John Wall was trying to keep up with Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 127-105 win on Saturday when he was confronted with a double screen of Luis Scola and Michael Beasley standing side by side.
Faced with the option of going around them or going under to get to Dragic, Wall took a more radical approach: He attempted to hurdle Scola and Beasley.
Needless to say, the audacious strategy didn’t work since he basically wound up taking a shot to his ribs, but it did reflect the high level confidence with which Wall was playing last week. Wall believed nothing could slow him down — not opposing defenses that dared him to shoot or clogged the lane, not the three-point line that had been so intimidating and not even is own propensity to lose focus and force the action.
Aside from the failed attempt at leaping over and through two players, Wall was able to do most everything else he wanted while completing the best all-around four-game stretch of his career. In leading the Wizards to a 3-1 record, Wall averaged 24 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and 2.5 steals, while shooting 61.7 percent from the field (37 for 60), 80 percent from three-point range (4 for 5) and 85.7 percent from the free throw line (18 for 21).
Little research is needed to find a better or similar span in his career, because the statistical marks Wall met have never been duplicated by any NBA player since the three-point era began in 1979-80.
The Wizards haven’t had an Eastern Conference player of the week since Antawn Jamison claimed the honor for March 10-16, 2008, but Wall certainly is in the conversation this time around. If the Wizards had found a way to defeat the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers in Cleveland and gone 4-0, Wall might’ve had it wrapped up without much debate.
Wall scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games for just the third time in his career. He started the week with 27 points, a season-high 14 assists and seven rebounds in the loss to the Cavaliers, then had 23 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in a win against Milwaukee, becoming the third player in Wizards/Bullets franchise history to have at least 20 points, 10 assists and five rebounds on back-to-back nights.
Michael Adams accomplished the feat in 1991 and Wall’s former coach at Kentucky, Rod Strickland, did the same in 1997.
Wall then scored a season-high 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting and made a career-high three three-pointers on Friday in a win over New Orleans. He didn’t score 20 points against the Suns and Martell Webster stole the show with a career-high 34 points and seven made three pointers. But he had a masterful outing as he recorded in his eighth double-double of the season – and third in the past four games – with 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting with 11 assists and didn’t play much in the fourth quarter of the decisive win.
“He’s getting better and better. And his jumper is coming along, for sure. He’s even hitting threes, too. So he’s put it all together,” rookie Bradley Beal said. “He’s going to be very hard to stop soon. He’s just terrific. He has guys around him who are able to make shots as well and create plays just as well as he can. And with him and the things he’s capable of doing, it just makes everyone so much better.”
After a rough stretch to end the month of February, Wall has somersaulted out of his slump. He hit two clutch jumpers in a win over Philadelphia and, with Beal missing six games with a sprained left ankle, Wall has increased his scoring and moved back into the team lead at 15.2 points per game.
In nine games in March, Wall is averaging 19.6 points, 8.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor (69 for 130) and 50 percent from beyond the three-point line (5 for 10).
Coach Randy Wittman credited Wall for creating the opportunities for the Wizards to hit a season-high 14 three-pointers against the Suns.
“John has done a terrific job with our pace the last week to 10 days,” Wittman said. “When we play at that pace, offensively, we’re hard to defend.”
Playing with pace has been the phrase that Wittman has drilled into Wall’s head, but Wall didn’t fully understand what that meant until a recent conversation with his coach.
“I thought pace was just trying to push every time,” Wall said. “Pace is getting the ball up to your other teammates and throwing it ahead and throwing it to the post. And just playing at a different pace that we need throughout the game to keep us going so we don’t have to get in so many offensive sets, which makes it easier for me.”
Figuring out that pace didn’t just mean turning on the after burners has also allowed Wall to play under more control and with greater command of the ball. He had 44 assists and just 12 turnovers in his past four games, for an assist to turnover ratio of 3.7:1, which would rank as third best in the NBA behind Chris Paul and Jose Calderon if maintained for a full season – and is a dramatic improvement from his season mark of 2.14:1, which ranks 43rd.
Wall said his teammates hitting shots and having more confidence in his own shot played a huge role in helping him have a solid week.
“It’s great to have knock down shooters when you get in the lane,” Wall said. “Any type of point guard that’s got somebody around them that can knock down shots, makes the job easier for them. Because you can’t really help off them, and then when you get consistent knocking down jump shots, you take your game to the next level.”