In The Scrum With John Wall

After his first mini-camp practice as a member of the  Washington Wizards, number one draft pick John Wall took a few minutes to meet with the media.  He discussed his performance in practice, the rapport he’s building with the players, what he needs to work on, and his feelings about LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat.

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In The Scrum With Flip Saunders

After the Washington Wizards first mini-camp practice, head coach Flip Saunders met with the media.  He discussed his expectations for John Wall and the other young players, the future of Nick Young, and his feelings on LeBron James’ decision to bolt to the Miami Heat.

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Wizards To Hold Three Day Mini-Camp

The Washington Wizards will kickoff their three day mini-camp at the Verizon Center, on Thursday, July 8th, in preparation for their appearance in the Vegas Summer League.

Number one overall pick John Wall, and third-year center JaVale McGee will headline the 16 man roster.

The full roster is as follows:

Trevor Booker             F          6-7       240      11/25/87          Clemson Tigers

Eric Hayes                   G         6-4       180      2/26/87            Maryland Terrapins

Lester Hudson             G         6-3       190      8/7/84              Memphis Grizzlies

Abdulai Jalloh             G         6-2       190      1/10/86            Springfield Armor (D-League)

Cartier Martin              G/F      6-7       220      11/20/84          Washington Wizards

JaVale McGee             C          7-0       252      1/19/88            Washington Wizards

Raymar Morgan           F          6-8       230      8/8/88              Michigan State Spartans

Hamady Ndiaye           C          6-11     235      1/12/87            Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Kevin Palmer               G/F      6-6       205      6/21/87            Texas A&M-CC Islanders

Aaron Pettway             F/C       6-10     240      1/4/80              Ventspils (Latvia)

JP Prince                      G/F      6-7       205      7/14/87            Tennessee Volunteers

Jerome Randle             G         5-10     172      5/21/87            California Bears

Kyle Spain                   F          6-5       209      1/5/87              Passe-Partout Leuven (Belgium)

Mike Sweetney            F          6-8       260      10/25/82          Erie Bayhawks

John Wall                    G         6-4       195      9/6/90              Kentucky Wildcats

Sun Yue                       F          6-7       205      11/6/85            Beijing Aoshen Olympians (China)

The Wizards first summer league game will be Sunday, July 11th at 8pm, against the Golden State Warriors on NBATV.   The Wizards will presumably announce the final summer league roster prior to that game.

Stay tuned to Hoops Addict for more details.

Booker and N’Diaye Arrive Quietly

On the day Trevor Booker and Hamady N’Diaye were drafted by the Washington Wizards, there was little discussion about the contributions they could make to the team. There was casual mention of them both being mature seniors, but little else.  The focus on that day, was number one draft pick John Wall.

Yesterday, when Booker and N’Diaye were officially introduced by Team President Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Flip Saunders, it seemed like both players would finally have the spotlight to themselves.  But less than an hour after their introductory press conference was completed, the Wizards announced a trade that sent Quinton Ross to the New Jersey Nets for Yi Jianilian and cash.

Luckily for Booker and N’Diaye, Grunfeld knows just how important both players are to the Wizards.

“We had a couple of objectives in this draft, and we wanted to get tougher.  We wanted to get players in this organization that were going to play hard every single night, be professional, and carry themselves in the right way,” Grunfeld explained.  “I think that with these two players we were able to get that.  We think they bring something special to the table, physicality, defensive presence, and an aggressiveness I think we were looking for.”

Coach Saunders shared the same sentiment.

“At the end of last year when we talked about moving forward and especially when we obtained the number one pick in the draft, we said in order to get where wanted to get and be a championship caliber team, we had to improve our competitiveness, improve our intensity, our character of our players–and knowing that every time they stepped on the floor they were going to play at an extremely high level.  Both these guys possess that,” Saunders told the media.

