- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

WILMINGTON, N.C. Now that Michael Jordan has answered the most intriguing question concerning the Washington Wizards, the team will use the remaining days of training camp and the preseason to address its next biggest puzzle: Who will start at shooting guard?
Jordan's arrival as a player once was regarded by some as a move that might retard the development of the team's two best players, shooting guards Richard Hamilton and Courtney Alexander. But coach Doug Collins plans to start Jordan at small forward, and as a result, the most heated battle of the preseason will be between Hamilton and Alexander.
Hamilton, after starting 42 games last season and averaging a team-best 18.1 points, expects to fill that role when the Wizards open the season Oct. 30 against the New York Knicks.
"I know so," Hamilton, 23, said when asked if he had earned the right to start. "That's just how I am. I feel confident enough to know that's where I should be."
Alexander, 24, joined the Wizards in February as part of the trade that sent Juwan Howard to Dallas, and immediately started paying dividends. Selected with the 13th pick in last season's draft, Alexander started 18 games with the Wizards at small forward and averaged 17.0 points. A valid argument can be made that the 6-foot-6 Alexander would have won the Rookie of the Year Award had he spent the entire season in Washington.
However, Alexander is more pragmatic about the starting job.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't important; I'm a competitor," Alexander said. "I'm going to go at it as hard as I can, but obviously [who starts is] not up to me. That's up to the coaching staff. You just leave it all out on the floor and see where it goes.
"Honestly it's not about me and Rip," continued Alexander, the NBA Schick Rookie of the Month for April. "It's about getting this thing turned around. It's not about who's going to start and who's going to be the first man off of the bench. We can't get caught up in that. We have way too many problems to worry about that right now."
It would appear that Hamilton, the incumbent, would have the advantage. He showed flashes of his ability during his rookie season (1999-2000), and he waited patiently as the Wizards were forced to play high-priced Mitch Richmond. Richmond, whose contract was bought out over the summer, had his season ended because of a knee injury, and in his absence Hamilton posted 40- and 41-point games.
However, Alexander is the better athlete of the two he's stronger and a better jumper. Some league observers question why he was even available so late in the 2000 NBA Draft after he led the nation in scoring at Fresno State (24.8).
However, both still are suspect defenders. Collins wouldn't say which player held the advantage, but he hinted that the ability to play sturdy defense might help influence his decision.
"That's where I'd like to see them both really improve," Collins said. "I'm not that worried about what they can do offensively because they can both score."
So far during scrimmages, Collins has made a point of playing the two on the same side usually against Jordan. Collins is doing this because he realizes, no matter which player is named the starter, there will be long stretches when Hamilton and Alexander will be on the floor together. Collins plans to use Alexander, Jordan and Hamilton at the same time, making them interchangeable at point guard, shooting guard and small forward.
And until he does make a decision, Collins wants the two younger players to get comfortable playing together on the same team. That didn't develop last season, primarily because Alexander came aboard late in the season.
"Last year we didn't have a real great feel about each other's games. It was a crazy situation," Hamilton said. "We only won [19] games. So far we've been playing on the same team in training camp, and we're really starting to bond. We're finding out where the other guy likes to catch the ball and we're getting to know each other off the court, too."
"We're the future of the team," Hamilton continued. "In order for us to be good we've got to feed off of each other. We've got to know what each other likes and doesn't like. The rest will handle itself."

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