January 2, 2018 at 5:33 PM
No point guard in the NBA delights in blocking shots the way John Wall does. As a transition play unfolds and an opponent sees nothing but an open rim, suddenly Wall appears from behind. He measures his steps or gallops full speed ahead to slap away a shot — a chase-down moment Wall has created often. Although Washington Wizards Coach Scott Brooks has witnessed every block from Wall this season, he still marvels at the rarity: a point guard playing as his team’s best rim protector.
“It’s nothing I’ve seen before. Nothing I probably will see for a long time. I don’t know how to explain it,” Brooks said of Wall’s shot-blocking ability. “He has great instincts and he obviously has the physical abilities to get from Point A to Point B and get in the air. He has great timing. Some of those shots that he blocks, they’re momentum-changers. They’re energy boosters for us.”
Wall has more blocked shots per game, 1.08, than any other point guard in the NBA. On Sunday, Wall leapfrogged Wizards center Marcin Gortat for the team lead with 28 after denying four shots in a win over the Chicago Bulls.
The number becomes even more impressive in context: Wall has played 138 fewer minutes and appeared in 11 fewer games than Gortat, a 6-foot-11 big man. Brooks, a former point guard who lived below the rim, had 30 blocks in his 10-year career. Wall has never had fewer than 35 blocks in a season.
“It’s almost like when he doesn’t do it, you think something’s wrong,” Brooks said. “It seems like every game he comes up with one.”
At a sturdy 6-foot-4, Wall has the physical ability to play at the rim. His strength is unparalleled among most true point guards, and his speed and daring attitude create nightly mismatch problems. Wall wants the challenge, and he might be the only lead guard in the league who talks like an old-school rim protector.
“Just trying to be in the right position, right time. Sometimes as a shot blocker, you get dunked on. Things happen,” Wall said after the Wizards defeated the Bulls, 114-110. “I just try to be aggressive and be one of the guys that protect the paint for us.”
In a social media age when attempting to play defense can quickly turn into an embarrassing viral moment, Wall did not hesitate to meet a 7-footer at the rim Sunday. Early in the third quarter, when Bulls center Robin Lopez set a pick for point guard Kris Dunn and rolled to the basket, he appeared to have an open runway for a dunk. But Wall stepped up in defense, obstructing Lopez’s dunk but also committing a foul.
“I don’t care. If you’re a shot blocker, you get dunked on,” Wall said. “I blocked the ball, it’s just he’s stronger and he just muscled the ball to the basket. I’m fine. It won’t be the first or the last time I get dunked on. It don’t matter to me.”
Aside from the potential poster moment, Wall came out on top in his other block attempts. He collected swats while playing man-on-man defense — going over a screen against Dunn but staying glued to his side and slapping his layup out of bounds. Wall also played 6-11 forward Bobby Portis straight up in the paint and snuffed out his shot. But the best block happened like so many other plays this season — with an unsuspecting player rising to the rim and Wall having other plans.
Bulls guard David Nwaba had a chance to extend the Bulls’ lead to a dozen in the second quarter, but Wall tracked down the play from behind, erasing the layup off the backboard. The defensive stop created a three-on-one transition play for the Wizards, which was capped off by Kelly Oubre Jr.’s dunk.
On Monday, the NBA’s official Twitter account showed highlights of the “TOP BLOCKS of The Week,” and in a reel that featured a bounty of big men, only one guard made the cut: Wall blocking Nwaba.
“His blocks, they’re basically taking away a layup,” Brooks said. “The guy is going up there, they probably go up there a little relaxed thinking that no one’s going to come from behind, and little do they know that John’s right there ready to attack it off the glass. I don’t know what the percentage is, but it seems like every one he does block, we always get it back. So it’s a huge play for us. It gets him going. It gets our team defensively going.”
Beal receives player of the week honor
For the first time in his five-year NBA career, Bradley Beal has been named the Eastern Conference player of the week. Beal earned the honor for his performances in the four games played during the final week of December.
Beal posted averages of 26.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game while the Wizards compiled a 3-1 record.
In the win over the Bulls, Beal played a season-high 45 minutes and became only the sixth player in league history to produce at least 39 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and seven made three-pointers in a game.