By Zach Rosen
John Wall did it all this past summer. Whether it was attending the first annual NBA Awards, signing a multi-year contract extension to stay with the Wizards, coordinating his annual back to school events in the Washington, D.C. and Raleigh communities, traveling to Paris for Ludacris’ 40th birthday party, or his induction this coming weekend into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame, Wall had quite the summer.
In between those events and honors, Wall has been working endlessly to prepare for the 2017-18 season. He considers himself to be in the best shape of his life. He’s lost weight and put on noticeable muscle. Coming off a career season, he approached the offseason as his “career summer.”
Wall had three workouts per day during the bulk of the summer. He attended boxing and spinning classes around the country to work on different parts of his body, whether it be strength, flexibility, or endurance. He worked out with the likes of LeBron James, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Hassan Whiteside, teammates Sheldon Mac, Bradley Beal, and Kelly Oubre Jr., to name a few.
“I lost a lot of weight this summer, had an opportunity to work out a lot,” Wall said on Off The Bench this past week. “I didn’t have to do any rehabs, didn’t have the surgery or anything like that. You see me. I’m looking slim. I’m stronger and I’m very excited to get this season started. [I’ve] got a lot of motivation.”
His offseason focus and mindset was to get in the best shape of his life but also improve on the court. Wall focused on floaters, posting up, making 3-pointers, and defense. After what Wall has identified as running out of energy in Game 7 against the Celtics, his improvements in the gym and on the court have been aimed at working through the entire season without any worries.
“I’m just on a different mindset and I have a lot of hunger built off going to a Game 7 not finishing the way I wanted to because I ran out of energy,” Wall said. “I’m coming in with a mindset that if I have to play that way I had to in Game 7 I can get through the whole game.”
The Wizards will begin training camp next week in Richmond, VA. Last season, Wall had to ease his way into training camp due to his offseason double-knee surgery. He could only work out 30 minutes of each two-hour session. In this year’s training camp, he’ll have no restrictions. The team will notice when he’s on the floor that entire time. The Wizards were one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals last season, a second-round exit for the third time in four years. For Wall, he believes getting over that hump this season starts at training camp.
“We have to have a championship mindset from the beginning of the first day of training camp if we want to be a team that finally gets over that hump,” Wall said. “We talk about getting to certain places but we never start the training camp off with that. If you want to be a championship-caliber team or a team that gets an opportunity to compete for one, you have to start the first day of training camp, and I think that’s the mindset I have going in.”
With teams in the East like the Cavaliers and Celtics going through so much change, the Wizards’ continuity will reign key early in the season. Continuity will be the word of the season, while holding teammates accountable for their preparation and performance will be a common theme. The team will emphasize playing for one another, making winning plays, and locking in defensively. That all starts in training camp.
“Having our main core group back is going to be key for us,” Wall explained. “I think that’s the head start we’re going to get above those other teams you named. Other than that, you still have to go out there and play basketball. I think our bench got a lot better, a lot stronger. I think we all understand what we want to be and what we can be, and we just have to hold each other accountable.”
Motivation has never lacked for Wall. He was named to the All-NBA Third Team, but thought he deserved a higher honor than that. Wall was left off the All-NBA Defensive Team, which he thought he deserved to be on, as he led the NBA in total steals and often guarded opponents’ best players. Wall may have averaged 23.1 points and 10.7 assists per game last season, but he’s expecting an even bigger jumper in his eighth NBA season.
“The crazy part is that everybody thinks last year was a career year for me, but it wasn’t in my mind.”
Wall has thought about both team and individual goals all summer long during his training and heading into the season. On a personal level, Wall’s goals include being named league MVP, All-NBA Defensive Team, and All-NBA First Team. His determination to meet those goals has never been more noticeable.
Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant challenged Wall to that All-NBA Defensive Team goal in Bryant’s “Mamba Challenge” on Twitter. Wall made it clear that he already had that goal in his head anyway, but it’s different coming from the Mamba.
“I already had that as my goal and my mindset anyway, and then to get it from the Mamba, you couldn’t ask for nothing more. Who wouldn’t want to set that challenge from a guy who did everything you want to do in this league – win championships, be All-Stars, third all-time leading scorer, all the crazy stuff.”
On a team level, Wall made the Wizards’ goals pretty clear-cut. The team wants to be the number one seed in the East and Wall feels that there’s an opportunity there to make that happen. Winning is what matters in the NBA, and Wall understands that this team’s success and his own legacy will be judged by how the team fares in the postseason.
“I just want to be in the Eastern Conference Finals and get past the second round. I definitely don’t want to be one of those point guards or those guys that never could get past the second round. I think [if] get to the Eastern Conference Finals and then it’s the first team to four gets a chance to be in the Finals.
“You couldn’t ask for more than that. We were one game away.”