- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CHICAGO — Just hours before the Washington Wizards picked up their first win of the season against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, Flip Saunders and John Wall had a talk.

Saunders understands how much pressure Wall puts on himself to lead the team, and at times, it seems as if the 21-year-old point guard is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. But despite Wall’s shooting struggles — he’s hitting just 34 percent of his shots in the first nine games — that’s the last thing Saunders wants him to worry about.

“He did the best job that he did all year as far as understanding mismatches,” Saunders said after the Wizards‘ win over the Raptors. “Tonight he played the game as far as running the team the best he’s done all year. I think he responded well [to our talk]. We just have to keep on working with him.”

It’s important to Saunders that Wall continues to play a fundamentally sound game, and he’s expressed his concerns that Wall might have picked up a few bad habits during his summer league exhibition tour.

But it’s nothing that can’t be overcome, and corrected.

“You [have to] play the right way all the time,” Saunders said. “When you close out people, you do it in a fundamental way.”

At the end of the Raptors game, in the midst of the excitement of Washington’s first win, Wall showed a brief moment of annoyance when his teammates, as Saunders put it, “left him out to dry” on a possession near the end of the game.

It’s all part of a point guard’s learning curve.

“As a point guard, you have to able to get on your teammates,” Saunders said. “You have to have a thick skin because if they’re not doing the right things, they make you look bad. It’s his job to make sure those guys get in the right spots.”

Wall is receptive to Saunders‘ advice and instructions, and despite the fact that he’s not shooting the ball well (34.1 percent through the first nine games), he understands that it’s more important right now to focus on his other duties.

“[I’m] basically just trying to lead,” Wall said. “Everybody [says] I’m just trying to score too much, but I’m just taking the open shots that I get. If there’s jump shots, I got to take them and make the defense guard me.

“I’m just trying to get my teammates involved, and [Tuesday] I did a better job of just slowing down and looking for everybody on the fast break.”

The talk paid off, as the Wizards played better team ball than they had all season en route to their first win. It also helped that Saunders tweaked his backcourt lineup, using Shelvin Mack to back up Wall, and Jordan Crawford to back up Nick Young.

“If you know you got beat, somebody is going to help you, and somebody is going to help the other person,” Wall said. “It’s all about effort, and helping each other.”