Even after putting together a career year during the 2012-13 season, his first with the Washington Wizards, Martell Webster had always left the door open for him to come off the bench. But when the swingman inked a four-year, $22-million deal last July with the Wizards, it appeared that the starting role he had secured was also etched in permanence going into this past season.
With Trevor Ariza entering his own contract year, the defensive-minded small forward seemingly took both the starting position and the hot-handed baton from Webster during training camp. As Ariza excelled alongside John Wall and his knack for finding teammates along the perimeter, Webster floundered as the sixth man, struggling to mesh with the team’s revolving backup point guard situation and battling an array of injuries that subsequently sucked some of the lightheartedness and confidence out of his game.
“The most important thing for me is realizing and understanding and accepting the fact that the things that happened this year happened, and I can’t control the things that just happened,” said Webster, who averaged 9.7 points and shot 39.2 percent from three-point range. “But what am I going to do next year to be better? I have no complaints about this year. With the time that I had, I could have done a lot more, but that just wasn’t the case.”
Even as a reserve, Webster got similar burn to his first season with the Wizards, playing 27.7 minutes this past year compared to 28.9 during the previous campaign. And despite ailments that affected his back and shoulder, Webster appeared in 78 games. Difference was, Ariza was healthy too after missing 24 games the previous year, and without Wall penetrating and kicking the ball out to him, Webster’s efficiency on catch-and-shoot opportunities diminished as did his playmaking ability.
Webster averaged 4.3 catch-and-shoot three-point field goal attempts per game while Ariza recorded 4.9. But Ariza proved more consistent, hitting 43.5 percent of his tries compared to Webster’s 40.2 percent clip and scoring 6.7 points compared to Webster’s 5.9 on catch-and-shoot field goals, according to NBA.com’s Player Tracking Data.
The relatively slim margin between Webster and Ariza’s shooting was magnified on the other end of the court. Ariza’s ability to slip off screens and take on the opposing team’s best player played into the decision by Wizards Coach Randy Wittman to make Ariza the starter. The ninth-year veteran didn’t take much public issue with the move, instead voicing his support for Ariza, whom he called his “big brother,” and also serving as a mentor to rookie swingman Otto Porter.
“I understand the positions for starting unit, second unit and I’m comfortable in either one,” Webster said. “My whole career has been based on adapting and adjusting, so that’s something that’s easy for me to deal with. It’s like second nature, honestly.”
Webster, who previously came off the bench on Portland and Minnesota, demonstrated this by putting together a productive first two months of the season, including a 30-point explosion in a December win against New York. But at the turn of the calendar year, Webster’s production began to peter off, culminating with his postseason output of 3.8 points on 23.1 percent shooting from three-point territory.
Ironically, Webster’s numbers seemed to dwindle most after Andre Miller came over in a trade to Denver and provided the Wizards with a stable, pass-first point guard. Bradley Beal appeared to benefit the most when playing with Miller in the second unit, which, depending on how free agency plays out for Miller and Ariza, could again alter the Wizards’ rotation.
Should Ariza return, the Wizards will again have an overflow of small forwards. Webster’s contract and the mystery/intrigue surrounding Porter following his uneven rookie season would make it hard to move either in a trade. The belief is that Webster would shift to being Beal’s backup at shooting guard, making room for Porter to get more minutes behind Ariza. But with Beal typically serving as the starter who stayed in to play with the second unit, that could mean less minutes for Webster or Porter, again.
But Webster said he’s not worried about saying, proclaiming that the Wizards will just have to “work it out.” Instead his offseason focus will be on strengthening his body and core so that the back problems and other nagging injuries that once had him contemplating retirement will be minimized, allowing him to focus on being more consistent in whatever his role may be next season.
“Me building my body to where I can be indestructible, that’s my primary goal so I don’t have to worry about that,” Webster said. “That will be my primary focus this offseason, is just that health factor to get my body to a place where I don’t have to worry about that.”