Booker, who says his game is similar to that of Paul Milsap and Carl Landry, led Clemson in scoring and rebounding during his senior year, by averaging 15 points and 8.2 rebounds.  But when asked what the biggest strength of his game was, he went in a different direction.

“I love defense,” Booker said confidently. “If an offensive player tries to challenge me with the ball, I’m not going to back down from anybody. It’s a big challenge for me. I don’t want anybody to score on me or score on my team. I’m going to do anything I can to keep the ball from going in the hole.”

N’Diaye, who compares himself to Ben Wallace, averaged 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and a whopping 4.5 blocks a game during his senior year at Rutgers en route to Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors.

While talking with the media he was very candid about his shot-blocking abilities and how he sees his game overall.

“I’ve got a long way to go.  Six years of basketball, doesn’t mean this is my best,” N’Diaye said with a huge smile.  “Blocking shots really… its a feel.  Its something that I love to do, and like Trevor[Booker] said, I don’t like when people score on me, so I will jump as high as I have to, to get that ball.”

Both  Booker and N’Diaye wowed Saunders and the Wizards coaches in their workouts.  Booker said he had a “LeBron James-like” block on one of the players he was facing and the coaches were really impressed.  N’Diaye was blocking every shot in sight during his workout, but not keeping them inbounds.

When Saunders asked him why he kept sending the ball out of bounds, N’Diaye replied: “Coach, the crowd goes crazy!”

Booker, N’Diaye, the much ballyhooed John Wall, and the other summer league invitees will participate in rookie mini-camp, before they head to the Vegas Summer League, Saunders said during the press conference.   Specific dates for the mini-camp were not given.

Wizards Acquire Yi Jianlian

The Washington Wizards traded forward Quinton Ross to the New Jersey Nets for forward Yi Jianlian and cash considerations according to Team President Ernie Grunfeld.

“This trade is a good opportunity to add a skilled seven-footer with significant NBA experience who was the sixth overall pick in the draft just three years ago,” said Grunfeld.  “Yi fits in very well with our ongoing plan of building towards the future with a core of young, talented players.”

For the Nets, this move clears more salary cap room as they continued their quest for LeBron James and the other major free agents of 2010.  And according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Yi’s skillset did not exactly fit in to new Nets coach, Avery Johnson’s plans.

In Yi, the Washington Wizards gain a player who can play both the small and power forward positions, and he gives them a bit of insurance while Andray Blatche recovers from foot surgery.  Salary cap wise, this still allows the Wizards flexibility since Yi has a player option that the team has the option of picking up at the end of the 2010-2011 season.

Yi was originally the sixth pick of the 2007 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, where he averaged 8.6 points and 5. 2 rebounds.  He was traded to the Nets before the 2008 season, and in two seasons there, he averaged 10.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game.

The Wizards acquired Ross along with Josh Howard and James Singleton on February 13th of this year as part of the trade that sent DeShawn Stevenson,  Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler to the Dallas Mavericks.  He played sparingly for the Wizards averaging just 1.5 points in 25 games.

The acquisition of Yi, is one of the several moves the Wizards have made this offseason.  During last Thursday’s NBA Draft, they took John Wall number one overall, along with Trevor Booker and Hamady N’Diaye.  The Wizards have also reportedly added former Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich and Kevin Seraphin from France, and Washington Post beat writer Michael Lee is reporting that an qualifying offer will not be made to Wizards guard Randy Foye, thus making him a free agent.

Stay tuned to Hoops Addict for more information on the Washington Wizards.

Rashad Mobley On Fox Sports Radio

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of appearing on Fox Sports Radio with Brian Webber and Pooh Richardson.   I discussed the factors involved in Phil Jackson’s return next year and where LeBron James and the rest of the 2010 free agent class may end up going.

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Arenas and Wall Need Each Other

As I sat on the Washington Wizards practice court, and watched the elaborate production of a press conference that was rolled out for John Wall a day after they made him the number one pick, I could not help but be impressed.

