Wall hasn’t been perfect in his first five games of the season, but the small sample size has been enough to show that an offseason spent reshaping his game and a three-month, injury-forced studying session from the sideline has resulted in an improved player leading and instilling confidence in the Wizards.
“Just the way he plays, he’s so aggressive. We have to be behind him,” rookie Bradley Beal said. “He’s always fired up. Sometimes, you have to tell him to relax a little bit.”
But with nearly half of the season lost to a stress injury in his left kneecap before he made his debut, Wall doesn’t believe he has time to relax. His playing time has gradually increased from a limit of 20 minutes per game to a season-high 31 in Los Angeles — in the second of games on consecutive nights, no less — where he scored a season-high 24 points in a duel with Clippers all-star point guard Chris Paul.
Paul came out ahead, forcing Wall to stumble before making a pull-up jumper with 32.4 seconds remaining to secure a 94-87 win that dropped the Wizards to 1-2 on their West Coast trip. But after the game, Nene credited Wall’s determination for putting the Wizards in position to be within one point of the team with the NBA’s second-best record with 93 seconds remaining.
“John Wall, he stepped up with his tough personality. He take over the game,” Nene said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a gift. I like that. That’s what makes him special.”
Wall is contributing 15.6 points and 7.6 assists — statistics that are basically identical to his career averages of 16.3 points and 8.2 assists, despite playing 12 fewer minutes per game.
His player efficiency rating is 25.3, which would rank as sixth in the league — below only LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Brook Lopez and Carmelo Anthony. His career player efficiency rating is 16.9, about two points above the league average.
And his numbers per 36 minutes have been at an elite, all-star point guard level — 22.8 points, 11.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks. Aside from the statistics, Wall is finishing better inside the paint and has also showed less apprehension to take jump shots, though he is only connecting at a slightly better rate than last season.
“I feel like I’m getting better day by day,” Wall said Sunday as the Wizards prepared to take on Portland on Monday at the Rose Garden. “I’m feeling healthy and doing a great job of getting my team involved and taking the shots my teammates are giving me. I wish I was healthy in November, but things happen for a reason. You have to do with what you have left.”