Did John Wall Turn Around The Wizards?
The revamped Washington Wizards’ season was almost over before it began when John Wall injured his left knee with what he described as a stress fracture and the team shut him down for the first two and a half months. This year was going to be different in Washington. The team was building around last season’s trade deadline acquisition of Nene from Denver as well as offseason additions Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor from New Orleans, but this organization was in for a world of trouble without their starting point guard.
“Give credit to our teammates for going out and playing and doing what they had to do,” Wall said. “We were in almost every game even when the guys weren’t fully healthy. We just didn’t have the right chemistry and the clutch performance down the stretch to close out games.”
After just five wins in their first 33 games without Wall, the turnaround upon his return was immediate and dramatic. Since January 12, the Wizards have won 13 of 22 games with Wall in the lineup and Wall has accumulated five double-doubles. Wall has made a difference, but was his return the only factor or even the biggest reason?
“We have confidence with [Wall] being back,” A.J. Price said. “He is the leader of our team, even though he’s young. He brings so much energy and he knows what to do out there. Hand in hand, it goes with him and Nene because Nene started playing more minutes at the same time. Both of those guys are huge pieces of this team for us and the reason why we have turned it around lately.”
Nene’s minutes did start to increase right around the time Wall returned and the other veteran additions have also been having a greater impact.
“Nene and I pretty much try to school the young guys and deal with the up and downs and rigors of the season like playing time and how you are playing,” Emeka Okafor said. “[Wall] just added more depth and allowed people to play their true positions. John is a great player and he has a lot of speed and he just adds more depth to us.”
Wizards head coach Randy Wittman confirmed that the turnaround has been the result of more than just the addition of Wall. Those veterans have been an important part of the process.
“I think we have a good mix here,” Wittman said. “Not only John [Wall], veterans, guys that have been around the block that can talk to guys when things aren’t going the ways you might expect them to and how you have to [respond]. Eighty-two games is a lot of games, and you’re not going to have all good ones and you have to learn to adjust to that next game and not let anything linger on. It’s important to have guys that have been through that, being able to talk about that.”
After the Wizards’ start to the season, there was a lot to talk about.
It has been a tough road back for Wall. The knee injury prevented him from staying in shape and he had to put a lot of extra work in during the rehab process just to be able get back on the court as quickly as he did.
“It was tough because I couldn’t ride bikes, I couldn’t run, I couldn’t do anything,” Wall said. “I tried to watch what I eat and that didn’t work too well. I still wanted to eat, but then I couldn’t run, so it was pretty tough. When I got closer to getting back into practicing and running, I did more work than what I did when I wasn’t injured because I knew I needed to do more to prepare myself for the game. So I did extra running, extra lifting and stuff like that just to get my legs stronger and get used to running up and down the court.”
The process back didn’t end on his return either. Wall’s playing time was restricted in January to an average of 26 minutes per game and this impacted his contribution on the court.
“When I was playing 22 or 25 minutes, it was kind of down because I was only out there for a certain amount of time,” Wall said. “I couldn’t find a rhythm and get to close out the game with the guys and get a rhythm with them.”
Wall is still being watched when it comes to his minutes and the sore shoulder he picked up playing against Memphis at the start of February didn’t help his progress either, but he is playing more and contributing more at both ends of the court this month. Unfortunately, the injuries and the layoff also set back the work Wall did in the summer on his game.
“Well I feel like my jump shot is getting better,” Wall said. “I’m taking it consistently, and making it more than what I was in my first few years and it’s keeping the defense honest. And when I’m making it, it makes the job a lot easier for me and my teammates. You want to make spot-up threes, but everybody doesn’t have to shoot threes. That’s not my job, my job’s more the mid-range area and getting to the floater. I really need to get my floater better. Things like that I worked on that a lot this summer and when I sat out four months, I got rusty. Basically you have to look at the whole process of doing it over to get a feel for it, so it’s kind of tough to get that. I just wanted to make sure I got back to making my jump shot and just getting a feel for the game again.”
So even with reasonably impressive personal stats and a much improved win-loss record since Wall has returned, he has been only a part of the reason for his team’s improvement so far. It might even take until next season before Wall makes up for all of the lost time due to his injury. Wall himself acknowledges the contributions the team’s newly acquired veterans have made this season.
“It’s a big difference because they know the game and it’s something they’re teaching me throughout the process,” Wall said of the team’s new veterans. “[In the past] there were a lot of guys that weren’t used to winning and didn’t know how to win. The group of guys here [now] has a lot of veterans, one’s won a championship and the others have been in the playoffs a lot, so they know what it takes to win. They are helping the young guys out as much as possible. I think we are all just trusting each other as one and playing as a team.”
Wall’s introduction to the NBA has been anything but ideal. He was undoubtedly the Wizards best player when he arrived, but that was on a dysfunctional losing team that changed their head coach midway through his second season. Then he could only watch as this rebuilt roster got out to a 5-28 start because of injuries. Wall hadn’t seen much of what one might call positive influences, but things have changed. The Wizards now have veterans that are willing to mentor the younger players including Wall. Wall might not have turned around the Wizards by himself, but it’s more promising than that. Wall had help this time and he will become a better player because of it.