The Washington Post

Wizards missing the point without John Wall, AJ Price

This is a tough position. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Confined to a comfy seat next to the Wizards assistant coaches, John Wall has rolled his eyes, shaken his head, stared blankly at the scoreboard and appeared deathly ill on numerous occasions this season. Watching his teammates get off to the worst 21-game start in franchise history in his absence, has been extremely difficult — especially when Wall knows he could’ve made a difference if not for a bum left knee.

The team was constructed to complement Wall’s speed and athleticism, but now appears rudderless as he takes fashion risks on the bench – either red pants or a bow tie. When asked on Monday how he could help the Wizards (3-18) when, or if, he returns this season, Wall said, “I can get into the lane and get guys open shots. That’s where my game is, to make the job a lot easier for my teammates. I can see that we have a lot shooters and it would be great to help those guys out.”

Wall averaged about eight assists in his first two seasons. An individual player has recorded at least eight assists in just four of the Wizards’ 21 games this season.

A.J. Price had games with nine assists and 14 assists in successive nights last month. Jordan Crawford has had eight assists twice, last reaching that total on Dec. 8 when Price went down with a broken right hand against Golden State.

The Wizards rank 25th in assists (20) this season, a stat that is reflective of their inability to make shots and also the struggles they have had with floor leadership and direction. In four games since Price got injured, the Wizards have averaged just 16.8 assists per game, which would easily be the worst in the league. They have also averaged just 84.5 points – more than five points fewer than their league-worst season average – and have scored fewer than 78 points twice.

“I think a lot of guys understand it’s not an easy position,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s why that’s such a crucial position on a basketball team. I don’t care if you’re talking about junior high, high school, college or NBA. If you get good guard play you can compete. Doesn’t matter at what level. If you don’t, you can have the best big man in the world and if you don’t have good guard play you’re going to struggle.”

Crawford and Shaun Livingston, the lone point guard on the roster, both played poorly during the four-games-in-five-days stretch last week. After the loss in Miami, where the Wizards scored a season-low 72 points, Wittman said the team had “no direction.”

“We’ve got to get better play there. Jordan and Shaun have to play better there. I think they can. It’s a work in progress,” Wittman said. “We’re going to keep evaluating. We’re going to keep our options open, looking at different scenarios, keep observing how we feel this is going and in what direction and make our decision based on that.”

The Wizards worked out Ben Uzoh and Blake Ahearn the day after Price went down but didn’t feel the urge to sign either player. But David Aldridge is reporting on that the Wizards are willing to move one of their big men to acquire a veteran point guard.

Lack of quality point guard play prompted Ernie Grunfeld to make his first in-season deal for the Wizards. When the team got off to a 4-15 start without Gilbert Arenas in 2008-09, Grunfeld traded Antonio Daniels to New Orleans in a three-team deal that yielded point guards Mike James and Javaris Crittenton.

With Wall still waiting for a chance to increase his basketball-related activity, the Wizards probably won’t have a cavalry coming anytime soon, so making a deal would appear to be the best option to help the team get out of the season-long funk.

Until the team makes a move, Wittman is hoping that Crawford or Livingston can get the offense moving, starting on Tuesday, when the Wizards host the Atlanta Hawks. Wittman has noticed how much Crawford has struggled finding the balance between running the team and going for his own scoring opportunities.

“It’s a new position, a more demanding position,” Wittman said. “Mentally you think differently then when you’re running the shooting guard position. You’ve got to think really for all the other four guys out on the floor with you. When you’re playing the two, you’re basically running for you if that makes any sense. It’s a different mentality.”

With injuries forcing several players into roles that they weren’t expected to play this season, Wittman said that he has had to adjust the way he evaluates the team – but not what he expects from them in terms of competing every game.

“I’ve got to tell myself that all the time,” he said. “I don’t care who’s playing, who’s not playing, we’re all NBA players. You’ve got to go out and lay it on the line. Win or lose, you can live for another day and you move on, you’ve gotten better, you’ve improved. We took a step back the way we came out and played Miami, the effort we gave. We haven’t done that.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.



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Michael Lee · December 17, 2012