Wall steals show in matchup with Turner, proves to be game-changer
John Wall effortlessly tallied a near-triple-double vs. the Sixers on Tuesday
Wall can change a game as well as any point guard in the NBA right now
Al Horford's new five-year deal could have implications on Atlanta's roster
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The greatness in John Wall is hidden, buried under a plain black t-shirt and a tightly strapped backpack. You can't tell how good Wall is just by looking at him. He doesn't have the physique of LeBron James or the natural swagger of Kobe Bryant. He isn't as demonstrative as Kevin Garnett or as cool as Ray Allen. Yet, after watching Wall play, there is little doubt he shares a unique gift, a gift engrained in them all.
Wall's performance in the Wizards' home-opening 116-115 overtime win over the Sixers on Tuesday (29 points, 13 assists, nine steals) reinforced what everyone in Washington's organization has come to know: This kid is pretty special. In a matchup with No. 2 overall pick, Evan Turner, Wall stole the show. He powered the Wizards into overtime with assault after assault on the rim. He played 45 grueling minutes despite spending most of Monday limping around D.C. in a walking boot. Turner (nine points, six rebounds) wasn't bad. He was just facing someone operating on a different level.
"He's got an unbelievable will to win," Flip Saunders said. "He wills the team. He wants to take the last shot, he wants to make the big shot, he wants to make the play."
Wall's physical skills are staggering. In the second quarter, he bodied up Elton Brand and stripped the hulking power forward as he turned toward the rim. In overtime, he chased down Andre Iguodala and got to his shot just before Iguodala could flush it through. At times, Wall could be careless (eight turnovers), but any sloppiness was overshadowed by his ability to effortlessly dominate.
Philadelphia couldn't stop him. They would have settled for containing him, only they couldn't do that either. The helpless looks on the faces of Turner, Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams and anyone else in a Sixers jersey that attempted to put up a roadblock on Wall's way to the basket wrote that story. Possession after possession defenders dug in, determined to be the one who keeps Wall in his chest. And play after play ended with one staring at the back of Wall's jersey.
Indeed, Wall is the real deal. And he couldn't have come along at a better time for a sinking franchise that was desperately searching for a lifeboat. Washington bottomed out last season when the boorish behavior of Gilbert Arenas prompted a fire sale that ultimately sent cornerstone players Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson out of town.
Rebuilding was supposed to take time, but Wall -- who the Wizards eagerly scooped up after winning the draft lottery with just a 10.3 percent chance -- may just speed up the process. In the NBA, point guards are game-changers and Wall can impact a game as well as any of them.
He will need help, of course. He will need Andray Blatche to play more like a center than a 2-guard and attack the rim the way he did in overtime, when a hard foul led to two free throws that proved to be the difference. He will need Al Thornton and Kirk Hinrich to knock down the inevitable open shots that will come when defenses collapse on him. He will need JaVale McGee to clog the middle and clean up the offensive glass.
And yes, he will need Arenas, too. Arenas and Wall have yet to share the same court in the regular season, with Arenas missing the first three games because of an ankle injury. There is no telling how Arenas will fit in with a Wall-led team. Will he defer to the younger player? Or will he still presume himself to be the face of the franchise and, therefore, feel entitled to have the ball in key moments?
These are questions that will be answered in the coming weeks and months. But Arenas and everyone else will have to fall in line behind Wall. Because if the Wizards are going to get back into the national conversation, it will be Wall who takes them there.
Just five players from the 2007 draft were signed to contract extensions before Monday's midnight deadline, a low number linked to owners feeling the new collective bargaining agreement will significantly reduce player salaries. Here's a look at the five that got extensions.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City (Five years, $85 million)
A no-brainer. By locking Durant up now, the Thunder quell any speculation that Durant might walk in two years. Plus, having the franchise player under contract through at least 2015 will help when it comes time to extend Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green.
Jared Dudley, Phoenix (Five years, $22.5 million)
Pretty reasonable contract for a player who became an integral part of the Suns' rotation last season. Dudley, 25, will take over at small forward when Grant Hill's contract expires after this season. He's a shooter (45.8 percent from three last season), which is what you want in Phoenix, and has underrated skills in the halfcourt.
Mike Conley, Memphis (Five years, $40 million)
This one was a head-scratcher. Conley is a good prospect and he has had a solid start to the season (14.5 points, 8.0 assists through three games) but that's a lot of cash to be committing to a player with plenty of holes in his game. Memphis has now committed $122 million to Conley and Rudy Gay, and has $44.2 million allocated to nine guys next season. Not included among those nine are Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, two players who made Memphis the most prolific scoring team in the paint last season.
Joakim Noah, Chicago (Five years, $60 million)
Good deal for Noah, great deal for the Bulls. Noah could have held out for more ($67 million-$70 million would not be unreasonable), but he wanted to get a deal done. Chicago gets a quality 25-year-old center (how many of those are out there?) who has emerged as one of the league's best rebounders and whose energy is almost unmatched.
Al Horford, Atlanta (Five years, $60 million)
I like this deal, too. Horford is miscast as a center, but he's an elite big man who can kill defenses with his post-up game or outside shot. Can Atlanta afford Horford and Joe Johnson's six-year, $119 million contract? I'm not so sure. They will probably let Jamal Crawford walk after the season and may need to move Josh Smith. But signing Horford was the right decision.
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