Perhaps before he had earned it, or was prepared to handle it, Chris Singleton was thrust into the Wizards’ starting lineup. With Rashard Lewis dealing with knee troubles for the second year in a row, Singleton was thrown in to provide a defensive presence and wound up holding onto his spot, starting 51 games — the most of any Wizard not named John Wall.
He became the third Wizards rookie in the past 20 years (joining Wall and Tom Gugliotta, in 1992-1993) to start at least 75 percent of his games. “That’s what I signed up for so I just got to take it and go with it. Was I ready? I don’t know. I was just going out there to play,” Singleton said. “It feels good I guess, but if I was going to come off the bench and we were winning games, I don’t care.”
But Singleton’s status as a starter was more of a reflection of the team than his contributions. Singleton had an uneven campaign with few standout games, averaging just 4.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals.
He produced a player efficiency rating of 8.34, which ranked 56th out of 63 small forwards to qualify. So, Singleton was especially hard on himself when it came time to assess his first year in the NBA.
“I give myself a D,” Singleton said. “I feel like I underachieved in a lot of areas, the team underachieved, but we’ve got a bright future.”
Singleton made a spirited debut in the season opener when he harassed Deron Williams and was all over the floor defensively. After the game, though, he was already complaining about a losing mentality with the Wizards that he wanted no part of — a bold comment from a rookie in his first game.
It didn’t take long before Singleton went from sounding like an experienced veteran to looking like an overwhelmed rookie. He got his first lesson when he lined up against New York Knicks all-star forward Carmelo Anthony, who torched the Wizards for 37 points, with most of them coming as Singleton attempted to guard him.
His confidence was admittedly shaken after that game and he had another tough challenge when he matched up against Paul Pierce, who took the same eat-rookies-for-breakfast approach as Anthony and finished with 34 points and 10 assists to lead Boston to a win without Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen.
“I probably go back to Carmelo and Paul Pierce,” Singleton said, when asked about his toughest covers. “They both use their body well and they’re just going to keep attacking every time. [Anthony] was probably the first person to just completely just go at me every time he touched the ball. He saw the R by my name, the rookie, and then his eyes lit up and so I was trying not to be scared, just take it head on.”
Singleton would only show flashes of his defensive intensity the rest of the season and rarely found his place or purpose within the offense. He settled into being a spot-up shooter, content with taking corner three-pointers, even when he connected on just 34.6 percent of his attempts.
Coach Randy Wittman urged him to be more aggressive and drive to the basket more, which resulted in a few solid offensive games. He reached double figures in scoring nine times, including a career-high 16 twice. His offseason will center on him improving his “all around game.”
“I think I just need to get into the post more. I think I fell away from that. I need to work on my finishing down low, just working on making shots off the dribble,” Singleton said. “Right now I might be labeled as a shooter, but I’m a slasher. I need to get more aggressive, moving without the ball.”
Singleton was disappointed in his performance but he was more upset with losing, something he never got accustomed to doing and was unwilling to accept.
“It was definitely tough, just coming from high school, changing a program around, and college, changing a program around, and then coming back here, it just went from winning, winning, winning to just start the season already dead,” Singleton said. “I didn’t like it. I don’t think the team liked it, but there weren’t a lot of emotions coming from the locker room. . . . You just got a real taste of the NBA, how people really act and how they feel about the game.”
After Singleton brought donuts to his second practice, the Wizards came down on rookie hazing. “I got lucky,” Singleton said.
But he did catch some negative publicity for buying $10,000 worth of lottery tickets with the hope of winning the Mega Millions. Singleton even got a brief lecture from teammate James Singleton, whose mother called to chastise him because she mistakenly thought her son had made the purchase.
The Wizards closing out with wins in eight of their final 10 games left Singleton more encouraged about next season. He will participate in NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and also plans on returning to Florida State to complete his degree in hospitality. Singleton added that he’s only a few credits short of another degree in social sciences. Singleton said he has to get his degree. “Yeah, my momma don’t play that.”