There was a plaque from Adrian Fenty, Mayor of Washington D.C., declaring Friday, June 25th, 2010, John Wall Day;  There was a three minute, welcome-to-DC-John Wall video featuring D.C. sports celebrities like Donovan McNabb, Alexander Ovechkin, and Steven Strasburg;  And whether it was the banners bearing his name outside the arena, or the Wizards’ employees wearing shirts with “Wall” across the front, there was no mistake that this day belonged to John Wall.

Team President Ernie Grunfeld kept using phrases like “new era” and “character” to describe  Wall’s arrival, and head coach Flip Saunders joined in by also praising Wall’s character, and calling the arrival of the point guard “heaven sent”.  Both Saunders and Grunfeld could barely finish their sentences without  thunderous applause from the kids and fans who were also in attendance.

At that moment it was became crystal clear to me that the pressure on John Wall would exceed that of a normal number one draft pick.  He isn’t just expected to be the starting point guard on a team that has designs on returning to the playoffs, but Wall is being called upon to restore the emphasis on good character and behavior that has been absent since Gilbert Arenas was suspended in January of this year.

That type of pressure would arguably be easier for Wall to handle, if Arenas had been cut or traded to another team.  But according to Grunfeld and new owner Ted Leonsis, Arenas is still very much a part of this Washington Wizards team, and is expected to be in the starting backcourt with Wall. 

The opinions on whether Wall and Arenas can play together seem to vary greatly.  On draft night, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy and Fox Sports Radio contributor Stephen A. Smith seemed to think they would fare quite well together, but he  seems to be in the minority with that opinion.  Most people whose job it is to follow these things, like ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption co-host Tony Kornheiser and Yahoo’s Adrian Wajnarowski seem to think that it is mistake to combine the two players, and tension will be in the air as a result.

Not only do I agree with Van Gundy and Smith, that Wall and Arenas can play well together and thrive, I believe that these players need each other to have a successful 2010-2011 season.

Arenas needs Wall to deflect some of the well-deserved criticism and questions, that will come the minute he sets foot on the court for training camp.  Even though he’ll attempt to lean on the tried and true “it’s all in the past” cliche’ for comfort, Arenas will have to explain his gun incident, his halfway house stay, his feelings on Leonsis, Grunfeld, Saunders and the possibility of him being traded. 

Last season, just the return of Arenas from injury, caused a frenzy in the Wizards locker room, and there were crowds of media camped out in front of his locker for answers.  There was no other story and no other player to deflect the attention away Arenas.  This changes with Wall’s arrival, because no matter what Arenas is doing, saying or not saying, there will always be a number one draft pick in the same locker room who commands the same if not more attention.

On the court, the same concept will apply.  Arenas will be sharing the backcourt with a player who is quick, can penetrate and kick,  get his own shot, and has the ability to pass the ball better than he can.   This allows Arenas to focus on the one thing he has been so good at during his nine-year career and that’s score with great proficiency.  The guilt associated with not moving the ball or not keeping the offense moving as a point guard is diminshed greatly with Wall’s presence.  As with anything, there will surely be a period of adjustment, but between training camp and the first few weeks of the season, those problems can be solved.

From Wall’s standpoint, the presence of  Arenas, who is an All-Star and a proven scorer, can only help his job as a rookie point guard.  In football, the best friend of a young quarterback is a proven running back who keep the offense out of third and long situations, and what Wall will have in Arenas is no different. 

Based on Wall’s talent and his Kentucky highlight reel, he can run an offense and mix in his own just fine, but he is still a rookie.  As good as Rajon Rondo played in the playoffs this year, when he first played with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, he struggled with gaining their confidence as well as his own.  Luckily for Rondo, the three All-Stars were able to carry the team until he was fully ready.  In Arenas (and Andray Blatche once he recovers from foot surgery), Wall will have players who can bail him out while Coach Saunders, Assistant Coach Sam Cassell (and maybe Kirk Hinrich) teach him how to efficiently play point guard.  Once Wall learns that, Blatche, Arenas and others will only continue to compliment him and make him better.

