- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

With Jerry Stackhouse, Michael Jordan and Larry Hughes headlining a cast of talented backcourt players, there is no question about the potency of the Wizards' guard attack.
Stackhouse, a two-time All-Star, went for three 30-point games this preseason, including a tremendous 36-point performance Friday at Boston. Hughes has looked proficient in scoring from the outside and off the dribble. And, Jordan is, well, Jordan.
The group of forwards and centers for most NBA teams would look inferior compared to the scoring potential of the Wizards perimeter players, and so it is no slight to the Wizards' frontcourt to say that it's the inferior group on this team. The Wizards' big men are still developing, mostly because they are very young next to Christian Laettner and Charles Oakley, no power forward or center is older than 26.
That does not diminish their importance to the team or how much coach Doug Collins needs them to produce. After an up-and-down preseason for the group, Collins is counting on the frontcourt mainly Kwame Brown, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas to start producing tomorrow, when the Wizards open the regular season at Toronto.
"I think a lot is going to depend on how our front line holds up," Collins said. "I think our perimeter has some firepower, but our front line has to hold the fort for us. That's not to shift the blame but the game is won in the paint, and we're going to have to defend well in there and be a presence in there."
Several post players were hampered in the preseason. Brown came in less than 100 percent after battling hamstring injuries throughout the summer and he missed a couple early training camp workouts. Thomas' hamstring strain kept him out of action for nearly all of training camp.
That left Brendan Haywood, who like Brown and Thomas is in his second year, as the only one of the three to make it through camp healthy. Haywood has added some dimensions to his low-post game, but Collins has said he wants rebounding, defense and shotblocking from the former North Carolina star, and made it known late in training camp that Haywood's rebounding needed to improve.
Brown had a strong start to the preseason, averaging 17.5 points in the first four games. But he went against some stiffer competition in Detroit, where he faced defensive player of the year Ben Wallace and scored two points on three field goal attempts in 32 minutes. He had 11 points in Boston and added five points in Denver, but he did continue to put up good rebounding numbers.
"It was a combination of [better opponents] and as the preseason went on, teams started scouting and preparing [for Brown], and veterans start getting in better shape," Collins said. "So a lot of things start to occur."
After the Boston game, Collins said he wanted the big men to play more aggressively than they had, and the loss to the Celtics certainly backed that up in 26 combined minutes, Haywood and Thomas did not score, attempted just one field goal and had five rebounds.
The Wizards' frontcourt players are not going to be the primary scoring options on a majority of the offensive sets. Their role is to set screens for guards, but the coach doesn't want their work to end there. When Stackhouse or Jordan drive to the basket and draw a double-team, Collins wants his big men to slide, open up and be prepared to catch and finish. That didn't happen late in the preseason.
"A lot of the games we got outscored heavily in the paint, and that doesn't mean that guys have to be our primary options," Collins said. "But any time Jerry and Michael come off screens, the big guys are going to have to be so aware of them, get in the lane and demand the ball and get some things happening around the basket. We can't live just with outside jump shots."
Brown, Haywood and Thomas attended several camps together this summer, including Pete Newell's Big Man Camp, and have talked at length with each other about their roles with the team. Last season they worked their way through the peaks and valleys of their rookie campaigns is in the rearview mirror. They are now going full-speed ahead in their sophomore seasons, during which much more will be expected from them. It's an adjustment they are getting accustomed to.
"We talked a lot that we had to really stick together and help each other out," Thomas said. "There are going to be some times when one of us is doing well and the other two aren't or two of us are doing well and the other one isn't. We have to keep helping each other out and keep pushing each other."
Note Haywood, White, Stackhouse and Jared Jeffries participated in a Read to Achieve program with the Silver Spring Boys and Girls Club and Silver Spring YMCA yesterday.


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