In The Scrum With John Wall

Washington Wizards star guard John Wall has been on fire as of late. After scoring 37 points to lead the Wizards to a 104-85 over the Indiana Pacers, Wall talked about his confidence and some of the emotion he shows while he’s on the court. Wall believes “When you’re feeling good, you’re playing good”  and it showed tonight as he went 16-25 from the field.

 

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Jeff Teague’s Helping Hawks Take Flight

jeff-teague

Jeff Teague’s first two seasons in the NBA were an unequivocal bust.

The Atlanta Hawks selected Teague with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft and he repaid them by averaging 4.2 points and 1.8 dimes in 11.9 minutes of burn his first two seasons in the NBA.

Yuck.

Teague showed flashes of living up to his promise last season when he averaged 12.6 and 4.9 assists in 33 minutes of burn. He finally earned the trust of head coach Larry Drew and looked poised to play big minutes again this season.

Last summer new Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry took less than a month to nuke the team when he dealt Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams for cap space and expiring deals. Critics claimed those moves would cost Atlanta in the short term as they lost two starters and the face of the franchise.  The main reason why people weren’t fans of the moves is because it created questions about how effective Josh Smith and Al Horford would be if they were relying on an injury-prone point guard in Devin Harris or a relatively inexperience point guard in Teague.

In a nice twist, those trades were just what Teague needed to make him feel more comfortable as a leader and start asserting himself more on the court.

“I’m just getting the opportunity to play more,” Teague told me. “I’m getting used to Larry Drew’s system. Last year I was thrown in the fire because I didn’t play much my first two years so last year was really like my first year for me. This year has been just me trying to get better.”

It’s more than just getting an opportunity to play more. With Johnson, Mike Bibby and other guys who dominated the ball out of the picture, it has allowed Teague to create more with the ball in his hands. Instead of running running a ton of isolation plays for Johnson, Smith and Horford, the team is now running a lot of pick-and-roll plays which means the ball is in the hands of Teague more now that it ever has before.

On top of that, Teague no longer has to worry about being too vocal and trying to lead guys who have been around the league a lot longer than he has.

“It was very tough,” Teague admitted when asked what it was like being a rookie point guard on a team filled with veterans. “You want to prove to them that you can play. As a point guard you need to be a leader but as a young guy trying to lead 30-year-old guys and telling them what to do was difficult at first but I’m slowing getting better at it.”

The result is Teague currently tied for 11th in the NBA in assists (7.1) and Atlanta as a team ranks second. Instead of the ball getting stuck in the hands of one player, Atlanta is now sharing the basketball in a way they haven’t for years.

Being able to play through mistakes and being on the court more the result is Teague finally has the confidence that he’s a starting point guard in the NBA.

“He lets me play through mistakes,” Teague explained when asked how Larry Drew has helped him grow.

However, it’s not always pats on the back or pep talks. Drew isn’t afraid to give his young point guard some tough love when it’s needed.

“I’m constantly in his ear about different things,” Drew said. “I may yell at him a few times, but he knows what I’m trying to do and that is to make him a better basketball player. He is a big part of what we are trying to do.”

His coach and teammates may put a lot of pressure on him, but Teague has clearly risen to the challenge and is now poised for a long and successful career in the NBA.

Sure, posting career-highs across the board looks good when he’s about to be a free agent agent, but the true test of any point guard is how well his team is doing. The key proof to his growth as a point guard is the fact Atlanta is yet again a playoff team this season. Critics had Atlanta pegged as a lottery team last summer but they clinched a playoff spot for the sixth consecutive season last week.

With Atlanta fighting for home court advantage during a rebuilding season that has been marred by injuries, it’s clear that Teague has had a big impact this season. He’s made the jump from being an athlete who was overwhelmed to a floor general that has the poise to make big plays when his team needs while averaging career-highs in scoring and assists.

Teague is going to be a free agent this summer so his play this season has him poised to cash in, whether or not it’s Atlanta that is paying him.

Not bad for a player who was consider a bust just over a year ago.

Rockets Sign Scott Machado

The Houston Rockets have officially signed Scott Machado to a reported three year deal.

Machado had a strong showing for the Rockets in summer league play, averaging 8.0 points and 5.6 assists in five games.

