Hey do you have a minute? We need to talk about John Wall.
By Charlie Gibson
Follow me on twitter @cgibson1619
The Washington Wizards sit at 6-8, having lost four games in a row, all to Eastern Conference teams. Coach Randy Wittman has employed four different starting lineups after the team went through an identity change over the summer. But the man who looked to benefit the most from the new “space and pace” Wizards is the person I’m most concerned about. John Wall has not looked like himself this year.
Through 14 games John Wall is averaging less points, rebounds, and free throws per game and more turnovers per game than he ever has in a full season. He is also now shooting a lower percentage from the field than he ever has for a full season after his 6/25 night against the Raptors dropped him to 39%. Oh, but he’s attempting a career high 4.2 three pointers a game… and making 29% of them.
I feel terrible writing these things about John Wall. He’s already earned my lifelong affection, even if he plays like Jarrett Jack the rest of his career. I’m simply making observations, not placing blame. But the truth of the matter is, Wall has been in a funk all season.
As of today Wall hasn’t scored 20 points in 11 straight games, which is the longest such streak since 2012-13 when he returned from injury with a minutes limit. He has yet to have a 20 and 10 game, which he’s done 44 times in his career. He’s only recorded 10+ assists in 4/14 games so far, after he did so in 44/79 regular season games last year.
When Wall is playing well the Wizards have a chance against anyone. When Wall is playing poorly the odds get a lot slimmer. This season the team is currently 1-6 in games Wall has had less than seven assists.
* * * * *
Wall usually starts off his seasons on fire. Every season except this one and his injured third year he has had two 24-point games in his first five. His rookie year and last year, especially, he came out with something to prove. You see, it is also a tradition of Wall’s to spend his summer feeling under-appreciated.
Wall didn’t become a serious college prospect until his junior year of high school. When he came into the NBA, he was overshadowed by fellow rookie Blake Griffin. His second year with the Wizards people began questioning his leadership and ability to play the point guard position. By his third year, when Wall missed the first 33 games due to injury, he had been written off. In January 2013 ESPN ranked the top 25 players under age 25 and left 22 year old John Wall smack off the list. Some players who did make the list? Ed Davis, Larry Sanders, and Brandon Jennings.
But I’m getting sidetracked. The point is Wall usually has a chip on his shoulder. But last summer something strange happened: after leading the Wizards to series wins in back to back playoffs, it became a sort of consensus that John Wall was, well, awesome. Which I’ve known since day one. Every major news outlet likes to rank the players each summer. And every list I saw this past summer—ESPN, SI.com, Slamonline, you name it—had Wall as the second best player in the East, behind LBJ.
So what does this have to do with Wall’s poor start to the season? Well it seems to me that he has James Harden syndrome. Harden finally became the superstar and face of the league that he’s always wanted to be last year while finishing second in MVP voting and leading the Rox to the Western Conference finals. He then spent the summer hanging with Khloe Kardashian, hitting the club scene in a public way, and generally acting the way most baller celebrities do. This contrasts with Steph Curry, who spent his summer getting better at basketball.
Anyway, without any doubters to prove wrong, Harden partied it up all summer and started this season off with a hangover. Well Wall finally proved a lot of his doubters wrong, outlasted RGIII and Stephen Strasburg as the face of DC, and has been known to appreciate the club life himself. And now he’s starting the year with a hangover.
* * * * *
Wall recently said to the Washington Post that “I haven’t been having fun, [this year], when I’m playing basketball.” He also said, “There’s going to be games over an 82-game season when you’re not playing well, but I’m a better player than that and a better person.”
Last night Wall came out with aggression, attempting 25 field goals for the tenth time in his career. But he finished with just 18 points, the least he’s ever scored on as many shots. He missed two free throws with 3.8 seconds left and Corey Joseph hit a game winning three.
14 games is hardly anything to get too worked up about. This is what happens when so much burden is placed on one player—if they get in a funk, so does the team. And you can’t blame John Wall for getting in a funk—I usually get in about three a week. But he has to snap out of it soon for the Wizards to reach their goals this season.
In 2013-14, Wall’s first playoff season, the Wiz started out 2-7. Nene called Wall out, and Wall responded with two double-doubles and three 30-point games. Before you knew it, the team was 9-9. This year Wall doesn’t have anyone to call him out; he’ll have to do it on his own. John Wall has proved the Wizards are his team, and now it’s on him to keep the ship from sinking.