At 7-25, the Wizards’ shortcomings are too numerous to isolate one as the sole cause of the team’s struggles. But if there is one area glaringly in need of improvement, it’s the production – or lack thereof – from the small forward position.
Veteran Rashard Lewis and rookie Chris Singleton have alternated starting at small forward this season, with Singleton currently holding down the spot for his defense, and both have rarely been able to influence the outcome of the game with their scoring. Maurice Evans hasn’t come close to being the difference-maker he was in his short stint after arriving from Atlanta last season.
On the Wizards’ five-game road trip, Lewis and Singleton combined to score 43 points, with Singleton averaging four points and Lewis averaging 4.6 points. Evans went scoreless, playing just nine minutes in the first two games of the trip, and he didn’t play in the final three.
“We’ve got to get more out of that position, all the way around,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “It’s just not one player. It’s everybody that plays there.”
The Wizards likely will address their small forward needs in free agency or the draft, with a plethora of college wings expected to be available in June. But for now, they will have to make the most of what they have and hope for the situation to get better, beginning against Sacramento on Wednesday, or in the second half of the season.
The league average player efficiency rating – the measure for a player’s all around contributions – for small forwards is 12.04, according to Hoopdata.com. But Lewis’s PER rating is just 9.74 (down from 12.86 in 32 games with the Wizards last season), Singleton comes in at 7.75 and Evans is at 0.05.
Lewis has dealt with knee soreness for much of the season, which has led to a reduction in his minutes, but he scored a season-high 20 points in a loss to Orlando and has reached double-digits in scoring nine times. Singleton has only scored 10 or more points twice. Evans has also been limited because of knee troubles and hasn’t played more than 22 minutes in a game this season, when he scored a season-high nine points in a loss to New York.
The lack of production has led Wittman to lean more on a three-guard lineup with John Wall, Jordan Crawford and Nick Young – especially if the team is trailing and in need of a scoring jolt. “I want those guys to be aggressive,” Wittman said of Lewis, Singleton and Evans. “They’ve got open shots, they got to take them, but they’ve got to be more aggressive in the course of the offense. Not just be a catch-and-shoot guy, but create plays for other people, be more involved is what we need to get better at.”
Lewis scored 10 points off the bench in the Wizards’ 98-77 win over the Detroit Pistons but struggled in their three losses, missing 10 of his 12 field goal attempts and scoring just seven points combined. He missed all five of his three-point attempts in those losses to the Clippers, Utah and Phoenix.
Lewis, who is averaging a career-low 7.8 points, explained that Flip Saunders’s halfcourt offense – which Wittman has pared down considerably – is more centered around production from guards and big men, leaving limited opportunities outside of being spot-up shooters.
“You’ve got to move without the ball, because it’s not very many plays called for the three-man in this offense,” Lewis said. “A lot of stuff is with the point guard and the big, as well as the two guard. Nick is our scorer. He’s our go-to-guy on the team. The three-man, you’ve got to spread the wing, open the floor and knock down threes, to open it up for pick and roll. You’ve got to do little things, getting offensive-rebound putbacks or knock down the shots. Or just be aggressive, especially when the ball is swung around.”
Singleton has the best record of any starter at 5-12, but Wittman has implored him to diversify his game and not settle on waiting for open three-pointers. Singleton has tried to take the ball to the basket more, which has led to a few short runners, but not nearly enough. Singleton has had promising moments in his first year – he earned the starting job, lost it and got it back – but refuses to accept that he has hit any sort of wall.
“The whole season has been up and down for the whole team. That’s how it’s going to be every night, until we get to a point where we know what we’re going to get every night,” said Singleton, who is averaging 3.9 points this season. “I feel good. I mean, I slip up sometimes, but everybody messes up. Got to get over it. It’s going to come back one day. Just got to keep going and play.”