Through his progressive comeback from double knee surgery, Washington Wizards guard John Wall has dashed through fast breaks, dunked off one foot and flaunted his normal athleticism. Now, Wall’s working to do all this for longer than eight minutes.
“I’m in shape to play a certain amount of minutes at a time but not play like I had in the past,” Wall said after Monday’s practice. “I don’t think I’m in that type of shape but the good thing is I can look at coach and sub myself out.”
While the Wizards prepare for the season opener Oct. 27 in Atlanta, Wall envisions playing 32 minutes. If that trend continues, then Wall’s minutes-per-game average would match the 2012-13 season, the lowest of his career, when he did not play until January due to a right knee injury. There are several factors contributing to the belief that Wall can progress to more. For now, however, Wall has to fight against fatigue during longer stretches of play.
“It’s tough. I was pushing myself through a couple preseason games, that’s what we were trying to do to play eight minutes straight and just push myself to be able to lock in on both ends of the floor,” Wall said. “At times, I would have a fast break and I’d slow down or on defense, I wouldn’t be as engaged as I would be for the first two minutes. So I’m just trying to get to the point where I can be engaged for a long period of time.”
Wall’s candor should come as no surprise — he often calls it as he sees it — but his admission seems remarkable to anyone who’s watched him this preseason. On the surface, as Wall’s minutes increased through five games, so did his strength of play. By the final two preseason games, Wall made 6 of 9 attempts from the three-point arc and last Friday against the Toronto Raptors, he played more than 9 1/2 minutes straight to open the game.
Even so, as arduous as it was for Wall to recover from his two procedures, the rigors of an NBA game can be even more trying. Wall may look game ready, but his rehabilitation continues. With that in mind, Coach Scott Brooks has devised a plan to ease Wall into the regular-season schedule.
“My job as the coach is to be able to manage that and not keep him out there and wear him out game in, game out,” Brooks said. “I have a plan going into the game and hopefully we can execute that game by game but there’s going to be some nights that he plays extra minutes. We’re not going to put a number on it but … there’s going to be some games he gets a lot of minutes.”
At least early on, Wall does not see himself approaching the 40-plus minute mark.
“I know talking to [Brooks] before, whenever I was going to get back to playing, he didn’t want to play me like 40, 45 minutes,” Wall said. “We have a great bench and we have some great backups. We trust those guys to run the team and do different things than what I do. I feel like they can hold their own and keep our unit going.”
On Monday, the team returned to the practice court with a physical session, its last tough round before the season opener.
“We weren’t going as hard early on right away and coach stopped it, had a talk with us and told us basically about not taking short cuts,” Wall said. “To be a good team, you got to be able to compete every night and through every practice, so we picked it up.”
Wall, too, can expect his minutes to pick up during the early weeks of the season. In the meantime, he’ll continue to flash visions of the old John Wall while regaining his conditioning.