to his teammates for making him look good. This isn’t a huge surprise, as Wall is an outstanding teammate and he has really stepped up as a leader for the Wizards this year as well.

“Give a lot of credit to my teammates,” Wall said. “Those guys are setting screens and getting me open and when I’m pushing the ball and teams are collapsing on me, those guys are getting to open spots and knocking down the shots.”

One thing that significantly helped Wall’s game was slowing down. Earlier in his career, he was often the fastest player on the court, but would sometimes be reckless and out of control. He was almost too fast for his own good. Many young players deal with this problem and then the game slows down for them, which is exactly what has happened for Wall over the last year.

“Slowing down, I can read everything,” Wall said. “I’m picking and choosing people at my mercy. I’m picking and choosing what I want to do at times and not letting anybody speed me up and just reading what the defense is giving me and what my coaches call at the same time.”

The scariest thing about Wall’s growth as a player is that his best basketball is likely still ahead of him. The 24-year-old is starting to realize his full potential, but he’s not there yet, which is a terrifying thought for the rest of the league.

“I think he still has his best ahead of him,” Wittman said. “I want him to keep driving. He’s really been understanding that there’s nothing to rest on here. We have a chance, and he has an opportunity from a leadership standpoint to continue to push this team. I want him to continue that, I don’t want him to take his foot off the pedal and be satisfied. He won Player of the Week, and he deserved to win Player of the Week. I told him, ‘That’s no big deal, you deserve it. There’s nothing surprising here, let’s just keep doing it. Keep playing the way you’re playing, keep doing what you’re doing, understanding when you have to get aggressive and when you have to get other people involved.’”

With LeBron James adjusting to a new situation in Cleveland and Kevin Durant missing the start of the season due to injury, this year’s MVP race is wide open. Wall is right there in the mix, along with Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden and Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry among others.

If Wall can continue to play at this level throughout the remainder of the season and keep Washington atop the East, he’ll certainly get some MVP consideration.

Pistons Wanted Teague, Korver for Monroe

Greg Monroe had a strange offseason as a restricted free agent, and ultimately re-signed with the Detroit Pistons on the one-year qualifying offer so he could be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

To get an idea of which teams could be interested in Monroe next summer, consider that the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers pursued the big man last offseason and even tried to trade for him at one point, according to Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News.

When the Pistons and Hawks started discussing a potential Monroe trade, Detroit asked Atlanta for Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in return.

Not surprisingly, “the Hawks balked — perhaps with knowing Monroe could walk to them the summer of 2015, right into their cap space without having to part with valuable assets,” writes Goodwill.

Monroe has a no-trade clause, but some reports have indicated that he’d like to get out of Detroit prior to the Feb. 19 trade deadline so he would be willing to waive his clause and accept a deal. His camp has shot that down, though, saying he wants to finish the season in Detroit.

The Pistons and Monroe are definitely worth keeping an eye on over the next two months, and don’t be surprised if plenty of trade rumors surface between now and then. If Detroit knows that Monroe’s exit is inevitable, trading him now to get something back in return is likely the better move for them.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience

It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.

Spencer Davies

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Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.

He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.

To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.

“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.

“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”

Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.

“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”

So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.

“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”

It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.

Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.

“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.

“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”

After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.

Whether the next step in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”

And it’s about time people are taking notice.

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NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop

Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.

Joel Brigham

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When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.

He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.

Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.

The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.

“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.

“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”

And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.

“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”

This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.

Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.

It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.

“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”

Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.

“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”

Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.

After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.

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