John Wall didn’t have a good game Friday evening and the frustration showed. With less than 35 seconds left and the Wizards still trying to eke out against the Portland Trailblazers, Wall seemed exasperated by the night.
“Are you okay?,” asked Flip Saunders from the sideline. Wall gave a slight nod, but kept the deadpan look on his face. In 40 minutes on the night, he had 10 points on 3-13 shooting, four turnovers and two assists. He’s had bad games before, but this one seemed different.
After a first half reminiscent of the lacking energy and focus in Toronto, the Wizards were able to grind out an 83-79 win partially thanks to the result of the Blazers scoring just 10 points in the third quarter, but mostly thanks to a Portland team in a worse situation than the Wizards right now.
“Evidently, they’re not responding to me, because all of these games look similar,” went Blazers coach Nate McMillan’s opening statement. So that was that.
Give the Wizards credit for showing resiliency after a dreadful first half, and perhaps a big thanks to Irene Pollin, who sat courtside with her late husband Abe’s two sons, James and Robert. She wore her lucky NBA Draft Lottery-winning yellow, Abe’s favorite color. The Pollins were on hand Friday night to present an $80,000 check funded by Wizards fans in Abe Pollin’s name to the Capital Area Food Bank.
But with a struggling team that will take a win however they can get one, a window opened up into Wall’s development process. It’s not an attitude you want to see, Wall seeming like he’s somewhere else when the Wizards were still trying to close out the win.
With 33 seconds left, after Brandon Roy had scored to cut Washington’s lead to 79-74, coming out of a timeout, the Wizards were taking the ball side-out on their end. Instead of using an Andray Blatche screen to run toward Kirk Hinrich, who was taking the ball out of bounds, Wall listlessly scrambled away from Hinrich. The Wizards were forced to take a 20-second timeout. Flip Saunders chided Wall on his way to the bench, pointing toward the corner where he should have been.
The Wizards eventually inbounded the ball, and Blatche was sent to the line to shoot two free-throws. As the players lined up, Wall reluctantly guided his body in the other direction, frustrated. That’s when Flip asked his question, “Are you okay?”
After the game, I asked coach Saunders about this moment, and if Wall seemed disconnected or frustrated.
“Yea, he did. Don’t know why … he did. And I’m sure he’s disappointed in how he played, you know, as far as that. But like I said, this is a man’s game,” explained Saunders. “When you’re in situations and you’re out playing, you have teammates, there’s sometimes that it’s not you’re night. Somebody else has got to carry you, and what you gotta do is you gotta be all-in for the guy that’s carrying you. That’s what this league is about. That and match-ups. So I’m sure he’ll be fine,” the coach concluded.
I’m sure Wall will be fine too. But I also couldn’t help but notice his demeanor before the game. I wrote on Twitter: “Maybe it’s nothing, but briefly being around John Wall tonight, he seems to have a different, more serious air about him.” I didn’t really want to say it at the time, but I meant as if the losses were mounting on Wall’s shoulders instead of in the win-loss column.
Wall has impressed with his impassioned level of vocal communication, joy for the game, and interaction with teammates since he arrived in Washington, but his less than stellar body language against Portland was one of the first times we’ve been reminded that he’s just 20-years old.
“He was frustrated that the ball was slipping out of his hands. He wasn’t making shots tonight. I was just telling him that’s the way the NBA is, you’re going to have ups and downs,” Gilbert Arenas told me after the game. “To be a professional, it’s the middle. You gotta just stay in the middle. Don’t get too happy, don’t get too sad,” Arenas concluded, ironically, as this was coming from the same guy who put on the ‘Emo’ act at media day.
But Arenas was referring to Wall’s professionalism on the court, not in the locker room, and Gilbert’s lesson is something Wall does need to learn. However, it wasn’t just in the body language department where Wall showed his flaws. The aforementioned lapse in late-game focus is just one example. Let’s take a look at some photos of some other examples.
Here Wall attempts to go behind his back against Brandon Roy. It didn’t work, he turned the ball over. Wall has pulled this move before, and it can be effective in certain circumstances, but maybe you sometimes want the balance of just taking it right to the rim and at least drawing a foul.
Here, it kind of seems like a crowd to penetrate.
And it ended with a turnover.
Now there’s the hoop versus Joel Przybilla …
Instead, an attempt to pass and a turnover.
After the game, Wall addressed his demeanor:
“Um, basically frustrated with not making shots. But as a leader you have to keep your head up and keep helping your team out as much as I can. Tonight I was doing it. But by my facial expressions it looked like I wasn’t into it, but I still was. It was just still flowing through my mind, the shots we missed and the easy opportunities that we had.”
As contradictory as Wall’s statement seemed to be in terms of keeping his head up, one must consider other factors. For as long as I’ve criticized Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, only to be reminded that they are young, the same should be considered of Wall.
We have our bad days, young and old. We show up to work a malcontent and unhappy no matter what happens, and with no good reason. We try not to, but it does happen. The key is how much you limit yourself in this regard, but those who prove themselves are allowed leeway.
Wall has shown too many positives to get caught up on negative reactions, and it’s almost refreshing to see him not act perfect. He’s taking his lumps and showing it. As is with the case for this Wizards team on the entire year, every next game is a chance to improve. Not a better time for John Wall than tonight versus Steve Nash.