John Wall’s breathtaking, 360-degree two-handed dunk on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers — the one where he used Trevor Ariza and Nene as gateway pillars, took off for a pirouette and hung on the rim — will attract the YouTube hits and be replayed dozens of times on “SportsCenter’s” Top 10 plays.
Those type of in-game theatrics are dazzling and rare, but for Wall to gain the recognition that he truly desires, the plays that matter the most were the result or practice and patience, not just other-wordly athleticism.
And, in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 116-111 victory over the Lakers, Wall scored 13 of his game-high 31 points and didn’t need to audition for the slam-dunk contest to make a statement.
The three midrange jumpers in the final 4 minutes 39 seconds, with the Lakers diving under on the pick-and-roll and daring him to shoot. The dish to Nene after drawing two defenders. The five free throws to close out scoring and hold off the Lakers.
Those are the winning plays that Wall is suddenly starting to make, and his belief in what he can do on the floor is high these days.
“I think I’m using what everybody said about me, that I’m not a top five point guard, that I’m not a top ten point guard,” Wall said, when asked about the motivation behind his inspired play. “My job is to go out there and not just prove it by scoring, but you get known as a point guard in this league by winning games. All that’s something I’m trying to do is lead this team and keep trying to win as many games as we can.”
Wall has had three straight games with at least 30 points, becoming the first Wizard to accomplish that feat since Antawn Jamison from Dec. 12-16, 2009. He followed up the second Eastern Conference player of the week award of his career with another much-needed gem with Bradley Beal sidelined. In addition to scoring, Wall also was a good facilitator as he handed out a game-high nine assists. Wall is now averaging career highs of 19.6 points, 8.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds.
“I’m just happy to make plays, either me taking the shot or finding my teammates or giving us a good look,” Wall said. “As long as we getting wins and I’m leading my team, that’s the most important thing for me. Just keep winning basketball games and just try to take care of home court advantage when we get the chance.”
The Wizards (6-8) have won three in a row at home and four of their past five overall since a four-game losing streak that bottomed out on Nov. 16 with a deflating overtime loss to Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. In his past five games, Wall has been spectacular and is making a solid case that he should be receive all-star consideration in February. He is averaging 25.6 points, 8.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds over that stretch.
“He’s playing out of his mind,” teammate Martell Webster said.
Coach Randy Wittman was ready to proclaim that this the best that he’s seen Wall play.
“No, because he’s going to play better” in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Wittman said with a laugh. “He had a stretch last year, once he got in shape, we saw what John could do. And I think he’s playing right now, along those lines. I just like his decisions. That’s the main thing. These 31 weren’t forced. He took what the defense gave him, got out on the break and made some layups, hit the mid-range, found guys in corners and hit the big guys inside. That’s what I’m most impressed with, that I’m proud of how he is going about these numbers.”
Wall has been incredibly efficient during his run of 30-point games, posting 99 points on just 57 shots. He has been able to consistently hit the jump shots that teams will gladly let him shoot while also getting into inside to draw fouls or get to the rim. After shooting 10 for 18 from the floor for the second straight game, Wall was more upset about the easy shots he failed to convert.
“I’ve been more consistent, just being who I am,” Wall said. “Playing the right way, taking good shots and if I’m making some more layups on the fastbreak, I’ll be a little better.
“It’s building more confidence for me, making me harder to guard. It’s making it easier for me to get to the paint and easier to run a pick and roll and find my teammates,” he said. “I just give a lot of credit to my big men, setting good screens and getting me open. A lot of teams are playing me back and I just got to be confident with my jump shot and being able to work on it like I am with my coaching staff, watching film, and doing the right things.”
Wall has felt slighted on several occasions since arriving in Washington, and especially since signing an $80 million extension, and hopes that he has held off some of his detractors with his recent play.
“I think three games make a statement, but that doesn’t mean nothing when you got 60-something games left and you can go into a slump any day of the week,” Wall said. “So I’ll just keep doing the things I’ve been doing in practice and working on my game.”
And for the record, he does consider himself a top-five point guard.
“That’s what I believe,” Wall said. “I’m just trying to keep playing the right way and win games.”