Dominic McGuire knew things would be different this season.
With the Washington Wizards’ roster decimated by injuries last year, he used his versatility and defensive focus to work his way into the starting lineup for 57 games - gaining valuable experience for his development.
But with the Wizards’ improved health over the summer and the hiring of a new coach, McGuire knew his days as a starter likely had ended and his minutes would be significantly reduced. He still believed he could earn a key role in coach Flip Saunders’ rotation, but so far this preseason things haven’t exactly gone the way McGuire expected.
Despite a strong showing in training camp, McGuire’s opportunities for live game action have been limited. He has spent the majority of the preseason watching from the bench.
Such a situation would be frustrating for any player, but McGuire is trying to maintain a positive outlook while still striving to work his way into a key role on the team.
“I’ve been playing good in practice. But game time gets here, and [Saunders] is looking at different stuff,” McGuire said. “But I’m not really worried about it right now because it’s preseason, and this is my third year, and I know not to put too much into preseason.”
Maintaining a strong work ethic and an upbeat outlook and being flexible have been the common themes of McGuire’s time in the NBA. He played sparingly as a rookie in 2007 after being drafted 47th overall out of Fresno State. And early last season he even was inactive for a game. But his willingness to do the dirty work and ability to play multiple positions made him an asset during the team’s injury-plagued 2008-09 campaign.
Last season seemed cursed for the Wizards, but for McGuire it offered a golden opportunity.
The 6-foot-8 McGuire played power forward in college, but when he came to Washington he was initially pegged as a small forward. Last season, however, he also saw time at both guard positions. Scoring hasn’t been a strength for McGuire - he averaged 4.5 points last season - but he worked to make up for that deficiency by focusing on rebounding (5.4 a game) and defense and aimed to carve his niche in the NBA by following the path of Bruce Bowen.
McGuire spent the summer working to develop a reliable midrange jumper after seeing how teams consistently left him open on the perimeter last year, knowing he was no threat to score from there.
Opportunities to show that improvement in games have yet to come. Of the 14 players under contract, McGuire has played the most sparingly, averaging 13.4 minutes a game while mustering just 1.6 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists.
But the limited action isn’t an indication that McGuire’s new coach is displeased with him but more a reflection of the Wizards’ depth. As a power forward he’s behind Antawn Jamison and Andray Blatche, and at small forward he’s behind Caron Butler and Mike Miller, all more offensively gifted players. But Saunders said McGuire still can make useful contributions.
“What Dom can do is he can rebound, and he can defend,” Saunders said. “Right now he’s a specialist player. He’s someone who plays hard and defends. He’s going to have to be a guy that does that dirty work, kind of that lunch-pail-type guy, and usually those guys find a way to be important on your team.”
With Jamison sidelined with a shoulder injury for at least the rest of the preseason, McGuire’s opportunities should increase. Blatche will move into the starting lineup, and the only options to back him up are McGuire, Fabricio Oberto (primarily the team’s backup center) and Miller (a natural shooting guard/small forward).
McGuire spent all of Saturday’s practice playing power forward, which suits him just fine. But he remains willing to play anywhere, saying on more than one occasion: “People ask me what position I play, and I don’t know. I’m just a basketball player.”
And so, McGuire - who will be a free agent next summer - continues working, determined to capitalize on any opportunity he gets regardless of how plentiful or limited the minutes.
“It hasn’t really been frustrating because, like I said, it’s just preseason,” McGuire said. “Once regular season gets here and I see that, then I’ll just keep playing hard in practice and do whatever I have to do to get on the court. Same as last year. I came in, and I think [ex-coach Eddie Jordan] had me sit out one game. I wasn’t even allowed to dress. So going from that to starting 57 games, you just have to stay positive because you never know what’s going to happen.”
• Mike Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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