Wall Thrilled to Be in Playoff Hunt
John Wall doesn’t try to hide his excitement about the 2013-14 NBA season. As the Washington Wizards find themselves on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time in Wall’s four-year NBA career, the 23-year-old is all smiles.
While the Wizards haven’t officially secured a playoff berth, they are currently in the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed at 34-31. They’re five and a half games up on the challengers for the eighth seed, and Hollinger’s NBA Playoff Odds give Washington a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs based on their simulations.
Wall realizes how close the Wizards are to achieving the goal he has set out to accomplish for the last few years, and he seems to be enjoying himself.
Shortly after the Wizards defeated the Orlando Magic in overtime on Friday night, Wall buzzes around the locker room like a hyper child. He jokes with nearby veteran Al Harrington about how much longer he’ll be in the NBA (Wall pleads for the 34-year-old to play several more years; Harrington laughs and says only if he gets to skip training camp every year). He talks trash about the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and reminisces on his dance moves that took the nation by storm while he was at Kentucky.
After winning 23 games as a rookie, 20 games as a sophomore and 29 games last year, Wall is ecstatic that the team is now competing every night and celebrating rather than sulking in the postgame locker room. When asked how much fun he is having this season, Wall lights up.
“We’re finally over 29 wins! It’s been fun,” Wall said with a smile. “But like I’ve been saying for awhile, we’re far from finalizing our playoff spot. We still have a long way to go. We still have 17 games left, I think, and if you lose 10 in a row or something like that, you could be out of the playoffs. So we’re trying to stay level-headed, we haven’t gotten locked in to a spot right now so we need to keep competing and fighting because there are a lot of great teams that are right behind us.”
Fans don’t realize how much of a toll losing takes on players, and Wall was clearly fed up with the team’s struggles in recent years. Wall, like most NBA players, grew up winning at every level. His teams were always on top or, at the very least, in contention and he was usually the best player on the floor. Going from being a perennial winner to losing 158 of 230 games over a three-year span is hard for an extremely competitive athlete.
It also leads to criticism and doubt. In recent years, Wall’s talent and leadership were questioned. Some wondered if he was a franchise player. When the Wizards decided to give Wall a maximum contract extension last summer, some critics felt that he wasn’t worth such a lucrative deal.
However, Wall responded by delivering his best season as a pro and his production has translated into success for the Wizards. He is averaging 19.6 points, 8.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals. When he runs the Wizards’ offense, he seems much more comfortable and he elevates the play of those around him. While he is still capable of outrunning everyone down the court for easy points in transition, the game has also slowed down for him, which has helped his decision-making and control. Wall leads the league in assists and ranks third in steals.
There’s no question that he’s one of the best up-and-coming point guards in the NBA, and he was named to his first All-Star team this season. Wall takes that honor very seriously, and has embraced everything that comes with that title.
“When you’re an All-Star, you have to step up and take on a bigger role,” Wall said. “That’s the situation I’m willing to accept and do and something I’ve been doing all year in being a leader. The one thing I think I proved and learned is that you don’t have to do it all by just scoring. You do it by doing different things, in playing better defense, getting your teammates involved and just having that energy that I have when I play well against those other point guards who do it on a consistent basis.”
Wall sensed that this could be a huge year for the Wizards after watching how well the team fared when he returned from injury toward the end of last season. Washington finished last year’s campaign on a strong note, beating a number of playoff squads and making people wonder how good they could’ve been had injuries not held them back.
“At the end of last year, we were fighting and we were in every game,” Wall said. “We had one of the best records in the NBA at the end of the year when everybody got healthy. So we knew what kind of team we could have this year, how good we could be. But the biggest thing for us now is just trying to get everyone healthy down the stretch to try to fight for a better playoff spot and then make a run there.”
Maturity is another area where Wall has made significant strides in recent years. Not only is he more of a vocal leader, he’s understanding what it takes for a team to be successful. Take the game against Orlando, for example. Wall struggled with his shot for much of the first half, at one point missing seven of his first eight attempts. However, he continued to impact the game, setting up plays for others, playing stifling defense, hustling up and down the court and then, late in the game, finally hitting a number of key buckets to lift the Wizards in overtime. He admits that he’s gotten much better about keeping his composure and continuing to affect a game even when things aren’t going smoothly for him.
“In the past, I probably wouldn’t have been hustling back. I would’ve been pouting and keeping my head down,” Wall admitted. “The one thing that we understand is that we have to play defense for 48 full minutes, because when we’re not hitting shots, that’s how we’re going to win games.”
Wall’s evolution into an elite point guard has certainly been the catalyst for Washington’s success, but the fact that the Wizards brought in a number of experienced veterans definitely helped the team on and off the court as well. Players like Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster, Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Drew Gooden have been in the league for a long time and understand what teams need to do in order to realize their full potential. They have given Wall an arsenal of weapons to work with on the court, but also been invaluable for him off the court.
“They’re great and having them around makes my life so much easier,” Wall said of Washington’s veterans. “I’m always talking to those guys. To have those guys trusting in me and believing me as a young point guard in this league, it means a lot. Without those guys, I don’t think I’d be who I am today. They’re the ones who have given me this confidence and trusted me with the basketball. They’ve helped me become who I am today.”
The veterans have been just as impressed by Wall this season. Ariza and Webster, who joined the Wizards last season, rave about their floor general.
“He makes this team go,” Ariza said. “We’re going to go as far as he takes us. He makes all of the plays and he’s becoming a really good leader here. He’s been unbelievable for this team.”
“He’s grown a lot,” Webster said. “He has a competitive nature, that’s just the way that he is. When you have that competitive nature, it’s easy to get things going. It takes very little to motivate him. He accepts the challenge each and every game. He knows all of the opponent’s plays in advance, he’s calling them out. He’s a general out there. He knows things that are going to happen before they even happen and that’s big. He’s talking to us as they’re bringing the ball up the court and letting us know what they’re going to be doing. That’s big. And offensively, he’s taken his game to another level. I love his confidence, and we’re going to need that in the postseason.”
In recent years, Wall would tell anyone who would listen that his primary goal was to lead Washington to the postseason. Now, it appears he’ll be able to cross that off of his to-do list and start focusing on making noise in the playoffs and turning the Wizards into a legitimate contender in the East. If Wall’s tremendous leap forward this season is an indication of what’s to come in the next few years, it’s certainly a realistic goal.
Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?
Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.
After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.
Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.
The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.
What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.
Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.
Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.
Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.
We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.
As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.
Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.
Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.
Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.
Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.
Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.
If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?
It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.
2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players
Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.
The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.
But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.
The Top Dogs
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).
To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.
Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.
With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.
While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.
Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.
Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.
Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.
The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.
Best of the Rest
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.
Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.
Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.
Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.
NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers
The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.
Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers
While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.
It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.
So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.
Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.
The Potential Future All-Stars
DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters
Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players
Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs
The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust
Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs
Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.
If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.
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