Of Mental Design

Danny Chau is the sole writer of Plantar Fasciitis, a contributor at Outside the NBA, and an owner of an incredibly distinct and powerful writing voice, even in these crowded days in the NBA blogosphere. We’re thrilled that he’ll be joining us over here at HP from time to time, and know that if you’re not familiar with Danny’s work already, you’ll surely come to appreciate his thoughts on the game as much as we do. -RM

On May 22, 1972, Saul Bellow spoke to an undergraduate class on “Contemporary American Novel” at Frank & Marshall College. He discussed the stylistic implications of his writing, such as his 1964 novel Herzog. “People don’t realize how much they are in the grip of ideas,” said Bellow. “We live among ideas much more than we live in nature.”

A bulk of Herzog‘s text derives from written letters from the main character, Moses Herzog. They are never sent out, and some are addressed to people he’s never met. He writes because he’s spurned the world he lives in: a world he doesn’t understand, and in turn, doesn’t understand him. He writes to put the complexity of his circumstance in perspective.

And considering the obstacles John Wall and his team have faced this season, it’s easy to imagine the young Wall picking up a similar pastime— finding something that can make sense of his injuries, his team, and the realities of the NBA. While he isn’t going through a midlife crisis —nor will he for a long, long, long time— his growing pains are intrinsically linked to his adjustment to the league and the toll that takes on a player’s body and mind.

It’s no secret that Wall has been nursing a few injuries, limiting his explosiveness and assertiveness on the court. What could have been a dazzling campaign thus far has been sullied by ailments of the knee and foot. He has all the physical gifts of the ideal point guard, but with a wounded body, he’s found it difficult to translate fully his mind’s commands. Shifting in different directions takes a split second longer, enough for a defender to react accordingly. A quick sprint down court becomes a stroll, as he slowly directs a woefully inefficient offensive team. The NBA life has introduced new challenges for Wall. The ability to manage injuries and play them out over a season has been chief among them.

For a young player placed at the helm of a wounded franchise, it must be frustrating to play at half-capacity in an act of preservation. For someone who has gone through the past few years being classified as a physical marvel, Wall has been forced to use his intelligence more than his athleticism. While it’s not something he’s used to, it hasn’t been an area of concern. Just listen to his post-game comments. He understands the game. He is fully cognizant of his gifts, but more importantly, of his shortcomings. His middling defense, especially on the pick and roll, is in large part due to his inexperience in dealing with league-caliber point guards. But he has time to learn personnel. He has time to work out the flaws in his jumper, and to make sounder decisions on both ends of the floor. Time, at this stage, is Wall’s greatest ally.

People’s lives are already filled with mental design of one sort or another. If you don’t have it yourself, your environment has it. If your environment hasn’t got it, your government has it.                                                                                                                                                                                                             – Saul Bellow

We know what we expect from Wall. We can only imagine what he expects of himself. It’s just tough to watch Wall grow so much in acumen all while playing without his awe-inspiring extra gear. It’s frustrating because it’s clear that the injuries have tampered with his aggressiveness. But he’s learning ways around these handicaps.  He’ll be better for it. There is a world of brilliance waiting for him once he gets his legs under him.

Though, it seems silly to discuss the problems of an NBA rookie point guard who is fifth in the NBA in assists with a touch over nine a game, the most of any rookie since Damon Stoudamire in 1995-96 (9.3 a game). It all seems silly when just a few days ago, Wall helped his young team top the big bad Boston Celtics in large part due to his late game heroics.

But our expectations are warranted. That’s just the type of talent we see in him. We’ve recreated the John Wall from his year at Kentucky in our minds, and infused the incredible playmaking ability he’s shown thus far in D.C. This John Wall has the ability to blast any defense to sand. This John Wall is getting into the paint at will and absorbing contact. This John Wall will show up very soon in the present, but in our minds, he’s already here.

Traversing through visions and ideas means overlooking reality at times. We are arrested by Wall’s potential —so much so that we’ve overlooked the incredible strides he’s made in his game since November. With another half of basketball to follow, Wall has time. Time to heal, to grow, to bring our salient visions to fruition.

Seth Carstens