Had the Wizards gone on to defeat the San Antonio Spurs in double overtime on Wednesday, John Wall’s steal and layup in the final six seconds of the first overtime may have been the defining moment of his season. But because the Wizards fell flat after Wall’s relentless, ball-hawking pursuit of Tim Duncan’s errant pass, the play will simply go down as the conclusion of a brief and exciting surge.
Wall might not ever have another 10-second period in which he scores three field goals, but his effort didn’t go unnoticed by Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich or Duncan, the future Hall of Fame big man. After watching Wall score 29 points and hand out nine assists, the centerpieces of the Spurs’ four championship runs marveled at how much the Wizards’ all-star point guard has grown in his fourth season.
“I mean, he’s turned into a leader on the floor,” Popovich said. “He understands situations on the court, he presses his teammates, he’s aggressive and takes on the responsibility to score and to find somebody for a good opportunity. This year is a huge jump for him, I think.”
Before the game, Popovich compared Wall’s progression to that of Tony Parker, who was known for his blazing speed and little else when he first entered the league. Parker has since developed a lethal jump shot, a devastating floater and has been the Spurs’ primary scoring option with Duncan willingly accepting a decreased role in order to win. Wall’s offense definitely isn’t as advanced as the six-time all-star, three-time NBA champion and former NBA Finals MVP, but Popovich mentioned that Wall is improving in an area that has long been considered a weakness.
“I think he’s worked on his shot, obviously. He feels more confident shooting the shot. In the past, he might have shots, but he’d shy away from it,” Popovich said. “Tony was the same way in the beginning and you can’t do that. If that’s the guy with the open shot, you got to take it. The clock winds down, you’re not going to get a better one. He’s more confident in shooting the basketball and he’s sharing it much better now. He’s playing with all his teammates. He understands, like other great players, you’ve got to do it together. So I think he trusts his teammates a lot more than he ever did before and he’s done that real well.”
Wall scored 14 points in the first period, taking jumpers from his sweet spot – the right elbow – and then settled into a playmaking role to get everyone else involved. He also had four steals. Duncan feels that the difference in Wall from his first season – and even the Wizards’ first meeting with the Spurs last November – is “confidence.”
“I think he’s really found his rhythm and he’s really leading this team well,” said Duncan, who wasn’t chosen for the All-Star Game for just the second time in his 17-year career. “I think he’s still got some growing to do and some improving to do, but just a really great night from him and a really good effort over these last however many games they’ve been playing. He’s an all-star and he’s going to be a great one.”