LAS VEGAS – Seeking an edge in a post-practice three-point contest against one of the game’s best shooters, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall relied on being silly. Before Cleveland Cavaliers all-star point guard Kyrie Irving elevated for a shot, Wall would ask him for the score or shout some gibberish, throwing off Irving’s rhythm. Irving would respond in kind when it was Wall’s turn to shoot.
But make no mistake, they both wanted to win this week at Team USA minicamp. Wall, the top overall pick in 2010, has been working on improving his jumper since he entered the league and took on an imposing challenge against Irving, the top pick in 2011 and reigning three-point champ from last season’s all-star weekend.
Irving at times looked stunned by Wall’s accuracy, but he managed to pull out two closer-than-expected victories.
“I’m mad right now,” Wall said with a grin afterward.
Though Wall is expected to receive a five-year, maximum-salary contract worth $80 million in the coming days from the Wizards, his spot for future USA Basketball teams is much less of a lock during an era in which point guard is the NBA’s most talent-rich position.
Wall and Irving were among eight point guards in Las Vegas – Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker, plus Oklahoma State rising sophomore Marcus Smart, were the others – vying for spots on the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain next summer or down the road in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. With the group of talented young point guards needing to separate themselves to attract the attention of USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski, even the ancillary battles proved to be entertaining.
“We’re not making any determinations. We can see where some guys have improved. We’ve seen maturity. So it’s early in the process,” Colangelo said of the talent evaluation. “No doubt about the fact that we’re strong in the back court. So at the end of the day, when we go through our process, it’s going to be tough coming up with who is and who isn’t.”
All-star Russell Westbrook, former MVP Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry were not in attendance this week but are very much in the mix for future teams. Two-time gold medalists Chris Paul and Deron Williams would also possibly have reserved positions, giving Wall a steep wall to climb.
After an injury-shortened season in which in he made considerable strides as a scorer and a shooter – he set career highs with 18.5 points and a 44.1 percent field goal percentage last season – Wall is confident that he has left enough of an impression. He also knows that an all-star appearance and NBA playoff berth next season would improve his chances.
“I feel like I have a great opportunity here. I’m doing a great job leading. I just hope my chances are high, because that would be a dream come true, to put USA across your chest,” said Wall, who came off the bench and scored 10 points with three rebounds and two assists as his Blue team lost to Irvin’s White team, 128-106, at Thomas & Mack Center (Irving led all scorers with 23 points and added seven assists). “Point guard is the toughest position. It’s great to have all these guys here. It makes it more fun. You have to come out and play your best every day you’re here because they’re going to do the same.”
Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal also was in attendance this week but was unable to participate as he recovers from a stress injury in his right fibula. The competition at his position isn’t nearly as steep, with both Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade in their 30s and likely done playing for Team USA. James Harden won a gold medal last year in London, but Klay Thompson and Dion Waiters are the only true shooting guards to participate in the minicamp.
“It somewhat helps, just knowing that it’s not as many shooting guards, but at the same time I still have to compete against the ones that are here,” Beal said. “I have to compete against the point guards, too.”
Colangelo and Krzyzewski both felt the need to have Beal around despite his injury.
“I know he wanted to participate, but it wasn’t in the cards,” Colangelo said of Beal. “For each player here, including him, this is going to help him for next season, because assuming each one of them want to be a part of this, they know there is an opportunity but it’s going to based on what they show this year. Because from what we see, we’re going to put our pool together of 25 or 30 guys, but once they are in the family so to speak, it’s up to them.”