Wall has been a different player — or at least the one many thought he would be — since he emerged from the locker room last Saturday. And if it wasn’t obvious as he scored a career-high 38 points in a 114-106 loss to Houston two days later, it was impossible to ignore on Wednesday, when he methodically engineered the Wizards’ stunning 105-102 victory over Oklahoma City.
“I’m just feeling better, running, making the right plays and not trying to force the issue,” Wall said after finishing with 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds against the Thunder. “I think I’m doing better. I’m feeling more confident, and it’s making it easy for my teammates.”
Wall’s disenchantment as the Wizards got out to the worst start in franchise history contributed to his sluggish, often ragged play early on. The Wizards were a double whammy of terror — a team that couldn’t shoot, with players selfishly unwilling to pass to get better shots. He admitted the combination led him to “force the issue too much” and lose patience with the process.
Frustrated, Wall would play with a confounding mix of aggression and apathy that led to him being labeled a disappointment and brought a considerable amount of criticism his way — something he rarely had to deal with in his first season after being drafted first overall out of Kentucky.
“I just take it as motivation. Same thing happened to me when I was in college,” Wall said of the negative publicity. “If we lost one or two games, they put it all on me. That’s what happens when you’re supposed to be the franchise guy or the leader of the team. I just take it as motivation to get better, watch more film, work on my game more. Just go out there and try to play my game. Even if we win or lose a tough game, just let everybody know I’m playing hard and trying to lead my team.”
Wall said he wouldn’t shy away from the responsibilities that have come with being asked to lead, despite still being the youngest player on the team at 21. “I’m comfortable with it. It’s not too bad. It’s just tough when you’re not winning games and the pressure is all on you. But that’s the point of dealing with it. Sometimes you’re going to be the hero and sometimes you’re not.”
Wall certainly was not heroic in the first half against Philadelphia. But since returning from his benching, he has totaled 76 points, 22 assists and 21 rebounds in the past 10 quarters. He also has had only six turnovers.