After decisively winning the opening game of this Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Indiana Pacers, Wizards Nation rejoiced, Charles Barkley gloated, and the initial Wizards bandwagon that had warped in an entire populace of previously disinterested fans had essentially become a fleet of charter buses. Then the heat check commenced. Since their 1-0 start to the series, the Wizards have pummeled to a 1-3 deficit and now must fend off elimination in Indianapolis tonight. A critical component of the Wizards’ regression in this series – well, perhaps the only component – has been a sputtering offense that’s had them averaging just a fraction over 84 points a game against a rekindled Pacers team who has inconveniently decided to find their top-seed mojo here in the second round. As a team, the Wizards’ field goal percentage has dropped since the first round, from 44% down to 41%. They went from averaging 95 points per game against Chicago to 10 points less against Indiana. They scored just 68 points in Game 3. And you probably thought they couldn’t continue to shoot worse from the free throw line. Put your thinking cap back on. After shooting a dismal 70% at the stripe in the Chicago series, they’ve converted only 63% of their freebies against Indiana.
That’s all a pretty explanatory preface to what’s become a bigger concern as the Wizards continue to endure insurmountable struggles: John Wall and his confidence. As the Indiana series has progressed, John Wall’s shooting percentage hasn’t. And with a colorized shot-chart display looking like the aftermath of the Red Wedding, it normally becomes tough to maintain confidence and at times can draw slight feelings of incapacitation.
The notion of John’s dwindling confidence was drawn by many during the final minute of Game 4 when John bypassed a money-ball look at an open 3 and dished it to a curling Bradley Beal who took a further distanced, contested 3-point shot. The game-tying ball clanked off the side of the rim and was rebounded by the Pacers. Now, I am just as guilty as the others since my knee jerk reaction to Wall’s decision was instinctively questioning his confidence and wondering if he was squandering in the spotlight. It also confused me knowing that Wall had knocked down a 3-pointer a few moments prior. Hindsight is irrelevant now, and to debate whether or not he made the right decision is useless. I still feel he should have taken that shot, while others are content that he made the right play getting the ball to his shooter, whom the play was designed for. I’m fine with that as well.
“Never lost confidence. If I did I wouldn’t be shooting it still.”
But let’s say John’s confidence has declined (which I’m certain it hasn’t). Can we accept that the possibility of diminishing confidence is natural for a first-time playoff contender? Is it even necessary to question it? It’s not. Surely no one’s thrilled about him missing 18 of his 22 3-point attempts, or that he’s making just 26% of his shots from mid-range. Yeah he’s been a bit less assertive on the fast break, and a little timid at the rim. But maybe we should accept Randy Wittman’s philosophy that all of this is a “process” for him. We should also accept his stance that we can’t blame “inexperience” for Wall’s struggles because it’s just an excuse. And it is an excuse, especially when that inexperience is blanketed with the experience provided by the veterans, like the ones who carried the team for most of Game 4.
“Since he’s been in this league he’s been a guy who’s been extremely confident and extremely aggressive and that’s who he’s gotta be.”
A reporter asked Wittman if he ever considered keeping Andre Miller in the game during the final stretch of the game after he played some strong minutes in the second and fourth quarters.
Not even. Wittman’s commitment to keeping John Wall on the floor to close out a playoff game despite his struggles is a testament to his confidence and belief in Wall, which undoubtedly helps Wall maintain the confidence he has in himself. John Wall is a man of self-regard. He won’t shy away from admitting his shortcomings nor will he give an excuse or point a finger. Acquiring postseason success is indeed a process, but it’ll never come to fruition without confidence.
With the Wizards facing elimination and vacation time looming, John Wall has at least one more shot to apply his unyielding confidence with the hope that it renders more fruitful numbers, especially in transition. With the season in jeopardy, no time is better than this time for Wall to finally silence the uncertainty.