By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 9:59 PM
Recently, while John Wall was going over game film, Wizards assistant Ryan Saunders pointed out that the No. 1 overall pick was walking nonchalantly into his jump shots instead of consistently stepping into them and jumping. Saunders also noticed that Wall displayed a defeatist attitude - frowning, tugging at his jersey and rolling his eyes - after poor plays.
Saunders showed Wall so many instances that eventually a fed-up Wall asked Ryan to have Coach Flip Saunders fine him any time he does those things.
And from there, it was established that Wall would pay $50 for every time he visibly expressed his frustrations; Wall believes negative reactions from a team captain would cause his teammates to lose focus and confidence. It might come off as an extreme measure, but Flip Saunders believes it is a sign of just how much Wall is willing to literally pay the price to be great.
"It's not a negative. It's something that he knows. He's such a perfectionist. He wants to play right. He wants to do the right thing and he knows after the fact when he makes mistakes," Flip Saunders said. "Body language is very important to me because I learned, playing under Bill Musselman and playing in the Big Ten, playing against Bobby Knight, you never want to let opponents think they are getting to you somehow by their body language. I always try to keep that positive body language."
Ryan Saunders will keep track of the times Wall ducks his head and will tell him, "See, that's a fine."
Wall added that the fine isn't too large but "it might get to be 10 times a game. Fifty times 10, that's a lot, right? Got to watch it."
As the Wizards prepare to face the Phoenix Suns at Verizon Center on Friday night, Wall is also focusing on helping the Wizards win games and setting up his teammates. In January, the Wizards are 4-5 and Wall is averaging 11.1 assists a game. He has had at least 10 assists in seven of his past 11 games. At his current pace, Wall could join Mark Jackson, Oscar Robertson and Damon Stoudamire as the only rookies to average at least nine assists.
Wall credited his newfound focus on getting his teammates more involved to a conversation he had with Milwaukee Bucks second-year guard Brandon Jennings, one of the few players in the league outside of his former Kentucky teammates that he has reached out to for advice in his rookie campaign.
"I look up to him. Before I ever got known, he was always one of the young guys I looked up to who was talented. He told me, 'Just keep playing, getting better and try to learn as much you can,' " Wall said. "He told me, 'Don't try to live up to the hype, if you win rookie of the year or you don't; if not, just worry about your team winning.' That's what he did last year and made the playoffs last year."
When Jennings broke his left foot last month, Wall sent him get-well wishes through Twitter and BlackBerry messenger and encouraged him to take his time before coming back. "That's something I wish I would've did, took a little time with my injuries a little bit, but it's going to take time," Wall said.
Jennings said he remembers his most recent conversation with Wall, in which he told him not to try to get into a competition with Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who has been running away with the rookie of the year competition. "I told him to separate yourself. Blake Griffin is getting all the hype right now," Jennings said. "John's main thing is, you want to be winning, because right now [Blake's] team is winning, too. To me, it's all about making the playoffs your first year or at least progressing every game. To be great in this league, you've got to win and I truly believe that."
Much like Wall, Jennings had an incredible start to his rookie season, and became the favorite to win top rookie honors after scoring 55 points against Golden State in November 2009. But Tyreke Evans had a historic campaign, and Stephen Curry got hot in the second half of the season and Jennings finished third in rookie of the year voting. "I think it was about the numbers to win, or something like that, to win rookie of the year," Jennings said with a sly grin.
Flip Saunders said Wall has exceeded his expectations in many ways and is pleased with his progression. "He's been great," Saunders said. "There's only three guys in the history of our league to average nine assists [as a rookie], he's the fourth guy that's doing that right now. He plays very aggressive, considering he's had to fight some injuries and hasn't been fully healthy doing that. He has some things to improve on, as all young point guards do. But he's not afraid to accept the challenge."