The one positive of Bradley Beal’s extended absence because of a sprained left ankle was how it thrust John Wall into the role of primary scorer perhaps quicker than he was prepared. Without having to rely on a valued shooter, Wall had to become one, and the result was a more confident and effective player; one capable of dominating the game in varying ways.
In the month of March, Wall finally appeared to tap into his promise as the 2010 No. 1 overall pick. Wall averaged 22.1 points, eight assists and 4.8 rebounds in leading the Wizards to a 9-8 record. He shot 48.4 percent from the field, 45.5 percent on three-point attempts and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.58-to-1, which would put him in the top 30 in the NBA.
“He just woke up one morning and started killing,” Beal said of Wall. “That’s just the type of player that he is. He has that swag and mentality that he’s always the best player on the court, and that’s always one you want to have and he really thinks that. That’s the way he plays, and it shows.”
When Beal sprained his ankle late in a March 3 win against Philadelphia, Wall was still trying to regain his rhythm and confidence. But he quickly morphed into a player in control and in command of his surroundings, as he scored the final six points of that game and led the Wizards to a 90-87 win that merely set the stage for what followed.
Wall’s 47-point game against Memphis likely will be be discussed for some time, but he had several gems throughout the best of his professional career. He had 29 points and made 12 or 15 shots, including three three-pointers in a win against New Orleans. He had 24 points and 16 assists and was responsible for 42 of the Wizards’ 49 points in a comeback win over the Los Angeles Lakers. And he finished March with 18 points and 10 assists — his 11th double-double of the season, and sixth of the month — in a 109-92 win over the Toronto Raptors. Oh, and he also had only one turnover.
“I feel like I had a great month,” Wall said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates helping me out, my coaches, me watching film and just really working, and everything I worked on and kind of getting to the game shape I wanted to be in and having the rhythm that I have.”
As he struggled to get back into shape and get his legs back under him after returning from a stress injury in his left knee, Wall had his share of rough outings. The game wasn’t coming as easily as he had hoped. He couldn’t finish at the rim with accuracy or get to the spots his mind told him to go. And it played out before a skeptical and scrutinizing audience.
“I tried, but it was very tough,” Wall said. “You don’t finish shots like you want to or you can’t feel like you are explosive like you used to, or you’re hesitating doing things that you usually don’t do. There were some games I looked like myself and some games where the fatigue would kick in and I wouldn’t feel like myself. It was tough, but as long as we was winning and I was helping my teammates out, it wasn’t all about me scoring. I knew I was getting my teammates involved.”
Those days feel like a distant memory with Wall’s recent play. After the win over Toronto, Coach Randy Wittman praised Wall for the way he completely controlled the tempo and flow offensively. “He got the ball moved around, took opportunities for himself when they presented themselves, had good pace to the game,” Wittman said.
Wall scored 35 points in a loss in Orlando as he attempted a career-high 28 field goal attempts, but Beal’s return put Wall back into a facilitator role. That didn’t always mean that he had the pass that led to the score. Sometimes, he read the defense and had a couple of hockey assists simply by swinging the ball to Martell Webster at the top of the three-point arc and letting Webster find Beal open in the corner.
“It was a good game. I didn’t have to be super aggressive and score a lot,” Wall said. “I knew a lot of teams were keying in on me the way I’ve been playing lately just doing a great job of taking the shots I had and getting my teammates open, doing a great job finding them.
“Probably, this month is really where I felt really comfortable, and felt like my old self of getting treatment and having my legs under me, that was the main thing, just finding my legs and being comfortable.”
Wall certainly wasn’t passive, even with Beal back in the lineup. He just picked his spots to slash through the defense for a scoop shot and finished the scoring with a corner three-pointer.
“The floor has even more space and he’s going to create now, off the dribble. He can shoot a pull-up now and get everybody involved, so we’re going to be a dangerous team,” Beal said. “He’s having double doubles almost every game. That shows that he’s getting everybody involved. Rebounding the ball well. He’s doing everything, overall great. And this is the best I’ve seen him play. If he keeps doing that, we’re going to be great.”