With Injuries Mounting, the Washington Wizards' Fabricio Oberto Could See More Playing Time

Fabricio Oberto, right, figures to play more with injuries to Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood.
Fabricio Oberto, right, figures to play more with injuries to Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009

If fans at the AC/DC concert at Verizon Center on Friday night happened to see a 6-foot-10 guy bobbing his head with his long hair flailing and taking pictures with his camera phone, there was no need to wonder. It was Fabricio Oberto, the Washington Wizards' resident rock music fan, part-time electric guitar player and full-time team player.

While most of his teammates get pumped up before games with the sounds of Jay-Z or Lil Wayne, Oberto would rather listen to Pearl Jam, Metallica, U2 or AC/DC, a band he referred to as "icons in the history of rock and roll." The Argentine picked up playing the electric guitar about six years ago. He said he practices between 30 minutes to an hour a day at home.

"You won't find me playing around in any bar. I just jam sometimes at home and that's it," Oberto said with a smile. "Music is a big part of my life. [But] I go family first, then basketball. [Playing the guitar is] a hobby for me."

Oberto isn't going to blow away the casual fan on the basketball court; he's limited offensively and a decent but not exceptional rebounder. His game is more predicated on setting screens, passing to the open man, playing solid pick-and-roll defense, providing the occasional hard foul and taking charges. He has started the past two games at center for the Wizards, with Brendan Haywood out with a sprained right ankle. But Coach Flip Saunders said Oberto would see more time at power forward with Antawn Jamison out for at least the remainder of the preseason with a shoulder injury and Haywood back practicing and expected to return soon.

"It's tough when you miss important players on the team," Oberto said. "Everybody got to bring something else to the table. You know how hard it is. We got to keep working. That's the only thing we can do."

According to a league source, Jamison is planning to visit with a shoulder specialist soon and he will be reevaluated next week when the swelling subsides. The Wizards are being cautious with Jamison, 33, because his ability to regain a full range of motion depends on how much damage the partial dislocation did to his shoulder. If he returns too soon, the injury could potentially get worse.

"I think what we're going to do is wait," Saunders said of Jamison. "He'll be reevaluated next week, kind of see where it's at. Right now we know over the next couple of weeks, at least through the next week, it's going to be an opportunity for Andray [Blatche]. Fab to play some four. You might even see a small lineup and Mike Miller at some four."

Dominic McGuire will also be used in the absence of Jamison, Saunders said, but Oberto, 34, is the most experienced big man of the bunch, having played professional basketball since he was 17. He played in Europe for several seasons before joining San Antonio, winning a championship as the Spurs' starting center in 2007. Oberto quickly won over Jamison when, upon their first meeting, he told Jamison: "I set screens. I smell blood."

Through the first five games of the preseason, Oberto is averaging just 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds in 15.8 minutes, but his influence on the game hasn't been lost on Saunders. "His last few games, he's had our biggest plus-minus when he's on the floor. He has like a [combined plus-33 the past three games] on the floor, because he knows how to play, sets great screens to get people open," Saunders said. "And defensively, he's just smart. He's a veteran defender who knows how to play. He makes other guys better, even though what shows up in the box score might not really be there."

Saunders said he doesn't want to burn out Oberto early in the season, with the hopes that by the time the Wizards are making a playoff push, Oberto is "going to have a lot of juice left."

Oberto was held out of some practices during training camp because he wasn't able to maintain his usual offseason conditioning after having a heart procedure in June. He said he never worried about being unable to play basketball again and is pleased to resume his career, no matter how Saunders uses him.

"I just like the team to win, no matter how much I play," Oberto said. "I'm a team player. You have to be happy with the coaches and their responsibility as a leader."

Wizards Note: After being prodded into speaking by the Wizards media relations staff after practice on Friday, a surly Gilbert Arenas explained why he has decided to muzzle himself and focus on basketball rather than entertaining.

"The fans, I just think they just want to see me play again. I think they can live without me rambling on about stupid stuff in my life," he said during a 10-minute conversation with reporters.

Arenas also said that he is getting back his timing on the floor and finding his comfort zone within Saunders's offense.

"It's not like the last offense where it's just pass and cut and every time I touch it, it's a scoring opportunity. Now I'm sitting at the top with the ball just bouncing, and I haven't been in that position in a long time, so just have to get used to it," he said.

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