Off the court, it would be nice if Wall had a mentor and/or a big brother figure in Arenas, but that may not be realistic.  But again, on those days when Wall has to meet with the media and answer tough question after tough question, the mere presence of Arenas will lessen the mounting pressure that’s being placed on him daily.

From now until training camp, we will continue to hear about John Wall and Gilbert Arenas separately.  Wall in be in the Vegas Summer League getting his feet wet in the NBA game, and Arenas will continue to workout in Chicago, performing maintenance on his knee.  The Wizards  braintrust will continue to sell Wall as the face of the team and Arenas’  as a valued, but very much secondary member of the team.  But by the time training camp ends and that first regular season game tips off, not only will the Wizards realize they need both of these men for a successful season, but Wall and Arenas will discover just how much they need each other.

Wizards Add Booker And N’Diaye

Most of the hype surrounding the Washington Wizards on NBA draft night, centered on the selection of John Wall–and deservedly so. He was the best player available in the draft, and based on his freshman year performance at Kentucky, he is destined to be a productive point guard for the Wizards.

But the Wizards were one of the busier teams on draft night, while  they made some moves that aren’t official and cannot be fully discussed as of yet such as the acquisition of Kirk Hinrich, there were two other official moves the Wizards made they hope will pay immediate dividends.

The Wizards acquired the draft rights to forward Trevor Booker and center Hamady N’Diaye from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the rights to Lazar Hayward and Nemanja Bjelica.

Booker was drafted 23rd overall while N’Diaye was selected 56th.

“We are very pleased to add Trevor Booker and Hamady N’Diaye to our roster on an exciting night for our franchise,” said Team President Ernie Grunfeld. “Trevor is a strong rebounder and hard-nosed defender with an aggressive mentality. He is a real competitor who will bring a strong desire and physicality to our team. Hamady also plays with toughness and a lot of effort, and has an excellent ability to block shots.”

The 6″7″ 240lb Booker, who worked out for the Washington Wizards last week, averaged 15.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg during his senior year at Clemson in 2009-10, en route to earning First Team All-ACC honors.  He also was named to the All ACC Defensive Team this season.

The 6’11”, 235lb N’Diaye, who was among the first group of players the Wizards worked out back on May 13th, averaged 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks for Rutgers this season, and was named Big East Defensive Player of the year.

Both players are expected to play for the Washington Wizards in the Vegas Summer League.   Stay tuned to Hoops Addict for more Wizards-related information.

Ernie Grunfeld On John Wall

A few minutes after selecting John Wall as the number one selection in the NBA draft, Washington Wizards Team President Ernie Grunfeld, met with the media to discuss the pick.

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Reebok Unveils Wall’s New Shoe

The day before he is expected to be the number one pick in the 2010 NBA draft by the Washington Wizards, John Wall unveiled the new basketball shoes he will be wearing during his rookie year.

This morning at Madison Square Garden, Reebok and John Wall held a press conference to unveil the new John Wall shoe, entitled “Zig Slash”.

The shoe was created by Reebok and it is part of their “Zig Tech” collection designed to give athletes more energy. The shoe is already worn by such high-profile athletes Peyton Manning, Chad Ocho Cinco, David Ortiz and Alexander Ovechkin, and Wall will be the first basketball player to wear these shoes.

Reebok will begin featuring John Wall and his new shoe during the 2010 NBA Draft tomorrow night on ESPN. Video footage of today’s press conference can be seen below.

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In The Scrum With Ernie Grunfeld

On the eve of the biggest draft pick the Washington Wizards have had in nine years, Team President Ernie Grunfeld took some time to speak with the media. He spoke about his impressions on John Wall, the limitations of player workouts, what positions he’s looking to upgrade in the draft, JaVale McGee’s summer plans, and what moves the Wizards may make tomorrow night.

