Wiz Exteme: Wizards SF Who Wants The Job?

Wiz Exteme: Wizards SF Who Wants The Job?
October 20, 2010, 9:22 pm
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010 5:08 p.m.

By CJ Hempfield

While Josh Howard is recovering, the Wizards have been holding an open competition to back-fill his position. Coming into training camp, the odds on favorite to temporarily replace him was Al Thornton. However, whether due to injury, poor play or other issues that are not immediately apparent, none of the current crop of small forward candidates has been able to step up to claim the starting small forward position. This has, in part, forced the Wizards to run an extended experiment with a three guard lineup.

In advance of the final cut down date, let's take a closer look at the current group of candidates as well as the other options that the Wizards have at its disposal.
Josh Howard

Josh Howard is currently the oldest player on the Wizards. He is also the teams' most talented and proven small forward. Howard is also recovering from a torn ACL suffered in this fourth game with the team. And while word is that his recovery is ahead of schedule, it is likely that he will not play until late November or early December, at the earliest. When he is healthy, Howard gives the Wizards another scoring threat, and just as importantly he is a better defensive player than most people think.

Al Thornton

Coming into training camp, Al Thornton was the odds on favorite to temporarily replace Josh Howard in the starting lineup. He lost weight through diet and exercise, focused on developing all aspects of his game including his jumper, all with the hopes of earning the starting small forward position. Whether it was a small nagging injury or an inability to consistently do what his coaches are asking of him, Thornton has been unable to claim that position. This has resulted in the Wizards running their extended experiment with a three guard lineup and bringing Thornton off the bench - prior to sitting with an ankle injury the last few games. One of Thornton's biggest issues has been consistency - both offensively and defensively. He is capable of scoring points, but he has a very inconsistent shot. Thornton, as he demonstrated last year against Denver's Carmelo Anthony, is also capable of playing defense. However, he hasn't done either consistently.

Nick Young

Given that Gilbert Arenas, John Wall and Kirk Hinrich are going to consume most of the minutes at guard this season, the decision was made to give Nick Young an opportunity to play at small forward. However, Young is an enigma. He is one of the most gifted and athletic players on the Wizards roster. When his shot is on, few players can score with Nick Young. However, his shot selection leaves much to be desired as he often relies on off-balance, poorly timed or contested jump shots. Young rarely swings the ball, as evidence by his low assist totals. He has the physical tools to play superior defense, but rarely does so consistently. And when his jumper is not falling, he has not yet been able to use other areas of his game to stay on the floor through playing solid defense, rebounding the ball and creating open shots for his teammates.

Cartier Martin
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Photo courtesy of Adam McGinnis - Truthaboutit.net

Coming into training camp, Adam Morrison was the most unlikely small forward candidate to have a chance at making the Wizards final roster. Morrison was facing competition from a number of the other candidates who had been with the team for a longer period of time and they were more familiar with the system. Morrison, due to his time as a backup on the two-time NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, did not see much playing time over the last couple of seasons. So how would he perform now in an open competition? Morrison is an intriguing candidate that fits into mold of a number of other moves that Ernie Grunfeld has made, taking an educated gamble on former lottery picks that other teams have apparently given up on, such as Yi Jianlian, Kirk Hinrich, Al Thornton and Hilton Armstrong. Would this opportunity with the Wizards allow Morrison to showcase the talent that had made him a lottery selection?

The Wizards, depending on the team or current lineup it is matched up against, have a few other small forward options at its disposal. Note that these options are best used in relatively short segments of the games and will not likely be effective for long stretches. These include:
Kirk Hinrich

Wizards fans who have watched the team during the preseason has already seen plenty of Kirk Hinrich as a small forward. The biggest weakness to this line up is Kirk Hinrich's lack of size versus small forwards in the league. And as we have seen against both Dallas and Chicago, teams will immediately go after him in the post. However, due to Kirk's defensive abilities, this line up can be effective in short stretches. In fact, Hinrich built a bit of reputation matching up against Boston's Paul Pierce in the 2009 playoffs. One advantage that this lineup provides the Wizards is that, when paired with John Wall and Gilbert Arenas, it gives the Wizards three point guards on the floor allowing them to get out and run much more quickly, while also cutting down on the turnovers due to poor ball handling.
Yi Jianlian or Andray Blatche

One lineup that we have yet to see is a big front line, using Blatche and Yi at the two forward positions and JaVale McGee at center. This front line, particularly against a relatively small unit could prove effective as the Wizards would have their three longest players on the court, while still being athletic enough to run with most teams. This unit for the Wizards should also give the team its best shot at being effective on the boards.

This biggest weakness to this lineup is who would match up against one of the league's ultra athletic small forwards? Yi or Blatche? Both Blatche and Yi are quicker and more athletic than nearly any four or five they would be matched up against. But neither has the foot speed to consistently stay in front of a LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, etc.

Trevor Booker

Drafted as an undersized Power Forward, Trevor Booker has incredible foot speed. Booker actually had a faster three-quarter court run that was faster than John Wall's at the NBA draft combine. On the surface, he has the size, strength and speed to play against some of the more physical small forwards in the league. However, he is a rookie. It is highly likely that his head is spinning right now just getting used to Flip Saunders' playbook and making the adjustment to play in the NBA. It will be too much to ask him to matchup against some of the best athlete's in the NBA, out of position, at this early stage in his career. Anything more than a few "garbage time" minutes is likely too much.
Cut down day is approaching

Coming into training camp, Ernie Grunfeld talked about entering the season with only 14 players on the roster, one less than the maximum of 15. One of his goals was to have flexibility on his roster, in the event that the team wanted to make an uneven trade during the season and needed to take back an extra player. With 12 guaranteed contracts currently on the roster, that means that the Wizards likely only have 2 open roster spots. And with the final cut down date of October 25th looming, the Wizards have a few decisions to make over the next couple of days.

Does the team keep Cartier Martin? Adam Morrison? Neither? Do they try to trade a player like Nick Young or Al Thornton (and what could they reasonably expect in return)? It does not appear that any of these players truly separated himself from the pack over the last couple preseason games. So the final decision on who to keep will likely come down to which player has performed best during practices, how well they understand Flip Saunders' system and provides the greatest potential upside for the team.

With that said, it would seem that Cartier Martin would have a slight edge over Adam Morrison in that department.

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