LAS VEGAS – From Carmelo Anthony to Derrick Rose, John Wall has seen NBA players come into the USA Basketball program over the summers to absorb the experience and competition, only to turn it all into a career season in the fall. He wants to take from this week’s minicamp a similar impact, but there’s a desire to show the coaches and officials that he’s a rising guard, too.
This offseason for Wall is as much about improving as simply strengthening health.
“I’m happy, I’m excited, and I’m healthy,” Wall said. Ice packs covered his knees after Monday’s practice here for the U.S. select team, and the topic of health brought out a positive vibe for the first time in so long. “I feel great.”
Wall had an agonizing time with his health last season, but he finished playing his best basketball as a pro. He found part of his potential, and Washington Wizards' coaches believe that he has entered the summer with a clear focus on the areas he must sharpen: His jump shot, floater and decision-making.
For his part, Wall asserted unmistakably Monday that the upcoming season will bring out his star qualities so many envisioned when he became the Wizards’ No. 1 pick.
“Next year is a breakout year for me,” Wall told RealGM. “I’m not really going to talk about it – I want to go out there and play and let my game do the talking. I want to be in the playoffs. That’s my goal. That’s my only goal.
“Four years in, I got to start seeing what the playoff experience is like.”
The game used to come too easy to Wall as a high school prodigy and a clear-cut top pick in 2009, when his athleticism, quickness and ball handling seemed sure to place him among the best guards in little time. He admits his jumper needs a lot of growth – through repetition and practicing his form – and he badly wants to become a more consistent shooting threat. Everyone fears his driving ability, but now he wants this to happen when he’s on the perimeter, on the move off down screens.
Wall had been assured last season was the year he’d become an All-Star, the year the Wizards finally would make the playoffs with him. Yet, the missed games for Wall piled up within the first two-plus months, drowning the Wizards into a lottery season, leaving the 22-year-old to salvage his play in the last 49 games. Yes, he averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists, but he could tell he had fallen in the eyes of people around the league.
“I’ve just been down with injuries and I feel like people started forgetting about me,” Wall said. “But that goes down when you’re not performing, when you’re not playing. I’m not getting mad at anyone, just using it as motivation. I have high expectations for myself.”
It still falls on the Wizards’ management to surround Wall with the necessary talent, and several acquisitions in recent years have turned out to be underachieving ones. A young talent in JaVale McGee was dealt for Nene, a 30-year-old whose production has regressed in each of the past three seasons. Trevor Ariza also has dipped in performance, after averaging nearly 15 points in 2009-10.
Even so, Wall knows the Wizards have a promising backcourt partner for him in Bradley Beal. Even though Beal was slated to withdraw from the minicamp, he shot jumpers extensively inside the gym on Monday. Washington signed a formidable backup for Wall when healthy, Eric Maynor, and it still has legitimate interest in DeJuan Blair, a league source said.
Ted Leonsis already has made public the Wizards’ plan to try to sign Wall to a contract extension, and Wall confirmed his camp has begun discussions but made clear that he will stay out of them. The Wizards know Wall has talent worth a maximum deal, but it’s unclear if they’ll commit that type of money to him.
“The organization and front office people do a great job of keeping me there if they want to,” Wall told RealGM. “I leave it up to the [Wizards] and my agent to discuss those businesses, and my job is to just keep getting better on the court.”
For now, the U.S. select team will give Wall challenges in his first experience with the program as an NBA player. He’ll have stiff competition at guard this week – from Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson – and Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Rose loom in the next two summers.
“I want to show that I’m improving as a player and doing my job as best as I can to get an opportunity to be on one of these spots on the World Cup team,” Wall said.
These minicamps, and eventually the tournaments or Olympic games, had done wonders to propel Anthony and Rose, sending them into respective MVP-caliber and MVP seasons one and two years ago. Soon, a wide smile formed on John Wall. “We’ll see what I do next year,” Wall said.