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Draft Prospects To Conduct NBA FIT Clinic

On Wednesday, June 23 from 3-4 pm, top 200 NBA draftees, along with Hall of Famer Bob Lanier and former NBA player Felipe Lopez, will conduct an NBA FIT clinic for 100 New  York boys and girls. 

The FIT clinic, which will be held at the legendary Madison Square Garden, will have various stations designed on showing them the importance of health and nutrition.

Also in attendance at the this NBA clinic, will be 13 year old Justin Freelander, found of “Justin’s Quest”.  After being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer last year, Freelander,  established “Justin’s Quest” to raise awareness and to hopefully find a cure for this terrible disease.

Freelander, whose lives in the Washington D.C.  area and is a Washington Wizards fan, vowed to shoot a basket for every person diagnosed with a  brain tumor each year in the US – approximately 63,000 baskets – and all proceeds from “Justin’s Quest “will benefit the National Brain Tumor Society.

60 Minutes With John Wall

Prior to the 2007 NBA draft, aside from Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, one of the most intriguing  players available was Yi Jianlian.  He was 7’0″, 250lbs, with a deft shooting touch, he had averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds in the Chinese basketball league and the general feeling was that he was the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki. 

Yi and his handlers organized an individual workout in Los Angeles, so that coaches and scouts who may have been skeptical about this talent, could see him up close and do their own evaluation.  Yi went through a series of shooting, dribbling and agility drills against nothing more than a chair, but still seemingly did enough to wow the scouts into saying he was a top 10 draft pick. 

Sure enough, just a few weeks later, Jianlian ws the sixth pick in the 2007  NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.

I remember hearing about that workout, and wondering how so many respected NBA scouts, front office folks and coaches could be convinced of a player’s greatness on the strength of an individual workout with a chair.  Although Yi had been dominant in China, the level of competition and the quality of players is much higher in the NBA.  I also remember thinking if I was a GM, and I only saw this guy against a chair, and not NBA-ready players, I’d be inclined to take him lower in the first round–not in the lottery.  To me, basketball is a team game and is best evaluated as such, not with an individual workout.

So all these thoughts were in my head when the Washington Wizards PR staff announced that former University of Kentucky All-American, John Wall would be worked out individually.  Unlike Yi, Wall played with and against NBA-ready talent during his one year of college, and he thrived by averaging 16 points and six assists.  The sense from NBA people in the know, was that Wall had merely scratched the surface of how good of a point guard he could be.  Still, I was highly skeptical of what, if anything, could be gleaned from an individual workout. 

After a brief 30 minutes, I realized that my Yi Jianlian-influenced skepticism about individual workouts was justified.

In front of audience that included Wizards forward Andray Blatche, Team President Ernie Grunfeld, Owner Ted Leonsis, bloggers, beat writers and Wizards coaches, Wall did his best to dazzle in an individual workout. 

The first drill I saw Wall performing was a pick and roll drill where he would come off a pick and then pull up for a jumpshot, but the shots were not falling consistently.  He then moved on to a drill where Coach Flip Saunders would throw the ball, and Wall had to let it bounce twice, before he picked it up and shot it.  Wall shot the ball a little better, but he still appeared to be fighting with his shot–much like Ray Allen did throughout the NBA Finals.

When head coach Flip Saunders asked Wall to dunk the ball from each side of the floor, he seemed to come alive a bit.  Initially he just did two, one-handed Jordan style baseline dunks a la  Michael Jordan, but towards the end he got fancy and did a Dominique Wilkins style windmill.  The thing that struck me the most was how easy it all seemed to look and how little he seemed to phased by all the eyes that were on him, and only him. 

The workout was ended prematurely, and Wall later admitted that his back had stiffened a bit.

Still, this was still an individiual workout, and even though former NBA player and current Wizards assistant coach Sam Cassell was in attendance playing “defense”, it was hardly enough to glean any additional information about Wall’s game or abilities.  

