While Wizards’ All-Star point guard John Wall has made major strides in his game this season—in particular, the former No. 1 overall draft pick has improved his once-shaky outside jumper and has gotten better as a half-court playmaker—the most dangerous weapon in the explosive floor general’s arsenal is the same thing that made observers predict the Washington star was destined for stardom after his lone college season at Kentucky, his speed.
“It’s unique,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to be ready. Your offense is a big part of it—having floor balance, being committed. Every aspect of your defense has to be five guys tied together. You’re not going to slow him one-on-one. We need five guys sprinting back, making him play in a crowd. He still has the ability to make good plays. His speed is terrific. Makes and misses, they push it hard. We have to be ready for that.”
The player who will likely be tasked with defending Wall has some familiarity with his counterpart. Kirk Hinrich was traded from Chicago to Washington in the 2010 offseason and while the Wizards dealt him to the Hawks later in the 2010-11 campaign, the Bulls’ veteran had a chance to witness a then-rookie Wall up close.
“It was evident early on when he first came into the league potentially how good he could be. He was really good as a rookie. I think he’s a smart player, good kid, smart kid, and I think he’s just naturally maturing over the last couple years. He was an All-Star this year, he’s had a great year, and he poses a challenge for any team that faces him,” Hinrich said. “We have to be good as a team in transition. You have to get guys back, form a wall, low to the ball. Try to slow him down. It’s easier to talk about than do it.”
Hinrich insisted, however, that he wasn’t specifically asked to be a mentor to Wall during his short stint in Washington.
“No, nothing like that. The relationship was good, I got a long great with him. I enjoyed playing with him. You could tell that he had great athleticism, great talent, but also a knack for playing the point-guard position,” he explained. “We talked, had good talks. [Wizards assistant coach and former NBA point guard] Sam Cassell was there, too. He did a lot of the mentoring. If I taught him anything it was probably just by example. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”
Naturally, given his athleticism, being a top draft pick and having played for John Calipari in college, Wall was frequently compared to Bulls superstar Derrick Rose, another player Hinrich observed on a regular basis as a rookie. Hinrich admitted the two players do share some traits.
“Everybody wanted to compare them,” he said. “Same [college] coach, one-and-done, No. 1 picks, and there are some [similarities]. I think their ability is similar in how they use their speed and athleticism, the size at their position.”
Hinrich, healthy this year after suffering a litany if injuries last season, eventually limiting him in the playoffs, is ready for the postseason to begin.
“Yeah, I think I’ve always been excited to play in the playoffs, whether it was my first one or this being my ninth, so I think they’re all special. But what makes it special is to go out there and perform, so that’s what we’re going to try and do,” he explained. “I think we’re all excited. This is the time of year we all look forward to, so we’re very excited to get it going. We had a good three days here to get prepared and get it going, so we’ll be ready when Sunday comes around.
“It can be a long series, and it’s a lot of possessions, generally going with the same matchups, going against the same guys night in and night out. By the end of the series, they’re real familiar with you, you’re real familiar with them. It’s a matter of who makes the good plays.”
Thibodeau agreed: “Probably the biggest thing is this: You’re playing the same team over and over again. You’re going to know your opponent well. They’re going to know everything you’re doing. You’re going to know everything they’re doing. The intensity is the biggest thing from game to game. You have to be ready for that. That’s about it.”