At the same time Bradley Beal earned what he called “my number one accomplishment,” John Wall received what he believes is the latest slight for a former No. 1 overall pick who is likely to earn his first all-star appearance this week.
In an awkward moment for the Washington Wizards last week, USA Basketball announced Beal was among the 28 players invited to the U.S. men’s national team pool for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Wall was left off.
“It’s a blessing and an honor,” Beal said of the selection. “To be a part of history and knowing that they see something in me, I’m definitely going to take advantage of that and show them what I’ve got and represent the country as best as I can.”
Though Wall participated in minicamps with Team USA for the past two summers, he got stuck in a logjam of talent at his position, with former league MVP Derrick Rose; all-stars Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving; and last year’s rookie of the year, Damian Lillard, all being named to the roster.
Wall is one of two American-born No. 1 overall picks in the past 11 years not to receive an invitation to Team USA. The other former top pick left out of the mix is Greg Oden, who is back in the NBA after missing the previous four seasons with chronic knee problems. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Rose, Blake Griffin, Irving and Anthony Davis were included.
“I been through it before. The main thing for me is try to be professional. I went out there and played. I did it the right way,” Wall said of his experiences with Team USA minicamp. “I just use it as more motivation. It’s nothing I could do. It’s nothing I can say, and I don’t want nobody to babysit me or try to make it work for me. They made their list, they made their decision and that’s what they’re happy with, and I just have to look past that. It’s more motivation because I didn’t make McDonald’s game. I wasn’t national player of the year. I wasn’t rookie of the year. So those are just tabs I keep to motivate myself to prove people wrong.”
The Wizards gave Wall a five-year, $80 million maximum extension last summer, solidifying his standing as the foundation of the franchise’s efforts to get back to respectability. In his fourth season, Wall has been producing the best numbers of his career with averages of 20.0 points, 8.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals. He finished a distant third in all-star fan balloting for Eastern Conference guards but is expected to be chosen by the coaches as a reserve with the Wizards positioned to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Wall is having a better season than some of the point guards on the list, but despite his slow-but-steady improvement, he lacks the skill as a consistent shooter that is a necessity for international basketball. Beal, however, is a noted marksman who has connected on 42.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season and could be more of a threat with a shorter international three-point line.
Team USA only invited three other shooting guards in James Harden, Gordon Hayward and Klay Thompson but has been known to use two point guards on the floor at the same time.
“A lot of these guys can go either way. Like LeBron can play” point guard, Beal said with a laugh. “It really doesn’t matter, so I just have to be able to come in and show what I’ve got. It’s totally different than the NBA.”
Beal also has international experience, claiming MVP honors during the 2010 FIBA under-17 world championships in Germany, where he received the trophy from Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. He also played for the FIBA Americas U-16 championship team in Argentina. A few days after Beal went third overall to the Wizards, Team USA Chairman Jerry Colangelo declared he was “on the radar” for future teams. Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski both wanted Beal around last summer, although he would be limited because of a stress injury in his right fibula.
“It means a lot because they didn’t even see me compete against other guys, and it just shows that they’re kind of taking a chance on me, so to speak,” Beal said. “So I’m really honored to be able to do that, and it’s definitely a responsibility that I have to be able to prove myself that I’m capable of making that team.”
The pool also includes Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Tyson Chandler, David Lee, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Igoudala, David Lee, Kenneth Faried, Kyle Korver and Kawhi Leonard, which should give Beal the opportunity to develop against some of the league’s elite players.
Chicago Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau, an assistant on Krzyzewski’s staff, said he has noticed the difference in Wall’s game after spending last summer training in Las Vegas.
“He’s gotten better. You can see the confidence. He’s playing at an all-star level,” Thibodeau said of Wall. “I think it helps all the guys when you’re around great players. It’s a different game also, and I think it challenges guys.”
Wall still will have a chance to make a statement over his next six games, with Curry, Paul, Lillard and Irving all on the Wizards’ schedule (Paul is still recovering from a separated right shoulder).
But Colangelo and Krzyzewski both described the roster as “fluid,” based on whether players improve, regress or confront serious injuries.
“There are some players who didn’t make this roster who are right there on the cusp. So we continue to watch players perform and prepare ourselves just in case,” Colangelo said in a conference call.
After dealing with the initial disappointment, Wall has moved on.
“My main goal is just to focus on basically what it’s been all year. And that’s to make this team better, as good as we can and try to reach the playoffs,” he said. “If something happens down the road, you’ll definitely be happy because you’re playing for your country and that’s bigger than anything to me. It would be a dream come true, but if it doesn’t work that way, I still got other times, hopefully, later in my career.”