Wall didn’t disappoint, leading the Wizards to a 106-96 victory over the New York Knicks, scoring a team-high 21 points and handing out a game-high nine assists as his team improved to 8-7 since he returned from a stress injury in his left knee that left him sidelined for more than three months.
The highlight came during a sequence in which he blocked Carmelo Anthony from behind, darted up the court, spun around Kidd and made a scoop layup to complete a dizzying one-man fast break.
“He had the joy,” said Calipari, who stays in regular contact with his former pupil, who is still working himself back into game shape. “You could see he was excited about playing. . . . And they are winning.”
‘The only thing left’
Johnson, Calipari and Kidd all agreed that the former No. 1 overall pick has a solid foundation but plenty of room for improvement as his career progresses.
“I see some of the quickness and getting steals and those seams,” said Johnson, who was in town to discuss HIV awareness and overcoming stigmas at Howard University. “The only thing left for him is that pull-up shot. That’s the only thing left. Once he gets consistent with that, he’ll be an all-star every year.”
Johnson was a career 52 percent shooter, but the 6-foot-9 Hall of Famer with the Los Angeles Lakers was able to score in a variety of ways without ever having to rely on a jumper — until he got upset that opposing teams didn’t respect his shot.
“I was just telling Ted, ‘You know what’s funny: I was in the same position as John,’ ” Johnson said. “I could get in there, I could run the fast break but they used to double off of me. I used to really take that personal, them slacking back off of me into Kareem’s lap,” Johnson said, referring to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Hall of Fame center.
“So I decided to just work on my shot. He’s got to put the work in and once he does that, it becomes automatic.”
Wall spent last summer working on his jumper with Knicks shooting coach Dave Hopla, but his percentages from outside are only slightly better than last season — he is connecting on 38.2 percent (39 of 102) of his shots between five and 24 feet after making just 30.9 percent (143 of 462) last season. He is, however, more willing to take the shot and doesn’t seem deterred when they aren’t falling.
Before the game, Wall met with Calipari — in town for the National Prayer Breakfast — and the coach encouraged him to not be discouraged by misses and to only take pull-up jumpers when there are enough teammates under the basket for offensive rebounds.