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SAN FRANCISCO -- Drenched in sweat from his pregame workout, John Wall entered the visitor's locker room at Chase Center with energy and vitality, audibly rapping along to the bars thumping in his earbuds. He made his presence known to everyone within earshot, a habit perhaps more important to Wall than to most NBA players. He wants you to know he's still here, because there was a time he didn't want to be here at all.

In his heart-wrenching, but ultimately triumphant essay in The Players' Tribune prior to the start of the 2022-23 NBA season, Wall opened up about how nearly three years away from the game due to injury, combined with the death of his mother, led him to seriously contemplate suicide. The idea of his two sons growing up fatherless provided him with the will to continue fighting, and his return to the court with the Los Angeles Clippers in October christened a fresh chapter in a tumultuous life and career for the 32-year-old guard.

"It's just great. It's amazing. All part of God's timing." Wall told CBS Sports. "Just being around a great group of guys. They all welcomed me with open arms, and me just coming in and feeling like it's a family from day one -- from the owner, to the coaching staff, to the trainers, to everybody who works for the organization, and the fan base has been amazing. So it makes the transition easy for me to come out here and play and compete at a high level and just get to play the game I love again."

After season-ending heel surgery as a member of the Washington Wizards in December of 2018, Wall suffered an Achilles tear a month later while slipping and falling at his home. The ensuing surgeries led to an infection that he said almost necessitated a foot amputation. Wall came back briefly with the Houston Rockets in 2020-21 and then, despite being healthy and earning over $45 million for the season, was held out of games for the entire 2021-22 campaign. As a result, Wall played a total of 40 NBA games in nearly four years.

Therefore it was difficult to predict what, if anything, the Clippers would receive from Wall, who signed a two-year, $13.2 million deal this offseason after reaching a buyout with the Rockets. The injuries, plus the layoff, placed question marks around the five-time All-Star who built a career off of his speed.

Nearly a quarter of the way into the season, however, the returns have exceeded expectations. Wall has carved out a role as the backup point guard for the Clippers, while averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 assists in just over 22 minutes per game. His crowning achievement -- so far, at least -- was a 15-assist clinic against the Spurs in just 24 minutes. No Clipper had dished out 15 assists in a game since Chris Paul in 2017, and Wall became the first player in NBA history to have nine assists off the bench in the first quarter.

A week later, he notched a season-high 23 points against the Denver Nuggets on 8-for-10 shooting.

"To be this good this quick, we didn't see it coming," Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. "We thought it was gonna take [Wall] a little bit more time, but he's figured it out. He's a smart player. He loves to play the game, very cerebral. He's been way better than we would have expected this early in the season."

Wall adds a dimension the Clippers have lacked over the past few seasons -- speed. They were 28th in pace in 2020-21, then 19th last season without Kawhi Leonard, who tends to play on the deliberate side. When Wall comes in off the bench, he has a clear mission offensively: Push the tempo and get into the paint.

Safe to say he's succeeding. When Wall sits, the Clippers play at a pace of roughly 98 possessions per game. With Wall on the floor, things quicken to over 103 possessions. His speed looks close to what he displayed in his prime, and he's been able to create both for himself and others in transition. Watch here as he attacks the paint on the break and Euro steps for the and-one.

Then here, he pushes the ball quickly after a miss, and as the defense collapses he senses the trailer, hitting Reggie Jackson for an easy lay-in.

"Even after injuries and everything throughout his career, he's still one of the fastest players with the ball in his hands in the NBA," Jackson told CBS Sports. "So what he can do, his ability to touch the paint, he's not only helped me, but he's helping us all just get easier shots, collapsing the defense."

His shooting hasn't quite come around yet, but Wall is relentless in his quest to get into the key in the half-court. He's second on the team with 8.5 drives per game, per NBA.com, but he's done that in just 22 minutes. Using his strength and quickness to get through and/or around defenders, he's finished at a solid clip near the basket.

The rest of the league has taken notice of Wall's impressive play. Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, one of the best defenders in the NBA who played against Wall during his prime years in the mid-2010s, remarked about his return to form.

"We've seen him back on the court now a little bit for the last two years, but it's good to see John Wall back out there on the floor," Green said after playing the Clippers for the first time this season. "He got the speed back. If you don't load up, he's to the rim. He's passing the ball very well. ... It's good to see him back out there playing John Wall's brand of basketball, because you hate to see guys lose it because of injury."

In truth, the on-court performance is just an added bonus in the grand scheme of things. Wall's journey out of darkness is the real story, because so many unfortunately never make it out of the tunnel. His energy is back and he's embracing his new role with the Clippers. His two sons, Ace and Amir, have now seen their father play, which was one of the reasons Wall wanted to get back onto the court.

"That's been dope to be able to let them experience seeing me play, and kind of know who their dad is," Wall told CBS Sports.  

Green, who revealed that he was also going through a difficult time mentally when he got into a highly publicized physical altercation with Jordan Poole during the preseason, understands why Wall struggled when he was unable to play.

"It's so much more than just going out there and playing basketball that goes into this job. When you get out there to play basketball, that is the part that keeps you sane. That's the part that you enjoy," Green said. "You can lose yourself in the game. Whatever negative things you may be dealing with, that's the safe haven. And then you smash that safe haven away for two years, it's brutal. And so, very happy to see John back out there on the floor."

Wall said in his Players' Tribune piece that the most important words he's uttered in his entire life were, "Yo! I need some f---ing help!" It's difficult for any of us to admit weakness or vulnerability, let alone an athlete at the peak of his physical powers. Now in a better place mentally, Wall has continued seeing a therapist, and he says it's comforting knowing that he has help waiting if and when the dark thoughts return.

"Still things I work on, still talk to my therapist about, to try to get better at," Wall told CBS Sports. "I mean, never gonna come all at one time or in a three-year, four-year span. Because throughout life you always go through stuff, and just to know I have somebody there when I'm going through it before it gets too deep, like it did before, it kind of helps out a lot."