Wizards' Crittenton Starts to Develop

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Practice was over, but Washington Wizards second-year point guard Javaris Crittenton stayed at one basket working with interim coach Ed Tapscott on short-range jump shots.

Over and over again, Crittenton received the ball and took two quick dribbles before elevating into his shot while receiving feedback from his coach.

Meantime, at another basket only a few feet away, rookie center JaVale McGee worked with volunteer coach Tony Massenburg, who patiently taught the 7-footer a series of post moves.

Massenburg's goal was to get McGee to take one decisive dribble in either direction from the free throw line before going into a move.

That was yesterday.

During the second quarter of Tuesday's 111-103 victory over Minnesota, Crittenton and McGee hooked up for the kind of play that simply can't be taught.

Crittenton came up the floor on a fast break and slipped past Minnesota's Rashad McCants with a slick, behind-the-back dribble. He nearly stumbled but regained his balance and kept his dribble before lofting an alley-oop pass toward the rim, where McGee, who was streaking up the floor on the other wing, caught it and smashed down a two-handed dunk over Kevin Love.

For one of the few times all season, the Verizon Center crowd erupted in cheers.

"That was pure instinct," Crittenton said. "I feel like the more I play, you will see more and more highlights, especially with JaVale running the floor. To have a big [man] like that running the floor, he makes a lot of plays like that look good."

With 28 games to play, and Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld seemingly content to allow today's trade deadline to pass without making a major deal involving Antawn Jamison or Caron Butler, the team's future appears to hinge on three factors: the health of three-time all-star and franchise player Gilbert Arenas, the development of young players such as Crittenton and McGee, and what Grunfeld does with a likely lottery pick this summer.

Crittenton, who is in his second NBA season, has shown steady improvement since arriving from Memphis in a trade on Dec. 10. After seeing little action early on as he learned the offense, he's started to find a groove.

Starting with a 15-point, seven-assist effort in a loss at Philadelphia on Jan. 30 in which Crittenton played 20 minutes, Tapscott's confidence in the 21-year-old has grown to the point that Crittenton, not veteran Mike James, is playing the majority of minutes at point guard in the fourth quarter.

Crittenton played the entire fourth quarter Tuesday night and directed an offense that had seven players score and closed the game on a 16-5 run.

"He's playing well, getting more comfortable," said James, who shifts to shooting guard when he and Crittenton are on the floor together. "Coach is giving him more confidence and he's starting to do things and he's really starting to bud. . . . Playing is the thing. Playing is the best teacher."

While Crittenton's speed and playmaking abilities are obvious, Tapscott and his assistant coaches continue to help him sharpen his fundamentals. Recently, lead assistant Randy Ayers worked with Crittenton on defensive footwork; and yesterday, Tapscott focused on teaching when to pull up for a shot near the rim and when to attack the basket.

"The best thing about Javaris is that he has an impact on the game, and sometimes the worst thing about Javaris is that he has an impact on the game," Tapscott said. "He's in his first year really getting significant minutes so he's seeing many things for the first time. The odds are 50-50 that something good or bad is going to come out of that but he is improving rapidly. He has terrific athletic ability and he has a burning desire to play the right way."

Wizards Notes: Jamison said that he has not been told by Grunfeld whether he might be traded, but he expects to be a Wizard after today's 3 p.m. trade deadline. Several teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, have expressed interest in Jamison and Butler. "When I signed my deal this summer, it was for four years and that's my mind frame," Jamison said. "So I don't think about where I could've been or where I might land. . . . This is home for me."

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