Interviewer: “John, did you have a moment out there where you said, ‘I’m back?’”
John Wall: “First play of the game.”
It took John Wall 15 seconds to score his first NBA basket in two years. Looking as agile and explosive as ever, Wall drove past Bulls’ guard Coby White to give the Rockets their first points of the game. He scored 13 points and dished 9 assists to help the Houston Rockets take a 125-104 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
The preseason win inside the United Center was Wall’s unofficial debut. He was a week removed from the blockbuster trade that sent him to Houston in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
As he enters his 10th season, questions surround Wall as he begins his career with the Rockets. The most significant subject revolves around his durability. But Wall’s performance during the preseason has erased doubt about his play. He played in three games averaging 16.3 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the floor.
He resembled the player that became a five-time All-Star with the Washington Wizards, but what stood out was his ability to distribute the ball as a facilitator. Stephen Silas’ system will rely on ball movement. And what a luxury for the first-year coach to have one of the better playmakers over the past decade.
“I just try to be the leader out there. I’m the point guard, and my job is to get everybody shots and get them involved.” — Wall
Before the injuries, Wall had a three-year span averaging 10.0 or more assists. From running a pick-and-pop with Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins, to hitting Eric Gordon and Danuel House on the wing. With the number of weapons in Houston, he has a chance to rank atop the league leaders in assists in 2021.
After his first game, Wall openly joked that he could average 12 dimes in Silas’ system. But it’s a realistic goal given Wall is no longer carrying the responsibility as a top-tier scorer similar to his days in Washington.
And if the Rockets can find a way to keep their disgruntled star, Wall’s playmaking can make the game easier for James Harden — which has been the primary reason for pairing the former league MVP with a first-class point guard since 2017.
In a conference that features a handful of the league’s top scoring guards, there will be nights Houston’s defense will make their performance look subpar with the contributions of Wall’s stout attributes as an individual defender.
Dec. 26, 2018, marked the last time Wall played in a regular-season game. He netted 21 points (9-19 FG, 2-7 3PT), 8 assists, and 7 rebounds, but the Wizards fell short in a 106-95 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
Three days later, the Wizards announced that Wall would miss the rest of the season with a left heel injury. A few weeks later, a freak accident at his house resulted in Wall tearing his Achilles.
After spending two years on the sideline, it may take a full season for Wall to return to All-Star form. However, if he can stay healthy, Wall’s nightly on-court productions could be enough for a talented Rockets team to continue their post-season streak as a top-eight team in the Western Conference.