Watching the first two days of training camp practices from a green folding chair along the baseline at George Mason’s Patriot Center, John Wall has had the look of a reprimanded child who has been forced to write repetitive lines on a chalkboard during recess.
Wall shouts out instruction and engages in playful banter after practice. But he clearly wants to be on the court — running, jumping, playing — and has had to settle for taking stand-still jumpers and rebounding shots for teammates.
This will be the routine until Wall is able to return from the stress injury in his left knee that will keep him sidelined for eight weeks.
Meantime, Coach Randy Wittman faces the daunting task of selecting a point guard who will be expected to keep the offense from sputtering in Wall’s absence, since no one on the roster can replace or replicate the talents of the former No. 1 overall pick.
Team President Ernie Grunfeld signed eight-year veteran backup Jannero Pargo on Monday to aid in the efforts to fill in for the only Wizard to start all 66 games last season. But while Pargo, A.J. Price and Shelvin Mack — the three point guards battling for the interim starting nod — combine for 12 years of experience, they also have just 21 career starts between them.
“I told all three of them when they came in here, I’m not looking for anything different than why we brought them in here,” Wittman said. “They are who they are and they don’t need to be, now with John out, to try to come in and be somebody different. That only compounds the situation and it doesn’t put them in the best light.”
Mack served as Wall’s primary backup as a rookie last season. But he had the double disadvantage of starting his career during a lockout-shortened campaign and learning a new position after serving as a primary scorer on a Butler team that made back-to-back trips to the NCAA championship game. He averaged 3.6 points and two assists in about 12 minutes and posted a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Wall, but never appeared secure running the team and getting players into the proper sets.
After Mack had a mediocre showing against some borderline NBA players during summer league in Las Vegas, the Wizards quickly signed Price to provide the team with another option behind Wall. Though disappointed with his performance this summer, Mack — who often writes “Think Positive” on his Twitter account — took in stride his offseason misstep when he had the opportunity to secure a spot.
“The summer league, it didn’t go kind of the way that I expected. But it’s a learning experience,” said Mack, the 34th pick of the 2011 draft. “I had more opportunity to run the point so I think it helped me out in the long run.”
Wittman said that he expects his point guards to be an extension of him on the floor, adding that Mack is “the only guy I had any ties with” coming into camp. The 6-foot-3 Mack is also is the least experienced of the trio. The position is up for grabs, with Wittman expected to give all three challengers the opportunity to lead the starting five. Wall said he expects his replacements to “hold it down” and that it is “going to be exciting for me to see those guys battle it out.”
A steady, pass-first point guard, the 6-2 Price spent the first three seasons of his career in Indiana, averaging six points and two assists and shooting 35.7 percent from the floor. “What I do best, is control the offense,” Price said. “Try to get everybody touches. As a point guard, if you do that, the game is so much easier.
Price’s minutes, scoring and shooting declined each year with the Pacers, and they renounced their rights to him last summer in order to sign free agent point guard D.J. Augustin. He said his approach to the upcoming season hasn’t changed with Wall going down, but the situation around him has, after the team added Pargo.
“Competition is great. Competition is always great. It’s going to bring the best out of everybody,” Price said. “I embrace it.”
The competition is more intense than just earning minutes because Mack and Pargo are both on partially-guaranteed deals and the Wizards are unlikely to carry four point guards on the roster when Wall returns.
“Every year, someone’s coming into the NBA and someone has to leave,” Mack said. “It always keeps you on your Ps and Qs, you just want to stay on top of your game and make sure you’re always working because if you’re not working, someone else is.”
The 6-1 Pargo was such a late arrival that he didn’t have a number on his jersey until Wednesday, but he expects to pass along some wisdom to a relatively young team.
“I’ve been a leader my whole career,” said Pargo, who has career averages of 6.5 points and two assists. “I have a lot of experience. I’ve been to the playoffs on a number of different teams. When you work hard and guys see that ,it will be easy for them to follow.”
Pargo chose to sign with the Wizards after spurning a standing offer from the Chicago Bulls, one of five teams for which he has previously played. He has a reputation for being a streaky shooter from long distance and connected on 38.4 percent from three-point range last season in Atlanta.
“The spot is definitely open. It’s not given to me or anyone else. If you want it you’ve got to go out there and prove you want it and show you can handle that position until John gets back,” Pargo said. “You never want to see anyone go down but it’s an opportunity for myself and I want to make the most of it.”