- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

When Antonio Daniels, who has filled in for Gilbert Arenas for 33 games, had to sit out with an ankle injury Friday, the common belief was that the injury left the Washington Wizards without a true point guard.

Roger Mason Jr. begs to differ.

The fourth-year veteran in his second season with the Wizards says it’s often forgotten that point guard is his natural position, and he believes he is capable of filling the void.

“It’s an opportunity, not pressure at all,” said Mason, who is averaging 8.0 points and 1.5 assists this season. “It’s good for me personally for me to be able to play the point. I did it in college, and I’ve been having the opportunity all year to show I’m a combo guard, not just a shooting guard.

Drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the 2003 draft, the Virginia product said former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause’s intentions were for Mason to play the point.

But the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Mason was buried on the bench and played just in 17 games his rookie season, averaging 1.8 points and 0.7 assists. He played three games in Chicago the next season and then was traded to Toronto, which released him after 23 games.

Mason, a former Good Counsel standout, signed with his hometown Wizards before the 2006-07 season.

“When I came here from Toronto, I was known as a shooter, and so they put me at shooting guard,” said Mason, who last season averaged just 2.7 points in 7.9 minutes. “But in my mind, I’ve always been a combo guard. Just really haven’t been able to play it as much.”

Mason was a free agent in the offseason and received offers from only the Wizards and Spurs. He chose to sign another one-year deal with Washington because he knew the system and figured he could benefit from some continuity.

When Arenas had a second knee surgery, Daniels went from sixth man to starting point guard. Mason went from seldom-used option to one of the first players off the bench.

Mason already was on his way to his best season in that role, averaging 6.7 points and 1.3 assists in 17.8 minutes while backing up both Daniels and shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson.

Then Daniels missed eight games with a knee injury earlier this season. Mason started six of those games and upped his production to 15.2 points and 3.0 assists in 34.8 minutes while shooting 47.8 percent from the field.

“We saw what Roger could do last year, but with our guys playing major minutes he did not really get a great opportunity and just saw spot duty,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Over the summer he worked hard on his game. He did a good job in training camp defensively — he has learned the offense, and he is someone we really need right now.”

Mason made his seventh start of the season in Sunday’s 108-107 loss to Phoenix — the Wizards’ seventh straight loss. He recorded 18 points, five rebounds and an assist.

“I prefer it,” Mason said of being a combo guard rather than strictly a shooting guard. “I prefer to have the ball in my hands rather than just sitting there waiting for a pass, and I think this year I’m having a better year because I’m getting that opportunity.

“The main thing, though, is that I wanna help my team win,” Mason said. “We’ve gotta stop the bleeding somehow. It’s not so much about me. It’s about helping them win.”

Mason said he hasn’t let himself worry about this summer, when he again will be a free agent. He expects his play this season will “speak for itself” and that he will have carved out a niche with the Wizards or proved himself to another team.

“I think I’m showing what I can do,” he said. “I’m getting a heck of an opportunity. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”

Notes — Stevenson recorded 18 points, two rebounds and two assists Sunday against the Suns and played 34 minutes despite suffering from chronic knee pain that Wizards coach Eddie Jordan expected to keep the guard on the bench for much of the game.

“DeShawn was a warrior, just a warrior out there,” Jordan said. “He’s out there on one wheel. Hopefully we can get him out there [against Golden State] and monitor his minutes a bit more, but he was a warrior. Everybody else, but he certainly led the charge.” …

Daniels said last night the bone spurs in his right ankle remain just as painful as they did Friday when he was limited to just six minutes against the Nuggets. He hopes after missing last night’s late game and having another day of rest today that he can play tomorrow against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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