Wizards’ Drew Gooden finding his groove after long layoff

epa04116458 Washington Wizards forward Drew Gooden (R) shoots in front of Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson (L) in the second half of their NBA game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, 08 March 2014. The Wizards defeated the Bucks. EPA/TANNEN MAURY CORBIS OUT
Y’all must’ve forgot. (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)

MIAMI – Kevin Seraphin was sitting in a chair along the baseline after Monday’s shoot-around in Miami and angrily slapped his right leg.

“My knee,” Seraphin shouted, because he knew that he would miss his seventh consecutive game with swelling in his right knee.

The timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse for Seraphin, since it coincided with Nene going down with a sprained ligament in his left knee. Seraphin has missed out on a valuable opportunity to claim some long-awaited playing time and possibly earn the trust of Coach Randy Wittman heading into the postseason.

Newcomer Drew Gooden has instead stepped in taken advantage of his extended minutes in the past three games, giving the Wizards a much-needed scoring punch off the bench to help the team manage in the absence of two important members of the front line. Slow to gain his rhythm after an extended layoff that came as the result of being waived by Milwaukee and out of the NBA since last July, Gooden has scored a total of 40 points on 67.4 percent shooting (19 for 28) in his past three games.

“It’s hard considering you haven’t played all year, but obviously, he’s showing he was doing something rather than just sitting on the couch,” Wittman said. “That’s a credit to him. Because he’s gotten his legs under him pretty quickly.”

Seraphin practiced for the first time in two weeks on Tuesday and is probable for the Wizards’ game against the Charlotte Bobcats. If Seraphin is unable to play on Wednesday, Wittman won’t have a problem throwing Gooden out on the floor because he has given the team a space-creating big man who can hit midrange jumpers. He has also made a three-pointer in each of the past two games.

But if Seraphin does return, Wittman faces a tough decision of playing him instead of a hungry, 12-year veteran on a 10-day contract who is playing like he has something to prove.

“Naw,” Gooden said when asked if he is sending a message to the other teams in the league that ignored him over the past seven months. “It was a reset button in my career. I believe God does everything for a purpose and I got the chance to clear my mind, watch the game from afar and get that desire to know that when I came back, what type of player I’m going to be.”

Gooden added that the time away from the game also allowed him to spend some precious time with his 11-month-old son, Andrew IV. “I got to watch him grow up for eight, nine months,” he said. “That was a beautiful thing.”

After scoring 12 points – his first double-digit scoring game in nearly two years – in a win over Utah, Gooden has followed up by tallying 13 in Milwaukee and another 15 in Miami. The production has been surprising to many, considering how he had become an afterthought following his stint with the Bucks. But not John Wall, who shares the same agent as Gooden and knew that a capable veteran was in nearby Bethesda anxious for somebody to give him a shot.

“I’ve been trying to get him for a minute,” Wall said. “He can play. He’s a veteran. He’s going to fight, play the right way, not the wrong way. He just plays hard, he can pick and pop and he knows how to guard the five position and then they can’t guard him on the other end.”

Gooden has combined with veterans Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Martell Webster to form a solid four-man backup rotation. Though Gooden hasn’t shared the floor much with Wall, Wittman believes that his ability to hit shots from the perimeter opens up the floor for drives and gives other players cleaner looks.

“We needed a guy that can come in and knock down mid-range shots and he’s giving us big minutes while Nene is out,” Wall said. “We know what team we are when we’re healthy. This is a team where you add a guy that hasn’t played in 18 months, he come in and fit right in, feel like he’s a part of the team.”

The Wizards (33-30) gave Gooden a nameplate last week, which hinted that he might not just be a short-term fix and could last well beyond the expiration of his second 10-day contract on March 18. According to a league source with knowledge of the situation, the Wizards intend to retain Gooden for the rest of the season.

“Big, big, big pro. Hands down, guy comes in every day, works hard. He’s engaged in everything we do,” Marcin Gortat said of Gooden. “That’s what you can expect from a 12-year veteran. He gives you everything he’s got. A very good player…and a very good guy in the locker room. He’s coming and giving us a tremendous job off the bench for us.”

Gooden has been stunned that others didn’t expect him to come in and contribute. He has career averages of 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds, failing to average at least 10 points in a season for the only the first time last season in Milwaukee. “I put a lot of work in,” said Gooden, whose motivation came as a result of “the time I was in Milwaukee not playing and this forever, endless summer that I had. Guys reported to camp and I didn’t have a job. I had to put the work in and it’s starting to pay off.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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