Wizards' Wall turns attention to his follow-up performance

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; D07

Here's the problem with being John Wall, the Washington Wizards' wunderkind rookie point guard and redeemer of the franchise, coming off the first triple-double of his fledgling NBA career with none other than Magic Johnson witnessing it all a mere bounce pass away on Wednesday night.

How to top it.

The encore to 19 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds and 6 steals with just one turnover doesn't figure to be exactly effortless, after all, although Wall's showing in the Wizards' 98-91 victory at Verizon Center sometimes looked that way.

There were instances when Wall got steals as if by accident, simply because his instincts and quickness gravitated him toward the ball just as it left an opponent's hands. His court vision and anticipation were such that he delivered fast-break passes before teammates turned around fully. When they did, the ball was on their hands for easy baskets.

"I hope he does the same," Coach Flip Saunders said on Thursday afternoon after the Wizards practiced at Verizon Center in advance of their game on Friday against Charlotte. "The great players, those become the usual. I'm not saying a triple-double, but I'm saying the level he played at. I think the most impressive thing, what I liked about him, was that he was much more under control. He went from a situation where he had nine turnovers to one turnover."

Saunders was referring to last Friday's game at the New York Knicks, when Wall was a bit reckless with the basketball in a 112-91 loss. The following night in a 107-102 loss to Cleveland, Wall committed six turnovers. He finished those back-to-back games with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1:1, nowhere near the steady, sure-handed numbers Saunders demands of his star pupil.

So Wall began watching footage of some of the game's consummate point guards present and past, most notably John Stockton. Wall made mental notes of how under control the Utah Jazz Hall of Famer played at all times on his way to becoming the NBA's career leader in assists by a wide margin, and Wall made a conscious effort to emulate that model against Houston.

It also was fitting Johnson had shown up to give the Wizards (2-4) a pep talk before the game, then sat courtside next to team majority owner Ted Leonsis to watch Wall assemble his most complete game as a professional.

"It helped me a lot," Wall said. "Even though it was back in the day when they played, I still watched John Stockton. Deron Williams, I always watch Chris Paul and those guys. So every night I can get to see a point guard play, even though their system might be different, I still watch and see what I can learn from them. It's helping me a lot. I've still got to be aggressive and play my style and lead the team at the same time."

Wall's virtuoso performance against the Rockets not only put him in the company of Johnson but also of Oscar Robertson, the only player to average a triple-double over one season. With 61 assists, Wall's total is the most after six games in NBA history, a record Robertson previously held.

Wall is the first player in NBA history to average a double-double in points and assists as well as three steals over his first six games, and he's the only player currently with averages of 19 points, 10 assists and 3 steals.

"Not really," Wall said when asked if he's keeping tabs on his fast accumulating milestones. "It's a great accomplishment, but there's more focus on winning."

Wall has been especially efficient at home, where the Wizards will play the Bobcats (2-6), the lowest-scoring team in the NBA. Charlotte averages just 91.3 points per game and has reached triple figures twice in eight games. Wall, meanwhile, is averaging 20.3 points, 12 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 steals in three home games this season.

The Wizards went 0-4 against Charlotte last season, losing by an average of nearly 10 points per game. Washington's average losing margin at home to the Bobcats was 12.5 points per game.

That pattern has the attention of the Wizards, who got double-figure scoring from four players on Wednesday, but none of them named Gilbert Arenas. The Wizards' longest- tenured player is still mending from a tender ankle that has been bothering him since the preseason. Arenas played 23 minutes against the Rockets, scoring five points and committing four fouls, but Saunders indicated the three-time all-star is making progress, much like the team's effort overall.

"We have to have that same effort when we play the Bobcats," Saunders said. "Charlotte is a team that's extremely athletic. They love to get out in the open floor and score in transition, and they play super hard, so it will be a good match."

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