In pursuit of his favorite spot on the court — in the corner, behind the three-point line — Washington Wizards forward Martell Webster stepped on the foot of New Orleans Pelicans forward Al-Farouq Aminu and came up limping in the second quarter of the Wizards’ 93-89 loss on Saturday in Lexington, Ky. Grimacing in pain, Webster leaned down to grab his left ankle, then hobbled to the bench.
He returned to the game and finished with nine points and the third-most minutes on the team behind Bradley Beal and John Wall but was limping in the locker room afterward.
“It’s fine,” Webster said of the ankle. “I understand there is a fine line between playing through injury and potentially making it worse. I judge that fairly well. For me, being able to fight through that pain was a test for me. It’s going to be a time and a situation when you’re going to have to man up. Especially when your teammates need you.”
The Wizards probably didn’t need Webster to prove his toughness through an otherwise meaningless preseason game, but the quote was consistent with his sacrifice for the team. Coming off a season in which he was the Wizards’ top three-point shooter — leading the team in shooting percentage (42.2), three-pointers made (139) and three-pointers attempted (329) — and started a career-high 62 games, he has accepted the role of sixth man.
Webster entered training camp in a battle for the starting small forward spot, but Coach Randy Wittman elected to go with the defensive presence of veteran Trevor Ariza to provide balance with Wall and Beal, the team’s primary scorers.
“We need to have a guy that can knock shots down with that second group,” Wittman said of his decision to put Webster in a reserve role. “We talked. He’s fine. It’s all about winning, and he knows that. Doing what’s right for our team, and right now I think that’s more important for us to have that punch there.”
Webster’s willingness to accept the role, following a season in which he averaged a career-high 11.4 points and earned a four-year contract worth about $22 million, has helped him earn more respect from his teammates. A sense of entitlement didn’t come attached with his new contract.
“It’s big time,” Beal said. “For him to just take that initiative and want to come off the bench . . . is great for our team, makes our team better and it shows what type of guy he is and the character that he has. He doesn’t really care about starting.”
In his new role, Webster has been asked to be more assertive offensively, which forces him to be more than a catch-and-shoot specialist. He also is excited about his new responsibilities on defense, where he has been asked to be more vocal in telling his teammates where to be and what to look for.
“All that is great for me in a role that I’m more than willing to take to make this team a playoff team,” Webster said. “It’s different now for me, just coming into that role and them actually wanting you to be aggressive on the offensive end. It’s a challenge I don’t my mind. Who wouldn’t want to get extra shots?”
When Webster signed with the Wizards before last season, he needed to resuscitate his career after Minnesota waived him. After cashing in on his career year, he said he has the same hardworking approach.
“The security is always great, but I never felt I had the pressure to go out there and try to prove anything to anybody but myself,” Webster said. Last season “was tough for me because I almost felt like a fish out of water, because I was just thrown here. Didn’t start off the way I wanted it to, but it sure ended the way I wanted it.”
Beal said the playful Webster continues to keep the locker room in stitches with his jokes but has “calmed down a little.” The most obvious difference from last season was that he shaved the billy-goat beard that had become his signature look. Webster explained that his wife, Courtney, had grown tired of the unruly facial hair.
“I just had to cut it off,” Webster said, rubbing his chin. “There was a burial, along with my Moroccan oil that it kept it so finely nourished. I’m not going to bring it back. It’s dead and gone. It’s a chapter of my life that’s gone.”
Webster is set to begin his next chapter with the Wizards and expects the team to make the postseason if it can remain a strong defensive team and take better care of the ball.
“If we can do that, we’ll be a scary team,” he said. “It’s extremely fun to be able to come out and play with this great group of guys and the unselfishness that’s on both units. We don’t care who gets the shot. Making extra passes is what we do. But now we just have to have a sense of urgency with what we do.”