Still in his red Washington Wizards uniform a half hour after confounding the Orlando Magic yet again Saturday night, John Wall reached down from his seat in the visitors’ locker room at Amway Center to pull his shorts up slightly above his left knee.
“You see that?” Wall said. “That thing is swollen.”
That, Wall said, is his VMO, short for vastus medalis oblique. It is bruised so bending his knee is painful. It is a minor ailment, the kind NBA players routinely perform through during their rigorous itinerary, but for Wall, hounded by slight ailments all season, the development elicits exasperation.
“It’s tough, man, trying to get healthy and try to do all those things and play,” the former University of Kentucky star said. “Because at times I’m like, ‘OK, I’m explosive’ four or five games straight and then I got a nagging injury. I’m doing everything I need to. Losing weight, lifting more, getting stronger and I’m on the verge of being 100 percent and then it’s like, ‘Damn, something else pops up.’
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“I know you’re going to deal with nagging injuries throughout the year. I’m perfectly fine with that. But it’s the ones that — I can’t even bend my knee without it being sore. So that’s the thing that gets frustrating.”
Wall, 25, has not missed a game this season despite also dealing with a sprained MCL, bruised ribs, a sprained ankle and other injuries. He rarely practices and he’s admitted he could use a game off, but there hasn’t been an opportunity yet, not with Washington’s recent rough schedule and injuries that have wiped out their roster since the end of November.
Instead, Wall’s workload is heavier than ever. The two-time all-star leads the NBA in touches per game (98.4), while tied for 11th in minutes played per game (35.7).
A standout December earned him Eastern Conference player of the month honors but turnovers have plagued him all season and especially lately. Over the last three games. Wall has committed seven in each contest and is averaging 4.5 per game this season, the second-highest output in the league behind Houston Rockets guard James Harden. On Saturday, his giveaways included reckless passes up the court in transition and risky decisions in the half court.
“Some of them be right there, backdoor. Somebody hits it with their hands and it goes out of bounds,” Wall said. “I think I’m making the right reads and sometimes we drop them. Sometimes, a couple of them, it is my fault. Give credit to the defense. I tried to make a skip pass and they got their hands up.
“It’s something I don’t want to do but I try to make the right play and if it’s there and I feel like we can score off of it, I make it. Sometimes we lose the ball, sometimes it’s a bad pass by me. If it’s turnovers like that, I can deal with it. It’s the ones when I’m just trying to do too much and put myself in bad situations are the more frustrating ones.”
Wall offset Saturday’s seven-turnover deluge with his best performance since Washington topped the Magic on New Year’s Day, tallying 24 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, and four steals in 35 minutes. It was Wall’s 20th double-double — the second-most among NBA perimeter players — and another example of how much Washington relies on him: In their three January losses, Wall averaged 18.3 points on 36.7 percent from field and 7.0 assists to 4.7 turnovers. In the two January wins, both over the Magic, he averaged 24 points on 55.5 percent shooting and 11.5 assists to 6.0 turnovers.
The challenge, Wall explained, is finding a balance between shot-taker and facilitator until Bradley Beal returns from his leg injury, which could happen as early as later this week.
“This team need to be more aggressive and I think sometimes it’s kind of hard when you’re not making shots and you get frustrated trying to drive to the basket and you don’t get certain calls,” Wall said. “And you’re like, ‘Damn, I don’t want to keep shooting the ball.’ I feel like I should be getting to the line more than what I am, to be honest. I just don’t get the benefit of the doubt. And I’m trying to be aggressive but I’m also trying to get my teammates involved more because I know if I’m aggressive and these guys are getting shots, we’re a tougher team to beat.
“But if I’m getting 30 points and four assists, it’s not getting anybody in the flow. So I try to pick and choose. It’s kind of easy when you have guys that are being aggressive at times. It’s kind of hard because guys don’t really want to be as aggressive in half-court sets because they can’t create so I have to try to find ways to call the right plays so I don’t have to dribble as much.”