Once John Wall returned to the Wizards lineup following knee surgery during training camp, you knew it would take a little while for him to find his groove.
But it took a little more than that — it took a veteran getting in his face.
Wall told the story to the Wall Street Journal. It started with a February loss to the Detroit Pistons where Wall had been benched by coach Randy Wittman in favor of A.J. Price. Why? Price was playing better (not turning the ball over, for one).
When Okafor attempted to explain afterward why Coach Randy Wittman had to make the decision to give A.J. Price more playing time, Wall snapped back, leading to a heated argument that was audible from the walls on the other side of the training room.
“It was just me being young and very frustrated. I wasn’t making anything, turning the ball over, and we lost a lot of games that we should’ve won and I put the toll on me,” Wall explained, as he recalled his emotions before the encounter. “A lot of frustration was coming out. As a veteran and being a leader on the team, [Okafor] stepped up and said something. At the time, it was in the heat of moment. I was upset.”
Wall was unaccustomed to having a teammate challenge him, but in hindsight, he couldn’t disagree with anything that Okafor told him: Wittman had to go with someone else if he was ineffective and Wall has to trust that the coach is doing what was in the best interest of the team, which should always come first
It turned around and now Wall looks like the player people expected when he was drafted No. 1 — in his last 20 games he has averaged 23.9 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting and 41.7 percent from three, plus he has 7.8 assists per game. His jumper is falling and that opens up lanes for him to use that incredible straight-line quickness to get in the paint.
This is what veteran leadership can bring. When Wall came into the NBA this was a team with Gilbert Arenas, JaVale McGee and Nick Young on it. Not exactly the most professional of locker rooms. Okafor and Nene have their flaws, but they are professionals — they take care of themselves, watch tape and generally prepare well for games.
And when a young player needs it, they get in his face. The results speak for themselves.