WASHINGTON—On Friday night, Washington couldn’t make it to the locker room without being booed by their own fans. They trailed by 29 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder and hit another dumbfounding low in a 134-111 loss to the hard-charging Thunder that dropped them to 1-7 on the season.
As the game spiraled out of control with boos showering over Capital One Arena, Wall looked like a defeated man on the bench with a towel wrapped around his head.
“You can’t teach effort,’ he said after the game. “You can’t teach heart. You’ve got to go out there and compete.”
Wall doesn’t deserve all the blame for Washington’s embarrassing loss on Friday and the team’s slow start to the season. He can only do so much with what he’s given and the culture established around him, but he deserves a share of the culpability for the team’s issues.
For the Wizards to be better, Wall has to be better. He remains the team’s greatest influencer. He’s the team’s longest-tenured player and sets the standard for his teammates through his bold proclamations about where he and the team stand among the NBA’s elite.
He had an opportunity to make a statement on a national stage against Russell Westbrook, but for the tenth time in 13 tries, Westbrook’s team came out on top. It would be one thing if Wall played flawlessly in defeat, but his careless passes set up numerous fast break opportunities for Oklahoma City. The Thunder finished with 26 fast break points off 18 Washington turnovers, including a team-high 7 from Wall.
He also sets the tone on the defensive end, for better or worse. When he plays defense at an elite level, the Wizards win games. He can be the most menacing player on the floor at the point of attack when he wants to be, but a lack of motivation and bad fundamentals have led to countless issues for the league’s second-worst defense.
Watch here as Wall gets into a low, wide, intense defensive stance, only to wind up behind Paul George before he even gets to Steven Adams’ screen.
As bad as the Wizards have been at times defending in the half-court, they’ve been just as bad in transition, allowing 18.8 fast break points per game. It’s why the Wizards are surrendering a league-worst 123.9 points per game, 991 points in total through eight games. That’s the most a team has given up through their first eight games since the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets.
All of this is happening even though Wall’s four-year supermax extension hasn’t even started yet. As talented as he is, his new contract will make it difficult to be viewed as an asset around the league if he and the Wizards continue to struggle like this. While Wall may not be able to fix everything about the team’s current situation, he has to step up as a leader and take responsibility for what he can address in his own game if he wants things to get better.