This isn't what they prepare you for in Kentucky. After a year in which John Wall played in front of sold out crowds who adored him and followed his every move, he now finds himself playing in a listless NBA tilt against the Raptors in January with both teams out of the playoffs and having reached acceptance that the road back to the top is going to be long and full of hardship. That road is going to be fraught with nights like this, where Wall is not going to resemble the #1 pick that we all gushed over, but an above average NBA player who has his off nights.
However, if this year was to be about anything, it should be about developing good habits and beating the bad ones out of the player through repetition and discipline. Fair or not, John Wall is the weathervane by which we can judge if lessons are being learned appropriately, and if tonight is any indication, it might be a fair to be a bit concerned at this juncture. The same mistakes are being repeated night in and night out and the frustration, through both wins and losses, is becoming apparent in the players reactions postgame. What are those mistakes? After the jump I'll give you two quick examples.
John Wall - Everything about Wall's game tonight could worry the casual observer. I'm going to ignore the issue of the jumpshot, because that will come with time and many great PGs take a while to add that particular weapon to their repertoire. I will say that while the fact that Wall doesn't have a jumpshot isn't much of a concern, I would rather he shoot it like someone with all the confidence in the world, rather than a guy hoping and begging for it to go in the basket.
What concerned me tonight were the other things. Wall's defensive stance was terrible all game as he was standing up on Jose Calderon all night. Wall was torched so completely by Calderon (who was one rebound short of a triple-double) that he was pulled for the last two defensive possessions of the game. Flip stated that Wall was removed from the game because the team needed Nick Young to shoot the FTs and "Kirk (Hinrich) is one of the best on ball defenders in the NBA," but the fact remains that the Wizards pulled their #1 pick because he was being lit up all night by a middling PG.
Which brings us back to the need to reinforce good habits while grinding out bad ones. Over the course of the last 8-10 games, John Wall has been developing bad habits. His defense has slacked, he is coming slow off of pick and rolls, and he at the point where he is questioning Saunders suggestion that he be more assertive in taking his shots. It all speaks to a player whose PT needs to be ramped down so that he can focus on going on giving 100% to every possession.
JaVale McGee - This isn't to harp on McGee, because he had a definite impact in the limited action he participated in this evening. However, there was one play that speaks to the bad habits being developed by the Wizards. In the 3rd quarter, McGee grabbed a defensive rebound and immediately started dribbling up the court. Wall, trailing the play, kept screaming at McGee to give up the ball. McGee finally realized the mistake he was making, stopped dead in his tracks and almost turned the ball over, before passing off to Wall.
My point is this, don't we see this out of McGee at least once a game at one point? Shouldn't the focus of practice be making sure that your big men are never in a position where they feel that the proper option is handling the ball?
There were of course good things to take away from tonight's victory, as both Andray Blatche and Al Thornton got back to doing the things that they do well, rather than magnify their limitations. However, the cracks are beginning to appear in the ice. Is Yi Jianlian taking it coast to coast an example of something that happened which was awesome, or a player trying to get his? Where is Trevor Booker? And how do you get a #1 pick used to success back on track after a series of discouraging performances?
Utah comes to town on Monday and it will be quite the test for the Wizards. It will also be a demonstration of a team that is drilled mercilessly in fundamentals and in playing basketball the "right way." It will be a interesting mirror in which to compare the Wizards, and judge how far they have come this year.
Videos and quotes tomorrow.