Minutes crunch keeps young Wizards watching

Minutes crunch keeps young Wizards watching
February 19, 2013, 3:30 am
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When the Wizards constructed their roster during the offseason it became apparent that if healthy, there were more rotationally viable players than available minutes.

During those injury plagued opening months of the season it was comical to imagine such a logjam issue. Now that John Wall and others have returned, there is no imagining required.

Chris Singleton sat for games on end, some even before reinforcements joined the fray. Recently the second-year player has returned to his key reserve role while fellow energy forwards Jan Vesely and Trevor Booker rack up nightly DNP-CD's.

Jordan Crawford is the most obvious causality, those his absence may go beyond time crunch matters. The volume shooter went from leading the Wizards in scoring for the most of the season to not playing in the last three games entering the All-Star break. One NBA considers Crawford "eminently available" for a deal before Thursday's trading deadline.

Washington (15-36) returns to action Tuesday night at the Verizon Center against the Toronto Raptors (21-32), winners of four straight.

The reasons why this quartet, all 25 years old or under,  sits or sat at all varies. What is consistent is the organization previously labeling all the former first-round selections as part of the Wizards future. For now, that stance has not changed. For now, Wizards coach Randy Wittman either cannot - based on minutes - or does not desire - based on his X's and O's schemes - to use them all.

Asked following Monday's practice if he had a message for Crawford, Vesely and Booker upon returning from the four-day hiatus, Wittman said, "You’ve got to stay ready. You’ve got to keep doing – these days are important. You’ve got to show me, when you’re going through these kind of things, you’ve got to show me that you’re fighting, that you’re working, that you’re not giving into the fact, not feeling sorry for yourself. That’s what I need to see in guys like that."

Singleton went through a non-playing stretch from before Christmas through the first game of February. As a rookie, the small forward played in all 66 games. This season, he has been a healthy absentee for 15 of 51 games. In 16 games during January, Singleton played 24 total minutes, 15 of which came in one game.

"We have a ton of different people," Singleton said recently. "Everyone is healthy. Coach had to make tough decisions. Can't fault him for that."

After not playing in four straight games including at Memphis on February 1, Singleton re-entered the rotation the next night in a loss at San Antonio. He scored 11 points in 20 minutes and helped key the Wizards' resurgent second half performance.

Since then, the 6-foot-9 Singleton has played at least 15 minutes a game, providing his usual defensive energy and rebounding. He scored 10 points in the 106-96 win over the New York Knicks on Feb. 6.

Singleton credited his teammates with helping him stay mentally focused during the down period.

"They were behind me 100 percent," Singleton said. "They were encouraging me to keep my head up, saying your time will come. Just keep working every day."

Crawford played lots most games during the trying 4-28 start to the season, but his minutes have dropped dramatically after a statistically potent December. He reminded his Twitter followers about his Christmas month numbers on Sunday.

Since Jan. 7, the Wizards are 11-8. During that stretch and in games where Crawford played six minutes or less if at all, Washington's record is 7-2.

One of the second-half story lines stems from Booker, Vesely and Singleton essentially competing for the same minutes and offering comparable skills. Nene, Emeka Okafor and Kevin Seraphin are locked into the interior spots while Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza provide an offense-defense combo at small forward, leaving one nightly forward spot open.

"That's kind of what it is right, different matchups," Wittman said about his young forwards before the All-Star break. "If you're dealing with a big bulky frontline, then Book and Jan come into play more so Chris. Teams that go with a 'stretch 4' and spread the floor, Chris gets more minutes. Those guys just have to be ready, work. That's kind of where there role is right now."

Those matchup-based decision Wittman spoke of are from a defensive standpoint. Offensively is where the three are lacking. Even while noting their differences, Wittman acknowledged the trio's primary skill set centers on defense and energy.

"No question," the coach said.

Booker, averaging 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds, missed 33 games this season with a knee injury. After returning, his struggles continued, out one game this month with a wrist injury. Now healthy, the third-year forward only watched the last five games.  

Vesely, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 draft, looked lost much of the season especially without Wall around to direct an up-tempo game. Ironically, the 6-foot-11 forward, who is averaging 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds, played significantly more before Wall's return. Since Jan. 18, Vesely has not played in 10 of 15 games and more than 10 minutes in one of the other five games.

Eventually for Crawford, Booker and Vesely, Wittman believes time for action will come - depending on how they deal with the inactivity.

"We all know, every opportunity is going to present itself for each of those guys, and are you going to be ready, or because of how you handled it, are you not," Wittman said. "We play [Tuesday], and then we have two more days of practice. That’s vital for me to see how they react to those certain situations, and are they preparing themselves for the opportunity."