John Wall has received “full medical clearance” to make his season debut on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks but the former No. 1 overall pick knows that it will take some time before he is fully back to being his old self.
“I figure the first couple games probably won’t be the best games,” Wall said after practicing for the third consecutive day without complications from his left knee.
After missing more than three months while recovering from a stress injury in his left patella, Wall doesn’t expect to immediately resemble the player who has averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds in his first two seasons.
“Just go out there and play my game,” he said. “Don’t do too much. I know that’s the main thing I’ve got to do for my first game back. Just let the game come to me and just try to help my team out.
Wall also doesn’t expect to have a difficult adjustment to playing alongside several new teammates after sitting next to the Wizards coaching staff for nearly every game and observing their tendencies. His teammates have already marveled as his speed and decision-making, which has been sorely missed for a team has started five different point guards this season – A.J. Price, Shaun Livingston, Jordan Crawford, Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple.
When asked if he felt any external or internal pressures with coming back, Wall quickly responded, “No pressure at all.”
The biggest challenge for him, Wall said, will be “getting my legs underneath me but just working the offense, being the point guard, finding my teammates and knowing guys’ sweet spots is pretty easy to me.”
Coach Randy Wittman will adhere to a minutes limit as Wall works on his conditioning and gets back into game shape, but Wittman said he doesn’t plan to free Wall from any responsibilities in terms of running the team.
“John is going to have the ball in his hands a lot,” WIttman said. “I don’t want to take any pressure off him. He hasn’t gotten any pressure yet this year. I want him to feel some pressure. John likes pressure.”
The Wizards (5-28) have appeared rudderless in his absence and several players have foundered without a playmaker capable of attacking defenses and creating easy scoring opportunities. Crawford and Temple have both had games with 11 assists this season; Wall averaged 12.4 assists in the final five games of last season.
Wittman said he could potentially start Temple over Price and Wall, with both players still working themselves back from injury, but he is elated to have Wall back to bring all of the pieces together.
“You’re going to put guys in realistic spots and positions and things on the floor as we kind of envisioned from the start,” Wittman said. “We have asked some to play out of position, some to do have to do more for what is maybe right for their skill set. Which I think helps everybody, puts everybody in a more familiar role of what some of them have done for their whole careers. For these young guys we’ve asked to do a lot while we have all of these injuries.”
Crawford is unlikely to play after not practicing this week with a sore left ankle and Cartier Martin is out at least a week with a hyperextended left knee, but Nene is expected to return after missing the previous win over Oklahoma City with tendinitis in his right knee.
Wall was content playing the role of distributor when Nene joined the team last season and has no intention of coming in and hindering the confidence that some of his teammates have started to develop.
“All I want to do is let the guys play the way they’ve been playing,” Wall said. “Don’t take no aggression away from nobody, especially Brad [Beal], and Martell [Webster], those guys, how they’ve been playing lately. I just want to come in, fit in, be like the missing piece and just make things flow a little bit easier.”