Wizards’ John Wall remains in a funk

February 28, 2013

John Wall watched most of the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ loss to the Pistons from the bench. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

To John Wall, his struggles on Wednesday night against Detroit were easy to explain.

“Just not making shots,” Wall said. “That’s all I can say.”

But the problems are much more complicated to anyone who saw his body language during and after a 96-95 loss to the Pistons. He threw his hands up after Trevor Booker dropped one of his first-half passes, angrily got back on defense after a teammate missed a shot, and sulked as he watched much of the fourth quarter on the bench. Afterward, Wall couldn’t hide his frustration and disappointment as he discussed after another poor performance.

Wall had seven turnovers for the third time in his past seven games and missed 6 of 9 shots in the loss but didn’t acknowledge how that performance contributed to the loss. He the Wizards didn’t play like a team, as they did in previous games and blamed his miscues on his teammates being unable to catch his passes.

“I don’t know,” Wall said, when asked about the reason for his seven turnovers. “I think you’re seeing the same thing I’m seeing, so I can’t really call it.”

Coaches and players tried to help Wall break out of his funk during the game, but the wall he put up was impenetrable.

“When he’s in a zone, he’s hard to get to sometimes,” rookie Bradley Beal said. “But that’s just the type of player he is. I’m kind of like that. I get frustrated and upset. You probably won’t hear from me about it, but it’s a learning process for him. It’s a learning process for me and everyone else. Sometimes, the older guys don’t have good games and we tell them to stick with it. They’ll either listen or not. It’s up to the player. You can tell him, but you can’t make him.”

When Wall returned from a stress injury in his left knee in mid-January, the Wizards initially won because of his emotion, playmaking and high energy. He had a game-saving block against Denver, led a failed comeback in San Antonio and had a virtuoso performance against the New York Knicks, with Magic Johnson looking on.

Since the all-star break, however, the Wizards have found a way to win despite getting stellar production from the No. 1 overall pick. Wall had a stinker last against Toronto, going 1 for 12 from the field, and is still waiting for the bounce back game.

In his past five games, Wall is averaging just 10.2 points on 29.6 percent shooting with 7.6 assists and 4.6 turnovers. In the month of February, Wall only had two games in which he shot 45 percent or better.

“He is going through a rough stretch,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Whether it’s a game, a stretch, two weeks, a week, 10 days, you’ve got to fight through it. You can’t succumb to it. You can’t feel sorry for yourself about it. Not only John. We feel sorry for ourselves sometimes. The game can easily change, as we saw tonight, by staying involved, by staying involved, by staying and fighting through tough times. We don’t always do that.”

Wall was a minus-12 against Detroit, with the offense sputtering with him at the helm in the first quarter and third quarter, and he tried to force the issue several times, resulting in turnovers or poor shots.

For the second game in a row, Wall failed to play at least 25 minutes, with Wittman going with the more effective A.J. Price. The Wizards needed Price’s scoring in Toronto, where he scored 12 points in a 90-84 win and they rallied from a 16-point deficit because of his steady play against Detroit, with Price contributing eight assists with just one turnover.

Wall nearly overcame his struggles, assisting on the Wizards’ final three field goals after entering the game with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left in the fourth period. But the rally came up short when Trevor Ariza missed a rushed shot as time expired.

“He’s a player that’s learning how to play the game still,” Ariza said of Wall. “He’s still young. He’s still trying to improve and step up to his leadership. There are going to be nights when he doesn’t play his best, but he’s still learning. He’s still the point guard of this team and he’s going to get better.”

Pistons point guard Jose Calderon, wasn’t shooting the ball well, but ran Detroit’s offense beautifully as he found open teammates in spots where they needed or wanted the ball, rode the hot hands (Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe) and got out of the way. Calderon finished with 18 assists to just two turnovers. After the game, Calderon pulled Wall aside to offer some advice.

“Just keep playing,” Wall said Calderon told him. “I’m a talented player and to just keep playing. Go forward with that.”

Wall said he hasn’t had any problems with his knee but he clearly doesn’t appear to be himself. His teammates didn’t have any answers but provided encouragement.

“As a young player — and I went through it too — you’ve got to live in the moment. Once that moment’s over, you’ve got to move on,” Martell Webster said. “As a young team, you shouldn’t hold grudges. That’s just every player’s mentality. There’s a lot of pride in this game, especially with the pressures of a point guard and a high-level point guard like John. Being young and having that pressure, it can get to you sometimes. Like I said, it’s never going to be a perfect night. It’s never going to be a perfect night. You’re going to go through some bad stretches. It’s how you manage those bad stretches and realizing that it’s not about yourself, it’s about the team, you can usually get over the hump. He’s just got to keep chipping away. We all do. We’re all victims of it. It happens.”

Beal said he would confident that Wall would dig himself out. “John’s fine. He has his highs and lows, but that’s just his passion and his competitiveness. I mean, I love that kid. He’s a great point guard. I don’t care what anybody says. He’s going to be fine regardless. He’s just got to keep holding his head up high and keep moving forward.”

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Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · February 27, 2013

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