With Jeremy Lin being the obvious starter at point guard, Machado will be battling for minutes against Shaun Livingston, Toney Douglas, and Courtney Fortson who all are at different stages in their career.

Machado who led the nation with 9.9 assists per game in his senior year at Iona, surprisingly went undrafted.

“It’s another fuel to the fire, that’s exactly what it is,” Machado said. “I was very disappointed. It was so disappointing it became a trending topic.”

Machado dished out 880 assists in 132 games ranking him 17th in NCAA history.

“They know I’m a great passer,” Machado told the Houston Chronicle. “I feel like every day I progressed and got better just getting more comfortable and more used to the style of play and the pace of the game, the players around me.”

The Rockets also announced they have waived Diamon Simpson to make room for Machado, on what is already considered a jam packed roster.

Marshall, Lillard Have Questions To Answer

Kendall Marshall and Damian Lillard are both point guard, but that’s where the similarities end.

Marshall is the steady floor general – a pass-first playmaker who had more assists (9.8) than points (8.1) per game last season as the creator for the talent-laden North Carolina Tar Heels.

Lillard is tougher to get a grasp on, based on his do-it-all career as the first (and, really, only) scoring option as a member of the mid-major Weber State Wildcats. What we do know is that he is a fast-rising competitor with an NBA-ready shot who is coming off a four-year college career.

Awkward as comparisons between the two very different players may be, they are inherently necessary for lottery teams who may be in need of point guard help, such as the Toronto Raptors.

Executive vice-president of basketball operations Ed Stefanski, the designated team voice after draft workouts on Tuesday involving the two prospects, stopped short of drawing any comparisons, but highlighted their inherent differences in describing Marshall and Lillard individually.

“[Marshall’s] basketball IQ is very, very good and he sees the floor well,” says Stefanski of the North Carolina product.

On Lillard, the former Nets’ and Sixers’ GM focused on an entirely different set of qualities.

“He’s a tough kid – he competes,” says Stefanski. “He comes from a smaller school than these other guys and I think that’s part of his competition and his willingness to work hard.”

That’s not to say that Marshall isn’t tough, nor does it suggest that Lillard isn’t a smart basketball player. It does, however, speak to the difficulties of the whole draft process, particularly when agents typically don’t allow for one-on-one workouts between similarly-projected players.

For example, Marshall appeared in an afternoon session against lower-rated prospects like Devoe Joseph, while Lillard’s workout saw him fly solo.

While they didn’t go up against one another on Tuesday (in a literal sense, anyway), they are both battling heavy scrutiny over perceived areas of weakness through the draft workout process.

For Marshall, the Toronto stop marked his first workout coming off a wrist injury that was actually revealed to be an elbow injury.

“I fractured my elbow as well,” acknowledges Marshall. “The doctors never looked at it until about three weeks ago, so it was a late development. I wish I could’ve started my rehab earlier, but thankfully it’s not something that would’ve took surgery, so it’s just a matter of time.”

The 20-year-old isn’t in denial about the effects of the injury, but he is encouraged by its early progress and believes that he should be ready to go sooner rather than later.

“It felt pretty good,” replies Marshall when asked about the arm after Tuesday’s workout. “Obviously there’s still some soreness, some pain, but I’m able to get through it. My conditioning isn’t where I want it to be, but it’s still at a good level so I’m excited about moving forward from here.”

For Lillard, it’s a question of competition – specifically how the level of competition he faced at Weber State will translate in the pros. The Wildcats, after all, went 14-2 in the notoriously weak Big Sky Conference last season before dropping the Conference championship 85-66 to Montana. Although, to be fair, the loss can’t be blamed on the 22-year-old, who tallied 29 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the game.

While Marshall played with three other potential lottery picks (Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller), Lillard feels that he was able to develop a multifaceted game by being a do-it-all player. He does, however, acknowledge that it’ll be nice to take a slightly scaled back role on a more balanced NBA club.

“That’s something I’m looking forward to,” Lillard admits,” not having a huge responsibility and having to carry a team. I can show off other parts of my game.”

With no point guard expected to go in the top five and only two likely to be lottery picks come June 28, the ‘one’ isn’t exactly a strong position heading into the deep 2012 draft. No wonder, then, that the two top players at the position both face significant unresolved questions.

How Marshall and Lillard answer those questions will speak volumes of their maturity and preparation as NBA players.