John Wall drove left around Mike Conley, spun right to avoid DeAndre Jordan, then jumped before whirling and whipping a pass out to Klay Thompson beyond the three-point line. Wall then told himself to camp out under the basket and wait, just in case Thompson couldn’t convert his open look.
When Thompson’s jumper caromed him off the rim, Wall was perfectly positioned to beat big men DeAndre Jordan and Anthony Davis to the ball and throw down an emphatic putback jam.
“It’s easier because of the international rules, you can touch the rim,” Wall said after the scrimmage Thursday at a Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas. “I just sat there and I wanted to make a play.”
The incredibly athletic display provided an encouraging reminder of the explosiveness that Wall has regained since recovering a left knee injury last season. But it also was his lone highlight during a scrimmage that otherwise served as a showcase for Kyrie Irving to move to the front of line for consideration for a spot on the 2014 FIBA World Cup team that will feature Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis, among others.
After an uneven start, Wall finished with 10 points, two rebounds and two assists as his Blue team lost, 128-106, to the White team at Thomas & Mack Center.
Wall’s night got off to an inauspicious start, as he was forced to come off the bench, behind Damian Lillard and Dion Waiters, for the team led by Chicago Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau. Wall said he didn’t take offense to having to play a reserve role.
“When I’m playing for my country, as long as I got USA across my chest, I don’t care if I’m the 12th man, as long as I’m playing,” Wall said. “When you’re out there, you have an opportunity to put that on your chest, it’s a humbling experience and all of us are so talented, the coaches fit whatever lineup that they feel is right. I mean, look at Russell Westbrook. Coming off the bench, he gave the USA a good spark, so I don’t mind that. With USA basketball, it’s different than what you would do with your own team in the NBA.”
Wall entered the game with about six minutes left in the first quarter and committed a turnover and blocked a Ty Lawson shot within 20 seconds. His struggles continued as he had another turnover in which the ball squirted from his hands, he recovered the ball and was called for a double dribble. A driving layup ended with him moving so quickly that the ball hit the side of the rim, and another layup attempt was blocked.
“I couldn’t control the ball. Then I took two bad shots and I missed like two layups. Other than that, I was fine. I just couldn’t get no rhythm going,” Wall said, explaining his initial struggles.
Wall started to settle down after the vicious throwdown, and he added a corner three-pointer in the second half that showed his improving range.
“I just tried to be aggressive,” Wall said. “It’s kind of tough to be aggressive when you got so many talented players, so my job wasn’t to go out there to score. Just to set everybody up and run the team as much as possible. I was just coming in and being a leader, playing my role as a point guard and help my team as much as possible and just try to do the same thing that a lot of guys in the past did, that played for the Olympic team.”
Thibodeau’s substitution pattern kept Wall from spending time on the floor with Lillard, who earned the start after an impressive week, or from going head-to-head against Irving, who led all players with 23 points and added seven assists in directing the White team to victory.
Irving distanced himself from the rest of the up-and-coming, 25-and-under players, though Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski said: “There are no decisions that are being made now. This minicamp was about them getting to know us and us getting to know them.”
When asked if he had any idea about where he stood after the four days of practices and scrimmage, Wall shrugged. “They haven’t told me anything one on one. I wish they would’ve. I just tried to go out and play my game.”
Wall’s game was forced to expand while in Las Vegas, where point guards were asked to be versatile.
“Sometimes I play the one, sometimes I play the two,” Wall said. “My job was just to pressure the ball, try to play defense. I’m bigger than most guys at my position and I’m athletic, so I made the job tough on those guys. I think my defense, is really going to separate me and how I set up my teammates. That’s the best thing I really can do and just remember the plays and try to get them in the best position.”
The minicamp gave Wall the chance to measure his game against some of the top players at his position and he believes that he did enough to distinguish himself. “I feel like I’m right there. I probably don’t score the ball as well as those other guys do, but I can score the ball the same way,” Wall said. “I do a better job of finding my teammates and setting things and just learning, and watching stuff, it’s getting better for me.”
Wall was able to draw closer with Lillard, Jrue Holiday and Mike Conley this summer, since he filmed an Adidas shoe commercial with Lillard and Holiday and joined all three for a promotional tour through China. But he also had a chance to play with Thompson after the two had a memorable unfriendly encounter last season that resulted in Wall getting ejected for repeatedly challenging Thompson to “go to the basket” so that he could knock him out.
“He was cool,” Wall said of Thompson. “That just happened in the moment, in the game, when we was competing against each other and ever since we’ve been cool. I’m giving him the ball here. I want him to make me look good. And make himself look good. So we’re cool.”
While he had hoped to do more, get a win, or at least participate in a more competitive contest on Thursday, Wall said afterward that he had an memorable experience at the conclusion of his second summer participating with USA Basketball.
“Why not? It’s USA basketball. That’s once in a lifetime,” Wall said. “No matter if you make it past this point or not. To be here is a humbling experience. We all just came here to compete and just have fun and enjoy ourselves.”