Wizards playing rotation: Who's in, who's out

Wizards playing rotation: Who's in, who's out
January 20, 2013, 6:30 pm
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The Wizards are healthier now than at any point this season, meaning more lineup and rotational options for Randy Wittman.

For now anyway, no more of those short-handed nights the coach dealt with during the frustrating opening two months of the season. That is the case even with Cartier Martin (knee) sidelined and one spot empty following the release of Shelvin Mack.

Even factoring in Saturday's road loss against the Los Angeles Clippers, Washington is unquestionably playing its best brand of basketball. The professional hooping Verizon Center denizens have as many wins (four) over their last six games as they did during the first 32.

Now that the bodies are back and crisis mode is currently set aside, we can truly ponder certain questions pondered even before training camp, before we knew John Wall and Nene would endure lengthy absences: Who and how many will Wittman play on a regular basis.

The Wizards were busy this past offseason, drafting Bradley Beal, trading for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, adding Martell Webster and A.J. Price. Combined with John Wall, Nene and the young pieces already on the roster, the following became clear: when healthy, there were not enough minutes to go around.

Earlier this month - following the return of Trevor Ariza and A.J. Price from injuries and shortly before John Wall and Trevor Booker rejoined the active roster - I asked Wittman what he generally considers the ideal number of players to use in a game.

"I think nine," the coach said. "Obviously you get a more veteran group, probably eight or nine the ideal. Nine to 10 during the course of the year. Then you get closer to the playoffs, gets down toward the end of the year and into the playoffs, it's usually eight-man."

Over the last two games - those with Jordan Crawford and Booker back in the lineup - Wittman has essentially gone with a 10-man rotation. Beal, Price, Wall and Crawford in the backcourt with Nene, Okafor, Webster, Ariza, Booker and Kevin Seraphin up front. Each of those players received at least 16 minutes against the Clippers and the Denver Nuggets while only Beal played over 30 minutes in each game. Also realize conditioning issues exist for some of the just returning players.

In terms of who is playing, this is essentially what was expected, especially in the backcourt. As for the frontcourt, this from my post back in August after the Webster signing:

"Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor project as the starters with Kevin Seraphin as the top interior reserve. Trevor Booker's hard working ways keeps him in the rotation. On most nights, that's your core group and we still have not touched on Webster or Martin -- or Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton, who really has the look of the odd man out right now."

Considering the frontcourt needed a perimeter threat, minutes for either Webster or Martin seemed likely as well. Even if Ariza's defensive presence eventually returns him to the starting small forward slot he held before straining his calf on Dec. 4, Webster has certainly earned a role with his consistent play.

Following the win over Oklahoma City, Wittman said, "Everybody has their opportunity, even with all the injuries. That's not going to change when we're healthy. Guys are going to compete.

"I'm going to play guys that are going to play the way we've been playing here the last couple of games: ball movement, player movement, getting out and defending. Those guys are the ones that are going to play."

Which brings us to the guys who aren't playing - and we're not talking about reserve guard Garrett Temple. Vesely played three minutes against the Nuggets, none against the Clippers. Singleton's run of inactivity has been longer; the combo forward has been a DNP in 10 of the last 14 games after playing all 66 last season.

Asked specifically about the frontcourt minutes, Wittman said, "Some guys are not going to get the minutes they are accustomed too."

If this current minute trend continues, neither of the Wizards' 2011 first-round picks will be on the court much or at all going forward.

Right now, so be it. After spending weeks in the role of league-wide punch line, the Wizards are finally punching back. Considering the playoffs remain a distant dream, there will be a time and place for a larger discussion about the long-term plan, how Vesely and Singleton fit in it (or don't) and whether space should/could be created by trading certain veterans away at the trading deadline.

That time is not now, not when Wittman can finally play with all those toys. Best of all, he finally has options.