- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Just seven games in, the Wizards already have survived one of the toughest stretches on their schedule. They’re coming off four games in five nights and have played three sets of back-to-backs.

No matter who you face under those circumstances, coming away with a 5-2 record is nothing to take lightly.

Now the Wizards can concentrate on their deficiencies — an inability to put away teams and a habit of being outrebounded — from the comforts of home. Beginning with Detroit on Wednesday, Washington will play nine of its next 11 games at Verizon Center.

While the Wizards continue their effort to create a strong home-court advantage, coach Randy Wittman will continue to tinker with his rotation, looking for the right three to four players to deliver consistent production off the bench.

The rotation remains a work in progress aside from Otto Porter Jr.’s entrenchment, but it has taken a different shape over the last couple of games. Reserve forward Drew Gooden III and wing Glen Rice Jr. have been supplanted by Kris Humphries and Rasual Butler, respectively.

With four bigs backing up center Marcin Gortat and power forward Nene, Wittman has more options than he has minutes to dole out. In addition to Humphries, who emerged to average nine points and seven rebounds over the weekend, Kevin Seraphin also asserted himself during that span. In Saturday’s win against Indianapolis, he was 6-for-8 from the floor for 13 points and six rebounds.

“He was a beast,” Wittman told reporters afterward. “He took the play to them, let the play dictate what he need to do. That’s what he needs to do. He can’t pre-determine and make up his mind what he wants to do beforehand.”

The surge from Humphries and Seraphin leaves Gooden and DeJuan Blair on the bench, at least for now. Blair hasn’t played in three of the six games for which he’s been eligible, while Gooden’s minutes have dwindled steadily. The first big man off the bench when the season opened, Gooden’s time has shrunk from 22 minutes to 16 to 11 to zero over the last four games.

Gooden has value as a power forward who can stretch the floor; he’s shooting 42.9 percent on 3-pointers this season after a career-high 41.2 last season. But Humphries provides more of a physical presence defensively and on the boards, two areas Wittman has harped on.

Given the opportunity, all four bigs have been productive at various points in their career. Humphries and Seraphin are the choices right now but Wittman is still sorting through the combinations.

“We haven’t really hit our stride yet,” Humphries told reporters after Saturday’s game. “We have a lot of talent, a lot of people working hard. The coaches are working and trying to figure out what works.

“When [Bradley Beal] comes back, that’s going to be a whole ‘nother dynamic for us.”

The effect could push Rice further down the bench.

Slowed by an ankle sprain at the season’s outset, he was poised to be Beal’s primary backup. But Garrett Temple gained the starting assignment and isn’t letting go, while Butler has moved up the pecking order to infringe on Rice’s minutes.

Butler, a 13-year veteran, seems perfectly suited for a role that requires the ability to be prepared, professional and productive — whether called upon for five or 15 minutes, or not at all. Before the weekend, he hadn’t played in any of the four contests since opening night in Miami. But he averaged 16 minutes and seven points in the last two games.

“Just his ability to space the floor means a lot,” Wittman said. “Even though he might not make the shot, [opponents] are going to have to guard him.”

Rice might’ve dug himself deeper Friday when he exchanged words with Wittman after being replaced by Butler with 10 minutes left in the first half. Rice, who had played only 3:37, didn’t re-enter the game and didn’t play the following night.

With numerous disciplinary issues during his time at Georgia Tech — which ended when he was kicked off the team — Rice needs to demonstrate appropriate levels of maturity, discipline and self-control if he’s to be part of the rotation. Being a knucklehead would have fit in with Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young, but this is a new era.

It’s a promising one, too. When Beal and Martell Webster return, Washington’s depth might be such that a trade (or two) is in order.

That would be a great problem.

Too many players fighting for time is way better than the usual case in Washington — too many players who don’t deserve it.


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