Going into last offseason, John Wall knew that the problems with his jump shot were both mental and mechanical. He was hesitant because he lacked confidence and was inaccurate because he lacked a consistent form.
A naturally explosive player, Wall used his speed and athleticism to give him an advantage in nearly everything he did on the court, except when he left the ground to shoot a jumper. Wall elevated in slow motion, as if he had taken is finger off the fast forward button. He would lean, kick out his leg or hesitate, which led to a hitch in his release.
“If I shot it, I shot like I was a lights out shooter, fadeaway, no follow through,” Wall said, shaking his head, as he discussed his career-high 47-point game on Monday in the Wizards’ 107-94 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Wall mixed in some fadeaways, and step-back fallaways against Memphis once he established a decent groove. But the reason he made 11 or his 13 field goals from the perimeter on his career night is because of the lessons he learned while working with trainer Rob McClanaghan and former Wizards shooting coach and New York Knicks assistant Dave Hopla last summer.
McClanaghan, who helped Derrick Rose ascend to MVP status by his third year and has also trained all-stars Russell Westrbook and Kevin Love, advised Wall to go straight up and down and follow through. Hopla did the same while getting Wall to remove his guide hand from the ball sooner.
“Main thing for me is using speed and shooting on the way up,” Wall said. “I used to shoot on the way down and if you want to become a better shooter, it doesn’t work that way.”
Before developing a workout program for Wall, McClanaghan watched film of the former No. 1 overall pick and noticed how teams would roll under screens and back off, daring him to take a jump shot.
“And with John, you probably should, because make or miss, it doesn’t matter, he wasn’t shooting it,” McClanaghan said in a telephone interview. “But he could blow by you.”
McClanaghan pointed out the problem to Wall and told him that he needed to be more assertive when teams left him open, because of what it would do to help his speed become more of a weapon and for his teammates to get better looks. “I said, ‘I know you can make the shot, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t shoot it. I don’t want you taking 30 shots a game, but if that elbow jumper is there, you’ve got to shoot it,’ ” McClanaghan said. “Even this year, he’s had games where he didn’t shoot it and I had to get on him about it. I said, ‘Listen, you put all this work in. It’s there, you can make it. You worked too hard not to shoot it.’ ”
McClanaghan sent Wall text messages and emails during his slump last February to remind him to have more confidence in what he had accomplished. The result has been a player who has no problem taking shots at the apex of his jump and catching defenders off guard. Memphis showed that it wasn’t prepared for Wall to defeat them from the perimeter early in the game, when Wall attempted a pull-up jumper and a Grizzlies player cursed and screamed his doubt that it would drop.
“Just confidence,” Wall said.”If I miss a couple, I don’t get down on myself. Teams are going to go under the screen to see if I could make them and after I made a few they had to change how they were guarding me.”
Wall’s two highlight moves — a behind the back, left-to-right dribble around Jerryd Bayless and dip around Ed Davis for layup; and a crossover around Tony Allen, followed by a split of Tayshaun Prince and Darrell Arthur for scoop layup — came as a result of the respect that the Grizzlies had to show Wall.
“He’s very tough cause obviously he’s one of the best at getting from end to end and getting to the rim and finishing,” Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins said. “So you’re already playing him for the drive, but when he’s making shots you have to honor his jumper, which makes it hard to stay in front of him.”
Since he can’t work out with McClanaghan during the season as he did last summer, Wall uses a similar program of midrange jumpers while working out with Wizards assistant Sam Cassell “because he knows and was a master of that shot.”
Wall continues to stay focused on finishing strong, but remains disappointed to have a “setback” delay him from showcasing what he had spent an offseason working on.
“I still don’t know where that [knee injury] came from. He was upset by it, because I know how hard he worked this summer,” said McClanaghan.
The work is starting to show.