The first step to enjoying Wizards games? Forget the scoreboard even exists.
Although the Wizards likely won’t win much, the first three games suggest it won’t be for lack of effort. The team has displayed heart, which has helped it remain in contention late in the first few games. The Wizards’ cast of kids and career backups fought to the end during Wednesday’s 100-94 loss in overtime to Boston, pushing the accomplished Celtics on their home court. The Wizards should be pleased with their show of determination. Their fans ought to be, too.
“That’s what we have to do,” Coach Randy Wittman said recently. “For us, it has to be a real team effort every game.”
So the fan who wants to stay awake can focus on shows of hustle. In the last two games, point guard A.J. Price never stopped hounding his star Celtics counterpart, Rajon Rondo, on defense regardless of the size of the Celtics’ lead. Forward Trevor Booker pursued every loose ball as if his contract depended on it.
It would be a welcome change to watch a Wizards team that shows no quit. The past few seasons, some of the Wizards’ top players had little interest in doing what it takes, such as practicing hard, to compete as well as possible. This group may be forging a much more respectable identity.
Kevin Seraphin’s progress is another positive that’s hard to miss. The third-year center is unlike most players on the Wizards’ roster: He actually has a chance to be really good.
After his look-at-me finish last season — Seraphin averaged 15.4 points and seven rebounds in the final 16 games — he’s off to a watch-out-for-this-guy start. Seraphin, who sat out Washington’s opener with a calf injury, made 8 of 9 field goal attempts and scored 19 points in his first game. He totaled 16 points and a team-high nine rebounds in Wednesday’s loss.
Watching young players develop can be a lot of fun. Seraphin, who turns 23 on Dec. 7, is showing the type of growth that should provide Wizards fans with something they’re not used to: hope.
Wizards people talk about Seraphin’s strong work ethic; he actually enjoys being coached. Fans should look for Seraphin to start drawing double teams regularly. Then, sit back and watch as he beats them with his nifty footwork and nice shooting touch. You may not want to leave your seat when Seraphin has the ball down low. You just may miss seeing a great jump-hook shot.
Seraphin’s one-on-one matchups against the game’s best big men also should be entertaining. He did just fine against Celtics future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett.
At times against Boston on Wednesday, rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal also was a must-watch player. With Beal, pay attention to how aggressive he is on offense. When shooters are confident, they’ll roll off of screens and shoot no matter how tight opponents are sticking to them. Beal’s three-pointer gave the Wizards an 83-82 lead late in regulation. That was definitely worth watching. Beal’s solid showing against the Celtics is the sort of thing that could help him get into a good rhythm.
In addition to watching the guys on the court now, Wizards fans also should look forward to the return of point guard John Wall and center Nene. How will Wall and Nene, the best players on the team, fit in when they eventually recover from injuries? Does Seraphin’s role in the offense decrease once Nene steps back on the court? Is Wall capable of elevating the Wizards from bad to at least mediocre?
I have serious doubts that anything could jump-start center Emeka Okafor and forward Trevor Ariza. Okafor and Ariza, acquired in a June trade, were the key players in management’s offseason plan to improve the roster. You could say they’ve been end-of-the-bench awful. But that would be unfair to even the worst guys relegated to the end of benches throughout the league.
Okafor and Ariza have been so bad that they sat the entire fourth quarter the past two games. They also watched all of overtime Wednesday from their seats. Combined, Okafor and Ariza are averaging 8.7 points a game. For that, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis will commit about $43 million in salary to them over the next two years.
Meanwhile, forward Rashard Lewis, whom the Wizards dealt for Okafor and Ariza, is averaging 9.4 points off the bench for Miami. He’s shooting 54.5 percent from the field and making 47.1 percent of his three-pointers. Nice trade.
Even Okafor and Ariza, however, provide reasons to tune in. Can they overcome rock-bottom starts and emerge as productive members of the team? Are they capable of surprising with some timely plays? Will they at least break a sweat during crunch time? It’s all part of what could keep you interested when the team’s record simply isn’t enough.
The Wizards say they intend to become winners. Until their plan takes shape, we’ll just have to celebrate the little things. That’s all the Wizards ever give us.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.