By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
RICHMOND, Sept. 30 -- The Washington Wizards' roster includes three players who are listed as seven-footers and several more who range from 6 feet 9 to 6 feet 11.
What makes the situation interesting is that only the 7-0 Brendan Haywood and 6-10 Etan Thomas can be labeled as traditional centers.
The others, a mix that includes 6-9 all-star Antawn Jamison, 6-9 Darius Songaila, 6-11 Andray Blatche, 7-0 Oleksiy Pecherov and 7-0 rookie JaVale McGee, are versatile big men who can play multiple positions.
It makes for a crowded front court but also gives Coach Eddie Jordan a plethora of options when he formulates playing rotations as his team goes through training camp and the preseason.
"It's a lot of fun when they are competing inside," Jordan said. "When you have Andray and Pesh and Brendan and Etan in there and Antawn, you're talking about seven foot across the board a lot and you've got great skill level. Andray is multi-skilled, Pesh can step out to shoot the three and he's very physical inside. And obviously Brendan and Etan are veterans in there and they are fighting and clawing away. JaVale is a long rookie who is going after shots. So it's a lot of fun seeing them going at it in the paint."
Haywood is penciled in as the starter at center and Jamison will start at power forward but the other roles have yet to be defined. Blatche saw heavy action at center last season when Thomas was sidelined following open-heart surgery and could also see time at power forward and small forward.
Apart from Jamison, Pecherov is the best long-range shooter of the bunch, and he's also a good rebounder. Songaila is a traditional power forward who played some center when Jordan went to a smaller lineup the last two seasons.
Through six camp practices, McGee has been exactly what the Wizards thought he was when they selected him with the 18th overall pick in the June 26 draft: inexperienced and raw but also very athletic and competitive.
McGee, who played two seasons of college basketball at Nevada, flashed some of that athleticism while scrimmaging Tuesday. On one play, he rolled down the lane, received a pass from Juan Dixon and threw down a vicious one-handed dunk.
A short while later, Blatche taught the rookie a lesson when he caught a pass in the post, froze McGee with a pump fake and then beat McGee for an easy layup. When McGee was slow to sprint back upcourt, Jordan called for a substitute.
"Get JaVale out of there, please," Jordan yelled. "Run the floor, JaVale!"
Haywood has been going against Thomas and McGee since camp opened Saturday morning and sees much potential in the rookie.
"JaVale is looking good, man," Haywood said. "Some of the technical things he hasn't gotten yet and some of the fundamentals, but as far as being an athlete, the sky is the limit. This kid can really affect a game in a major way that not too many big men can. To me, he's probably one of the top two or three centers in terms of athleticism, in the league, hands down."
McGee and Pecherov, who was slowed by an ankle injury he suffered early this summer, will likely have to fight for minutes in the crowded front court as Jordan juggles his veterans.
"It's a problem that I'm glad we have," said Jamison, who could shift to small forward when Jordan goes with a bigger lineup. "And it's a problem that I think can definitely benefit us as the season goes along."
Wizards Notes: Forward Dominic McGuire was held out of practice with a groin strain but did some light shooting afterward and is day-to-day. Rookie forward Taj McCullough returned after missing three practices with a sprained ankle and hit a jump shot to give his team a victory during a morning scrimmage. . . . Caron Butler sat out of practice to rest. Butler, who was limited to 58 games last season because of a series of injuries, said taking care of his body will be a priority this season.
"I'm just taking a cautious approach to it," Butler said. "We've had two-a-days and I've been coming over early every day for extra work so I don't want to bang my body up too much. I'm trying to rest my body as much as possible so I don't have to go through the same reoccurring thing again this season." . . . Single game tickets for all 41 home games will be available today at 10 a.m. at all Ticketmaster outlets, by calling 202-397-SEAT and at WashingtonWizards.com.