For now, the team’s top player is coming off the bench. The Wizards have limited Wall to about 20 minutes per game while he gets into basketball shape. Despite his temporarily reduced role, Wall has made the Wizards better with his passing, his scoring – heck, just his competitiveness.
With Wall out front again, we’ll finally be able to determine — eventually, anyway — just how good these guys could be as a group. With the hole the Wizards have dug (it doesn’t getting any deeper than having an NBA-worst .200 winning percentage), their season is already lost before the all-star break. There’s no sense in pushing Wall, who at 21 is striving to become an elite player in his third season, to play too much before his body is ready. After Wall reaches full speed, however, the Wizards should have a clear picture of where they stand in the NBA. They’d like to think they’re at least slowly moving closer to the middle.
Way back in the offseason, before Wall hurt his knee and center Nene was hobbling around because of a foot injury, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and President Ernie Grunfeld envisioned the team having a look-at-us season. Leonsis even dared to utter the “P” word — playoffs — in explaining how much progress he believed the Wizards had made after Grunfeld finally took a sledgehammer to a roster long overdue for remodeling.
I never bought the playoff stuff. There just weren’t enough proven scorers on the team to realistically expect this bunch to qualify for the franchise’s first postseason appearance since the 2007-08 season. If everything broke right for the Wizards, though, I figured they could at least show some progress.
To this point, it hasn’t happened. Without their two most important players — Nene has played in only 21 games and his playing time has been restricted — the Wizards lost their first 12 games and sunk to their familiar position at the bottom of the Southeast Division. The early results from the Wall-led Wizards have us wanting to see more.
Last Monday, in one of those anything-can-happen-in-82-game-schedule outcomes, the Wizards defeated Oklahoma City, which has the league’s best record. Then on Saturday in Wall’s season debut, the Wizards clearly outplayed Atlanta, which is five games above .500 and second in the Southeast.
Against Atlanta, Wall punctuated a strong fourth-quarter performance — he took over as Washington’s lead swelled to 13 points — by feeding forward Trevor Ariza for a dunk with a behind-the-back pass that brought the crowd to its feet.