John Wall: Wizards Need Wins Now
The Washington Wizards can’t seem to catch a break.
After bringing in proven veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza over the past year, expectations were high for the Wizards entering the season. Following years of toiling near the bottom of the NBA standings, this offseason brought new hope of breaking a four-year postseason drought.
Unfortunately for Washington, injuries have ravaged this team out of the gate. Two of the team’s best players, Nene and John Wall, are both on the shelf for an extended amount of time. The only winless team in the NBA at 0-7, the Wizards aren’t sure when their two best scorers will be back in the lineup.
“It’s tough for us, but nobody’s making excuses,” Wall told HOOPSWORLD. “We think we have a talented enough team to go out and play better than we have, we just haven’t closed out games. We’ve been in a lot of games, we just haven’t closed them out so we believe in our teammates. … It’s a great opportunity for other guys to step up and prove themselves.”
A stress fracture in Wall’s right knee has him set to miss at least the rest of this month with no designated timetable for his return. As for Nene, who also hasn’t played a single minute for Washington this season, a ligament tear in his left foot has him sidelined for at least the next three weeks.
Even though Washington is missing some key pieces, Wall believes there should be a sense of urgency for this team to win now so that there’s an opportunity to salvage the season upon he and Nene’s return.
“You want to get wins now,” Wall said candidly. “That’s the main goal so that you don’t dig yourself a deeper hole. … They’ve got a lot of confidence. They’ve just got to go out and find a way to get one win and then build off of that from there.”
Wizards head coach Randy Wittman agrees that injuries are part of the NBA game but that this team, even without Wall and Nene, has enough talent to win games. The fact that the Wizards have been competitive in virtually every game this season – with the exception being Tuesday’s 92-76 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats – seems to back up that sentiment.
“The NBA doesn’t care about injuries,” Wittman said. “It all boils down to wins and losses so that’s got to be our thought process and work through it. I think this team can do it if we do the things that we’re capable of doing and do them in the right way. We’ve shown that in the first [seven] games and how we play teams with a shot to win at the buzzer. They’ve got to continue to do that and break through it.
“Our guys have to realize that if we play to our potential, good things will happen for this team.”
In an effort to help steady the ship, Nene and Wall have continued to travel with the team this season despite rehabbing from injury.
“[Wall]‘s with us all the time,” Wittman said. “Both him and Nene are there around the team, they’re with us in all the meetings and I want them to talk to their teammates as well. Seeing what their seeing, it’s a different game sitting there instead of running out there on the floor and they can be a help in that area.”
Even when Nene and Wall return, things aren’t going to be easy as the Wizards try to unearth themselves from this early hole. Best case scenario for Washington is that Wall can steady this offense and Nene can shoulder a chunk of the scoring burden. Mostly, the hope for Washington is that this Wizards squad isn’t too far gone by the time these two return from injury.
The only problem is that it may be too little, too late for a franchise yearning to climb its way back into contention in the Eastern Conference.
The Emergence of Point Guard A.J. Price
One bright spot for the Wizards early on this season has been the way fourth year point guard A.J. Price has filled in for the injured John Wall. A second-round pick out of Connecticut, Price spent the first three seasons of his NBA career with the Indiana Pacers, but struggled to find consistent minutes in a crowded Pacers’ backcourt. With Wall on the shelf, Price has been given a huge opportunity in the Wizards’ starting lineup and, over the past few contests, has risen to the challenge.
After struggling out of the gate, Price has reached double-figures in four of the past five games while averaging over 10 points and seven assists per game this month.
“Well, this is new territory for him,” Wittman said. “He was a second, third guard last year in Indiana and he’s thrust into a situation where he is the starter and he’s progressed in that. I don’t have any complaint in that. He’s an aggressive kid and I think he just needs to continue doing what he’s doing. He’s getting a better understanding of the offense and things that we need to do offensively.”
Price believes Wall’s constant presence with the team has helped him greatly, while providing a steadying influence on his play at the point.
“It just says a lot about him,” Price said. “It shows how much he’d really like to be out there with us. It’s unfortunate that he can’t right now. It definitely says a lot about his character.”
“He gives insight whenever he has the chance,” Price added. “Whenever I come out of the game, we talk about what we see out there and vice versa, so we’ve been trying to help each other in that regard.”
Wall also credited Price, who is four years his senior, for helping him to get back into shape by pushing him in practice and during his rehabilitation.
“He’s kind of helping me.” Wall said. “[Price]‘s been in the league longer than me and he’s been doing his job, trying to run the team, execute the plays and just be the point guard he can be. He’s not used to playing this many minutes, but he’s doing a great job with that. He’s helped me get back into shape, pushed me in practice and stuff like that to get me back into game-form. He’ll continue to be ready to play whenever his name is called.”
Bumping up his 30 percent shooting from the field will be key in order for Price to continue to be a factor when Wall returns, but it’s clear that he may have carved out a spot in Wittman’s rotation with his recent quality play.