John Wall is no stranger to tough times with the Washington Wizards. The point guard spent his first three seasons battling injuries on lottery teams and his fourth campaign began 2-7 before the Wizards held a players-only meeting and figured it out en route to a playoff appearance.
But Washington’s current slow start — 6-8 and currently on a four-game losing streak — is not the same as the struggles two years ago, before the team’s current core had a taste of the postseason in consecutive seasons, Wall insisted.
“In that situation, we didn’t know where the team wanted to go,” Wall said after practice Monday. “We got people that know what this team can be capable of and what we want to be. That was just the beginning, when we were trying to start what this team was going to become.”
Now the Wizards are expected to make the postseason — and some noise once they’re there, if they’re there. And to get there, Wall knows he must perform like the two-time all-star he has become.
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“The main focus is me,” the 25-year-old Wall said. “Until I start playing better, we’re not going to do well. It’s as simple as that.”
Wall’s performance has dipped in several areas this season. His defense hasn’t been as strong, he’s turning the ball over at a higher rate than ever (he’s averaging 15 turnovers per 100 possessions after averaging 12.6 last season), and he’s creating fewer shots for teammates (he’s averaging 16.1 potential assists per game, down from 18.9 last season).
But the costliest plunge may be his shooting. Wall has never been an elite shooter, but he’s currently shooting worse than he ever has since his rookie year, which is a significant problem in the Wizards’ new offense. Through 14 games, he’s shooting 39 percent from the field and 28.8 percent from three. His free-throw shooting is worse than ever at 73.1 percent and he’s posted a 43.2 effective shooting percentage.
The biggest dip has been in Wall’s mid-range efficiency: After shooting 40.3 percent on shots beyond eight feet and inside the three-point line last season, the number is down to 32 percent this season. Wall is shooting just 20.7 percent when he is “wide open” on shots beyond 10 feet, according to NBA.com. A player is considered “wide open” when there isn’t a defender within six feet. He’s shooting 31.8 percent in other instances on attempts from 10 feet and beyond.
“I made some and then I missed a lot,” said Wall, who went 6 of 25 from the field and missed two crucial free throws down the stretch in Saturday’s 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors. “That’s my key. I just have to make them. Just watching my shots and watching the film, I haven’t shot it the same way I did last year, of having lift. So I have to find a way to get life back into your shot and shoot the same way you been.”
Wall explained that his shooting struggles — and the team’s as a whole recently — has taken the space out of the Wizards’ new pace-and-space offense, which renders the operation largely ineffective.
“We really haven’t had too much space like we’re supposed to,” Wall said. “This system is for more spacing, but it’s not as much spacing as we thought it was. Early on we have a lot more spacing and that’s when things were clicking.
“Lately, it’s not been that way. It’s me playing better, making open shots and also my teammates making shots. Because when they’re not making shots and I’m not making shots, people just pack the paint and say, ‘Okay, they’re going to have to beat us from the outside.’ But when we’re on and making shots, you see our offense is more fluid and has more spacing.”
The offense may be new, but Wall explained the Wizards’ success the last two seasons gives him confidence that they will turn it around. To him, it’s just a matter of playing defense like they did Saturday and making a few more shots.
“We all know what this team can be when we play the right way and do the right things and everybody gets to clicking,” Wall said. “I know people are panicking. I get a lot of Twitter trash talk but that doesn’t bother me because when we get back to playing well and I’m playing well, they’ll all be on the bandwagon.”