- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009

About the time Ed Tapscott took over as the Washington Wizards‘ interim coach, he issued second-year small forward Dominic McGuire a challenge.

Although superathletic and always a hustler, McGuire was limited his rookie season because his offensive skills were lacking. He spent the summer honing his jump shot, and coaches hailed him as the team’s most improved player in training camp.

But he remained a project offensively, and even during the Wizards’ rocky start this season, McGuire played a limited role. Tapscott, who the previous year had served as a mentor to McGuire and fellow rookie Nick Young as director of player development, felt the Wizards could take advantage of the 6-foot-8, 220-pounder’s skills; the key was helping him realize how he could best help the Wizards.

“I made mention to him that I wanted him to be my Bruce Bowen — the guy who takes pride in taking the other team’s toughest offensive assignment,” said Tapscott, referring to the San Antonio Spurs forward who is regarded as one of the best defenders in the NBA. “Bowen’s had a very long, illustrious career with San Antonio and won several rings, which are no small part to his contributions as the primary defender on that team.”

McGuire got the picture. Comfortable with the fact that he never would be an electrifying scorer, he set out to find that defensive niche. His playing time increased gradually; on Dec. 23, he worked his way into the starting lineup when All-Star Caron Butler moved from small forward to shooting guard in place of DeShawn Stevenson.

McGuire made an immediate impact, pulling down 10 rebounds against Charlotte. The following outing, he grabbed 11 rebounds while notching a team-high seven assists against Cleveland. The Wizards lost both of those games, but in the next one McGuire helped his team snap an eight-game losing streak with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists against Oklahoma City. In five starts, McGuire is averaging 9.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 blocks to go with 3.5 points.

“I’m just trying to impact the game in other ways without scoring, because we have enough scorers out there,” he said.

And while it’s early, it appears McGuire’s contributions are helping the Wizards produce more well-rounded performances. After being significantly outrebounded most of the season, Washington has narrowed the gap, even outrebounding a larger Houston team Monday. With McGuire regularly looking to set up his teammates, the Wizards have improved in the assist category as well. And finally, McGuire is developing into a pesky, versatile defender.

“He adds a couple of different dimensions to us,” Tapscott said. “He’s bigger, so he gives us some more size on the floor. He gives us another true rebounder, which obviously helps us in our rebounding. And he gives us a defender with the ability to defend multiple positions. He’s gone from playing Delonte West, [a shooting guard], to LeBron James at [small forward] and we had him [on Anderson Varejao at [power forward]. The next night, we had him on Kevin Durant at [small forward] and Jeff Green at power forward. So his versatility defensively adds a real nice dimension to us.”

In addition to adding a dimension to his team and earning more playing time, McGuire has earned the respect of his teammates.

“Hard worker, always has been a hard worker and very positive, even when he wasn’t playing,” captain Antawn Jamison said. “He always has thick skin, and he’s somebody who wants to go out there and do the little things — play good defense and get a couple of baskets when needed. That’s what we need, especially from our young guys. They see Dom with the notion that ‘I’m going to play unselfish, I’m going to do the little things and then he’s getting playing time.’

“It lets them know that it’s about doing the little things and it’s not all about scoring.”

NoteButler had an MRI on his left ankle Wednesday; the findings confirmed the initial diagnosis of a sprain, team spokesman Scott Hall said. Butler, who has missed the past three games, remains day-to-day.