Just 14 months ago, John Wall was fretting whether a stress injury in his left knee would cost him his third season and severely set back his career. Now, Wall is not only headed to New Orleans next week to represent the Wizards in his first all-star game but he will also be using that same knee to propel him in the Slam Dunk contest, the signature event of all-star Saturday night.
The Wizards will be well represented next weekend, with Bradley Beal also set to participate in the Rising Star challenge and the Three-Point Shootout. Both Beal and Wall had cited injury concerns for giving them pause about taking part in the individual competitions but eventually decided to take on the challenge and possibly expand their profiles.
Wall has recorded 24 dunks this season, including a 360-degree slam against the Los Angeles Lakers. He almost passed on showing off his dunking skills, complaining of soreness in his heel, but added that he could’ve been coerced with quality competitors.
This year, the competition will have some familiar names because Wall will be joined by fellow all-stars Paul George of the Indiana Pacers and Portland’s Damian Lillard, reigning Slam Dunk champion Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors and formerly of Montrose Christian in Rockville, Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes and rookie Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings.
When asked about the event on Thursday, Wall said he would remain cautious with his injury: “The main thing is just doing the best with me and just trying to stay healthy, keep getting treatment and preparing myself for the season. It’d be exciting to be in that opportunity to be in the dunk contest and have fun for the weekend, but you also have to look into staying healthy and preparing yourself, to be ready to play games after all-star, because the season is more important than the dunk contest.”
Beal has been held to a minute restriction as he recovers from a stress injury that forced him to miss nine games earlier this season. He met with the team doctors this week to get approval and sounded excited about showing off his textbook jumper against some of the league’s best shooters.
“I might bring out the gun a little bit and see what I can do,’ Beal said. “It’s always tough in the three-point contest, you’ve got to take them off the rack, but at the same time, I might make ‘em all.”
Beal is shooting 40.8 percent (75-184) from behind the arc this season, which ranks third in the NBA among second-year players with at least 100 attempts. He will go up against reigning three-point champion Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Johnson, Golden State guard Stephen Curry, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo and Lillard, who will participate in five events over the weekend.
Washington hasn’t had a three-point champion since Tim Legler won as a member of the Bullets in 1996. Legler was unable to defend his title in 1997, but the franchise has also been represented by Leon Wood (1986), Tracy Murray (1998) and Gilbert Arenas (2006 and 2007).
“You actually have to practice, you can’t just go in blindly,” Beal said. “It’s totally different and with the time up there, you see the time and you feel rushed and at the same time, you shouldn’t feel that way, but when you see that clock ticking and you’re only on that second, third rack, you feel like you’ve got to…”
He then snapped his fingers to suggest the need to pick up the pace. In 2011, Beal lost in the McDonald’s All-American three-point shootout to Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer but said, “I got cheated because they gave me all girl balls and I didn’t make as many. It feels like it was ages ago.”
Beal was also selected third overall by former Reston resident Grant Hill on Thursday in the Rising Stars challenge. He will be on a team featuring Lillard, Barnes, Jones, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pero Antic, Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas and Dion Waiters. The opposing team, selected by former Bullets/Wizards player Chris Webber, will have Anthony Davis, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Mason Plumlee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke.
The Wizards have never had a Slam Dunk champion. JaVale McGee was the first Wizard to represent the team in the contest and came in second to Blake Griffin in 2011, when Wall assisted McGee insetting a Guinness Record by dunking three basketballs in one motion.
The dunk contest has been altered this season so that there will be an individual winner and a team winner. The six participants will compete on two different teams, representing the Eastern Conference (Wall, George and Ross) and Western Conference (Barnes, Lillard and McLemore) in a two-round format. Dunkers from each conference will have 90 seconds to dunk as many times as they want in a freestyle round and a panel of judges will choose the winner by voting for East or West. The winning conference will then decide which dunker will go first or second in the battle round that will feature dunk-offs between participants from the East and the West. Judges will choose the winner of those battles and the first team to win the competition will be named Slam Dunk champions. Fans will then vote for a individual champion.
Wall is also the first Wizard to be named to the all-star game since Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler in 2008. “It’s a great opportunity,” Wall said. “It was one of the goals I set for myself, it was big accomplishment for me and my coaching staff and the city of DC with the tough times we’ve been through. It’ll be big, the first time I’ll be there Sunday and not just be there on Saturday night and just enjoying myself.”