John Wall is struggling, both with his health and with his mentality

There's something clearly wrong with John Wall. The question now that we have to ask is whether that something is physical or mental.

Wall statistics against the Knicks -- 4-14, eight points, six assists, two turnovers -- weren't great, but if anything, they may have masked just how much he struggled. Not to steal a cliche here, but there were a couple times where he did stuff that goes beyond the stat sheet. Like early in the third quarter, when he allowed Andray Blatche to dribble up the floor for some reason, only taking the ball at the 16-second mark of the shot clock on a possession that ended poorly. Or in the fourth quarter, when he made a tentative move into the lane, only to get bailed out by a questionable call on Raymond Felton. Or finally, the one play where he hit a floater despite having a ton of space to go in for the layup. If anything, he may have played worse than the numbers indicated.

Wall's speed really wasn't on display all game. In the half court, the Knicks laid way off him, and Wall got very little lift on his shot. He had only a couple quick drives to the hoop - one that was swatted away by Amare Stoudemire - but otherwise, he made very few plays in the half court. 

So which is it? Is he hurt physically, or is he beaten down mentally? 

 

For one thing, it's important to note that Wall has yet another injury - his thumb. He said he jammed it in the third quarter, which is why you didn't see him much then. There's no doubt that affected his game in this one, along with all the other little things he has. 

Wall admitted that he's not 100 percent, though he said he still felt he could help the team out regardless. But still, these lines are interesting. 

"I feel like at times I can't really blow past people or finish at the basket," he said. "[I feel like] I can't do things I'm used to doing.  It's tough because I have the ability to do certain things, but not all the stuff I was doing before."

But it's more than injuries at this point. When he's able to get out in transition, Wall is outstanding, but his half-court game really hasn't developed. He's done a very poor job of using ball screens, making his move too far away from the screener. He doesn't have that floater that he can use to elude big men and maybe make the physical toll less severe. Most of all, his jump shot has become a set shot, one that Wall looks incredibly reluctant to shoot.

"I think it has something to do with [me not being healthy], but I've worked on it enough where I still should be able to make it," he said. "It has a little to do with it, but I'm not going to blame it all on my health."

Flip Saunders has another theory.  After the game, Saunders said he felt Wall's energy level completely dropped once he hit a couple shots, and it affected the rest of his game. 

"He struggles when he misses shots, as most young players do. They think a lot of their game is dictated by whether they make shots or not make shots. He's one of the few players in the game -- and maybe he doesn't understand it yet -- that can have an impact on the game by not even scoring.  I thought he lost energy when he missed shots.  He became frustrated. He let it affect the rest of his game.  Not getting into guys defensively enough or getting stagnant offensively."

Raymond Felton noticed that too and cornered Wall after the game to tell him about it.

"When you come off that screen, I don't care [how bad you're shooting]," he said. "I had a bad shooting night tonight, but it wasn't going to stop me from shooting. If that's what the defense is giving you, you gotta take that shot. I just told him that you gotta have confidence, no matter what. If you miss 10 shots in a row, you gotta take that 11th shot."

So there's clearly a mental edge to this.  That said, I think we have to fall back on his health as the real issue.  To have a good jump shot, you have to be able to elevate, and it doesn't look like Wall can do that now.  Nick Young said Wall was limping at different points late in the game, and there's no denying that one's physical health plays a big role in his mental state. 

And, of course, even if he's healthy, he's still young with a lot to learn about how to play in this league.  After critiquing Wall's game, Saunders was very sure to note that Wall is still so young.  He pointed to Felton as a guy that took a while to learn how to run a proper pick and roll in the NBA, and said that's the biggest thing Wall has to learn.

"He's a young player, he's only 20 years old.  Our league is designed differently.  For example, New York ran about 75 pick and rolls tonight and in college you don't run pick and rolls.  It's going to take some time. Every night is a learning process."    

Mike D'Antoni agrees, summing it up probably better than anyone. 

"He looked like he was still rusty. It looked like his foot was still bothering him. He's a rookie. These are things he'll go through, but he'll be a great player. Those things happen."

It's early, and growing pains happen.  But then again, Wall is also a rookie with a learning curve that's steeper than most rookies.  He's supposed to be the leader, the guy that plays through pain and has the right mental state.  He's trying, but clearly, this isn't coming as easy as things have come for him on any other level.

"He can't let whether he's making shots or not take away from his energy," Saunders said.

Wall and Saunders quotes via Sean.

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