I had not planned to write about John Wall today, for the very good and sufficient reason that I just wrote about him on Tuesday. But when you see a 19-year-old freshman who is playing in only his eighth college game toy with a team of Connecticut’s stature like a vaguely interesting new set of Legos, unplanned repetition is not only acceptable but mandatory.
1. Wall is a one-man refutation of John Gasaway.
Kentucky beat the Huskies 64-61 at Madison Square Garden last night, even though Wall sat much of the first half with two fouls. He scored his game-high 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting in just 29 minutes. Wall is a 6-4 scoring point guard who for the year is now making 61 percent of his twos, which of course is unheard of. (Last year Ty Lawson had me screaming from the rooftops that even though he was Ty Lawson and his team could be glimpsed on ESPN from time to time, people still, somehow, just didn’t realize what a great year he was having. He made an incredible 56 percent of his twos.) It’s December so I should tut-tut here and say that “61” will fall as the year wears on. Well, yeah, it probably will. Then again included in that percentage are games against not only UConn but also Stanford and North Carolina. And is it possible that Wall actually looked better last night against Connecticut than he did on Saturday against the Heels?
He certainly looked heroic, calm, and in total and absolute control at the Garden against perhaps the single most stylistically consistent elite team in the nation. The program that Jim Calhoun has built always blocks shots. It never shoots threes. It has been this way forever. And what Calhoun’s team really wants is for some hotshot point guard to drive into the paint on them. Connecticut eats those little guys for lunch, always has.
Until last night a little before midnight, when with his team trailing by a point and less than 35 seconds remaining in the game, John Wall completed a three-point play on a left-handed drive over Stanley Robinson and Alex Oriakhi. (We need a better word than “drive.” Wall hurtled into the paint with startling velocity, like he’d been propelled there by magnetic levitation.) Like George Mason before him, Wall overcame one of D-I’s most formidable challenges by going right at it and beating it at its own game. The freshman is personally responsible for more great December basketball than any other team in recent memory.
I’m on the record as thinking one-and-done has got to go and, post-Wall, I still believe that. Wall should be in the NBA right now. (Duh.) To keep him out is unfair. But to love hoops as I do is to love what you’ve been seeing, however it came to be. Again, enjoy Wall while you can.
2. Right now “John Wall” is better than John Wall.
Was that gushy enough? Cool. Now for the obligatory “To be sure,” walk-back: Wall is committing a ton of turnovers right now. True, they’re not all of the flailing-freshman variety. Indeed many of them are charges called on a laudably aggressive star. Still, giving the ball away eight times for every 100 offensive possessions you play is a lot. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Right now John Wall is better than Kentucky.
The Wildcats are very, very fortunate to greet the new day this morning at 9-0. Take it from John Calipari: “We were lucky again, but sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good.” Indeed. The ‘Cats are now 4-0 in games that came down to the final minute of regulation. They’re unbelievably talented, of course, but they give the ball away on 24 percent of their possessions and their perimeter D is only fair. Don't count on them to run the table just yet.
4. Right now DeMarcus Cousins really does shoot quite often.
On Tuesday I noted that Kentucky freshman DeMarcus Cousins is extraordinarily likely to shoot the ball on any given possession when he’s in the game, a fact that is masked somewhat by the fact that foul trouble puts him on the bench a good deal of the time. In response I heard from some Kentucky fans who pointed out that Cousins has been playing against shorter opponents, resulting in a high number of possessions where he’s been fed the ball. Fine, but it takes more than diminutive foes to pull these startling numbers into alignment. After last night’s game Cousins’ shot percentage for the year has fallen but it still clocks in at a notably robust 35, meaning during his minutes he personally accounts for 35 percent of his team’s field-goal attempts. This is very high--it’s equivalent to the huge role that Luke Harangody played in the Notre Dame offense last year. More importantly, Wall and Patrick Patterson are both perfect monsters of scoring efficiency. Cousins will be too someday, but he is not there yet. Watch for these numbers to even out in favor of Wall and Patterson. They should.
5. Connecticut will be very good this year--with just a little more balance on offense.
Ater Majok, by all accounts a highly-skilled 6-11 big man, will be available for Calhoun starting a week from Sunday against Central Florida. That will help UConn’s depth considerably. Not to mention the way Gavin Edwards is playing, Majok will have to live up to every bit of his billing to be the best performer on this front line. Edwards may not look like the most forbidding UConn player, but he’s swatting away a team-high 9.4 percent of the other team’s twos during his minutes. Opponents’ struggles to make twos against this defense will most certainly continue. (Kentucky players not named John Wall, i.e., mortals, were just 13-of-37 inside the arc last night.)
Speaking of struggles, however, thus far on the young season Jerome Dyson has reverted to the form he displayed in his first two seasons, when he was a notably frequent but errant shooter. Then again the fact that his team is plumbing strange new depths in three-point-abstinence probably has a lot to do with that. All these drives by Dyson currently have to end in a foul, from the Huskies’ perspective, because they never end with a kick-out for a three. This year Connecticut has devoted just 17 percent of its shots to threes. Calhoun will never be confused with John Beilein, of course, but 17 percent would be historically low, even in Storrs. This team needs at least the whisper of a perimeter threat to keep opposing defenses honest.
BONUS mandatory-repetitiveness note! Suggestion for DirecTV: Take some of that apparently quite large ad budget of yours and film some different spots. Thanks!
John is also repetitive on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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