Less than 30 minutes after it all began, the workout was over and Wall was whisked away to an undisclosed location.  The Yi rule was still in effect as far as I was concerned.

But after about a 12 minute wait, Wall re-emerged in the media room to answer questions, and this is where I got an education about his game and where he wants be. He answered questions about playing with Gilbert Arenas, how it feels to be the center of attention, how it feels to be the number pick in the draft, and his assessment of the workout.  But there were two basketball-related answers of his that stuck out.

The first answer was in response to a question I asked him about watching Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.  The Lakers were taking on the Suns, and Wall was lucky enough to be sitting courtside.  I asked him what he learned from Kobe Bryant and/or Steve Nash.

“I was a fan, but I was also a student of the game trying to learn a lot,” Wall explained to me.  “Kobe has great footwork and every chances he gets the ball he knows the spot he wants to get to and that’s the key in the NBA, you have to know the spots and certain angles to beat guys.  He’s [Kobe] not as explosive as he was when he first got to the league, but now his footwork is so good, he knows how to get certain angles and get people off their feet.  That’s what I’m looking to do and try to get better at”.

The second response that impressed me came from a question courtesy of Mike Prada from Bullets Forever.  Prada asked Wall how comfortable he felt running the pick and roll, when that style of offense was not often run in the college game. 

“The key in the pick and roll is you have to be able to knock down shots, if not, you have to set the pick and roll a little lower, so you can get into the paint easier,” Wall told Prada.  “You see how guys are guarding [Rajon] Rondo off the pick and roll, and I want to be the type of player who can knock that [shot] down.”

Wall’s answer about Kobe Bryant’s  footwork  and angles demonstrated to me that he’s seemingly dedicated to making the game easier for him in preparation for the next level.  His observations on the pick and roll, and the way Rondo is handling it, tells me that he is interested in improving not just as a player, but as a point guard.  Amid the cliched questions and answers, it was quite refreshing to hear a top draft prospect actually break down the game of basketball.

18 minutes after he first sat down in the media room to answer questions, and after erroneously picking the Celtics to win Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Wall was ushered out by the PR staff.  The first 30 minutes had been relatively uneventful, but the last 30 had me even more intrigued about his capabilities in a Washington Wizards uniform.

Luckily for me, I only have less than a week to wait.

For the full audio of John Wall’s post-workout press conference click hereAnd please stay tuned to Hoops Addict for full NBA Draft coverage.

In The Scrum With John Wall

Washington Wizards Owner Ted Leonsis, Team President Ernie Grunfeld, and Coach Flip Saunders have remained relatively reticent about who the team’s number one pick will be.

But realistically, barring a turn of events of epic proportions, the Wizards will draft University of Kentucky All-American guard, John Wall.

Today, Wall participated in an individual workout in front of a rather large group of media, front office personnel and coaches on the Wizards practice court, and after he met with the media.  He discussed how his workout went, advice he got from LeBron James, what he learned by watching Kobe Bryant, the possibility of playing with Gilbert Arenas, and much more.

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Podcast: Say Queensbridge

Less than 20 minutes after the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics 83-79 to win the  NBA championship, Kobe Bryant was announced as the NBA Finals MVP–and deservedly so.  He averaged 27 points a game, and with the exception of  Game 7 , he kept the Lakers in every game.  But the Game 7 MVP was clearly Ron Artest.

He played a team high 46 minutes, and he scored 20 points and had five steals.  When none of his teammates seemed to be able to hit shots consistently, Artest picked up the slack admirably.  And when Rasheed Wallace hit a three-pointer to bring the Celtics within three points towards the end of the game, Artest calmly hit an open three-pointer of his own to effectively put the game out of reach.

During this podcast, Ryan and Rashad discuss the great play of Artest, the rebounding dominance of the Lakers, the struggles of the Celtics in the fourth quarter, and Kobe Bryant’s legacy.

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