- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

LOS ANGELES | When the Washington Wizards rolled into Staples Center to take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, second-year point guard Javaris Crittenton was in familiar territory.

The former Georgia Tech standout was a first-round draft pick by the Lakers in 2007, but he never got a chance to find out what type of player he could be for them. Last February, he was sent to Memphis in the trade that brought Pau Gasol to Los Angeles.

Memphis ended up not being a place Crittenton could call home, either. As part of a three-team trade in December, the Grizzlies sent him to the District for a conditional draft pick. With his third team in a season and a half, Crittenton finally is getting a chance to play a clearly defined role.

With Gilbert Arenas having missed the entire season, veteran Mike James is the only other point guard on the Wizards’ roster. But that still doesn’t mean the minutes were easy to come by.

Washington acquired Crittenton on Dec. 10, but interim coach Ed Tapscott - who played point guard at Tufts University in the 1970s - wanted him to get a solid grasp of the Wizards’ system before putting him on the court for significant stretches. Crittenton played in only four of his first nine games with the Wizards, and even then he averaged a little under five minutes an outing.

“He’s not going to take it easy on me,” Crittenton said of Tapscott. “He and the entire coaching staff stay on me. He wants me to play the position just right. The main thing is just being solid at defense, at getting my teammates set up right, making the right calls.”

Added Tapscott: “As a point guard/coach, I’m going to be his harshest critic. He’s got to take what we say, work through it and still play his game - because he can’t become a robot.”

Having finally absorbed enough to satisfy the meticulous Tapscott, Crittenton’s minutes have jumped in January. He’s now one of the first options off the bench and this month is logging 18 minutes a game while averaging 3.4 points, 2.1 assists and 2.5 rebounds as James’ backup.

After first appearing tentative, Crittenton gradually has shown an ability to attack the lane, kick the ball out to teammates and better command the offense.

“He’s definitely looking to make the extra pass now and looking not to drive and score but drive and kick,” Tapscott said. “I tell him he’s got to keep his big men happy. Feed the big man, and he’ll run the floor for you and continue to work hard. Don’t feed the big men, and they’ll start to drag.”

Tapscott continues to push and prod for more. Now that he’s more comfortable in the system, Crittenton is being asked to be a more vocal floor general, even if it means getting on teammates when they’re guilty of blowing defensive assignments or giving poor effort. That has been tough for the soft-spoken Crittenton, who still is acclimating himself to his teammates and their styles of play.

“When you’re new to a team, you have to know who to talk to and how to talk to them. You can’t be yelling at everybody, so you’ve got to get a feel,” Crittenton said. “I’ve got to do it because if they make mistakes and I don’t correct them, then I’m not doing my job.”

Crittenton is learning he can be that vocal leader without yelling. As he becomes more experienced, his duties will come more easily.

“You don’t have to be a [jerk], but you have to be assertive, and you have to have a sense of calm assurance at the same time,” Tapscott said. “Guys have to look at you and believe you have a plan. You might not make the right call at times, but you definitely have to make them think you do and step up and say, ‘OK, I’ve got a plan,’ and just roll with it.

“He’s getting it. The more he learns and the more experienced he gets, the light will click on, and I think he’ll be a pretty damn good player.”

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