The frustration level for John Wall mounted as the Wizards fought to stay out of the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds heading into the playoffs. They were focusing on their offensive struggles in film sessions. It was Wall, who all season had been needled by his coach for his occasional lapses on the defensive end that caused breakdowns throughout, taking charge in a room full of veterans that included Nene, Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat.
It occurred in the final weeks of the season. The Wizards had lost two of their last three games, including a blowout loss to the Chicago Bulls at Verizon Center, and were averaging less than 90 points.
"The whole time we were showing offensive clips. It’s not the offense for us. It’s our defense," Wall recalled telling the room. "Earlier in the season we were showing defensive clips … Then, after while we started having offensive struggles we started showing (offensive clips). We can’t keep flip-flopping. We know we can score the ball offensively. You can still find a a way to win games defensively."
It was a pivotal moment in Wall's evolution as a leader, and the result was ending the regular season on a four-game winning streak, securing a No. 5 seed and advancing to the second round of the postseason for the first time in six years for Washington. Coach Randy Wittman's message had gotten through and he no longer needed to hammer home his message to Wall who did it for him. He was completely bought in. Wall realized, finally, that he's the first line of defense and when he puts out maximum effort with good ball pressure the other four players on the court with him follow suit.
The Wizards played 15 more games, including 11 in the playoffs, from that point. They held opponents to less than 100 in 13 of them.
“I do remember that," Wittman said when trying to recall the moment when Wall spoke up. "That’s the step we needed to take. For a player, John or whoever it is, to say it that goes a long way.
"He’s growing. It’s an area he still needs to grow at. But he spoke more this year -- whether it was in the locker room or on the floor, in meetings -- than he ever has. That’s just the process of it. Four years now, where he’s at in his career, the responsibility that goes with all that, I think he’s understanding that. What he went through in the playoffs and understanding responsibilities and how he deals with that is invaluable. You can't each that unless you go through it. Those are all things that can help him moving forward in the direction of leadership."
Whatever moves the Wizards make in the offseason, players who commit to playing defense will be a priority.