In their first three preseason games, the Washington Wizards have provided a glimpse of what can be expected in the coming season should they remain healthy.
The team has scored plenty of points behind Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, averaging 103 points in its three outings. Coach Flip Saunders also has several different lineups and rotations at his disposal with four different shooting guard candidates and a versatile bench.
That doesn't mean, however, the Wizards are ready for the regular season.
Gilbert Arenas has displayed flashes of greatness with explosive third quarters (24 points and eight assists) in back-to-back outings. But he also has shown rust (12 turnovers this preseason, a 1-for-5 shooting performance in the opener). Saunders has encouraged Arenas to play with his old aggression, but the guard appears to be feeling his way along as he learns a new offense.
And his teammates - outside of holdovers Jamison, Butler and center Brendan Haywood - are working to adjust not only to the returning floor general but also to their roles on a revamped team.
A telltale sign has been the Wizards' unassertive play. As Saunders put it last week, "guys were being too passive at times," looking to make one too many passes rather than just taking an open shot or playing with less fluidity than they have in the past.
Arenas' re-acclimation comes as a result of missing 149 games in the last two regular seasons because of knee surgeries. Guards Mike Miller and Randy Foye are having to adjust after arriving in a trade from Minnesota over the summer.
Saunders has been able to see positives out of all of his adjusting players, and he knows how to cure the ills. Foye appeared disjointed when he first spelled Arenas in the preseason opener (partly because Foye expected to enter the game eight minutes in, but when Arenas felt good and wanted to keep playing, he admittedly was thrown off mentally). After finally finding his rhythm, Foye showed there won't be much if any drop-off between the two point guards as he has a similar knack for scoring and creating offense.
Miller, who was acquired for his perimeter scoring prowess, has proved himself to be a better rebounder and facilitator than was believed, but at the same time he has shot poorly at times and passed up open shots at others.
Guard Nick Young played well with holdover teammates Arenas, Butler, Jamison and Haywood, but he has struggled while on the floor with newcomers Miller, Foye and Fabricio Oberto.
Saunders' solution for Foye has been to bring him in at shooting guard to share the backcourt with Arenas first, then pull Arenas and turn the reins over to Foye once he has warmed up.
"It helps me just being in there at the same time as Gil, being off the ball and then being on the ball," Foye said Friday. "It's good. It helps your adrenaline running, and then I'll be ready to go. That's the process right there. The team has been together maybe 12 days, so it's just a process through the season. Moving the ball and the more you play together, the better you get."
Saunders' advice to all of his players - but especially to Miller - has been to attack.
"He's a very good facilitator, better than what people gave him credit for, as far as his ability to set other people up, distribute the ball and make plays," Saunders said. "But I also talked to him that I want him coming off screens thinking shot first, not predetermined 'I'll shoot it if I don't find anyone else.' Because he's too good a shooter to do that."
The Wizards are confident that as the preseason progresses to their Oct. 27 regular-season opener that the kinks will get worked out. For now, however, they're learning on the fly.
"It's getting better. I've got to figure out when to take shots, when not to. Right now I'm probably passing up a few. But at the same time, that's what preseason's for: finding out where we're all going to fit in," Miller said. "And what you've got to understand is, some of these guys haven't played with [Arenas] in two years, and a lot of these guys haven't ever played with him. ... It's a process for everybody, plus we've got a new offense in. So it's just a big learning curve for everybody. We're definitely not close to where we want to be, but that's a good thing."
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