The Washington Wizards terrible, league-worst 4-26 season has been defined largely by abject futility. After that, though, it's been about the absence of John Wall, one-time franchise savior who had a disappointing first two NBA seasons. This season was supposed to be the time he either proved himself as a star or became a certifiable bust. His left knee injury put that verdict on hold, and his presumed return date kept getting pushed farther away.
Several weeks ago, we noted that Wall still had no timetable for his return. Now, it appears that he's much closer to coming back, because he practiced with the Wizards on Thursday. And he was apparently pretty impressive. From Michael Lee for The Washington Post:
For the first time since a stress injury was diagnosed in his left patella in late September, Wall participated in limited-contact drills, sped up and down the court, and traded trash talk with his teammates after making baskets. [...]
“This is Christmas all over for him, I'm sure, to finally reach this point,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Wall. “You could see the spark in his eyes — finally. So we just got to be patient. He’s got to be itching to push this as fast as he can. We got to be careful with that.”
Possibly because the team has waited more than five months to see Wall in action, or because he won’t be available when the Wizards host the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, Wittman spoke with cautious tones when talking about the third-year point guard. Wittman mentioned the need for Wall to regain his conditioning and strength, but Wall’s teammates were much more encouraged by what they saw from the former No. 1 overall pick. [...]
“He’s still the same player. Fast. Aggressive. He looked good. Looked like his old self,” said Price, who has been out since Dec. 8 with a broken hand but participated in five-on-none, non-contact drills on Thursday. “He was extremely active. Just talking. You could see that he really wanted it. He wanted it. And that’s always good to see, especially from your franchise player, coming back off injury, to show how enthused he was to be back out there and how aggressive he approached the situation.” [...]
“It was good. That’s a positive, trust me,” Wittman said of having Wall back on the floor. “He’s moving good. He looked fine. A little rusty, breathing hard, but good. We’ve got to get him in shape. That’s the main thing now.”
Wall's return isn't imminent, but it does sound like he's on his way. That's great news for the Wizards, if only because they can now start to figure out if Wall is making strides, what they can expect in future seasons, and how their players fit together on the court. They likely won't win many games — their preseason expectations of a playoff berth, even with a healthy Wall, look more ridiculous with each passing day — but they'll at least learn something.
The most important question here, of course, is whether or not Wall looking like his old self is a good thing. In his previous seasons with Washington, Wall has struggled to lead the offense with a steady hand, taking bad shots and turning the ball over far too much. While his assist numbers would be higher with better teammates — Mike Prada of SB Nation refers to "John Wall assists" whenever a player makes a good pass on a missed shot — it's also true that Wall hasn't developed into the facilitator many thought he could be. He's not a total disaster, because every so often he shows off the open-court mastery that made him such a thrilling prospect in high school and in his sole season at Kentucky. But he hasn't become the perennial All-Star many, including me, thought he would be.
The good news for everyone is that we'll be able to reacquaint ourselves with Wall soon enough. Stay tuned.