By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Randy Foye's debut with the Washington Wizards provided a taste of what President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Flip Saunders had hoped he would become when the team acquired him from Minnesota in June -- a guard capable of spelling Gilbert Arenas or playing alongside him and unafraid to take tough shots with the game on the line.
Foye came off the bench to score 19 points, including eight in the fourth quarter of the Wizards' upset of the Dallas Mavericks, and Arenas immediately compared playing with him to the symmetry he once shared with Larry Hughes.
When Foye started in place of Caron Butler during a win over the New Jersey Nets in the third game of the season, Foye and Arenas combined for 49 points and 15 assists.
"It was amazing. We was talking about it the other day," Foye said of Arenas. "We was running and moving together, just building that chemistry and I was starting to feel how to play with him. I was starting to learn him."
Through the first seven games, Foye was usually the first guard Saunders would call off the bench, and he delivered, averaging 12.9 points in 29.3 minutes. Then, less than six minutes into a 90-76 loss in Miami on Nov. 10, Foye stepped on Heat forward Quentin Richardson's foot, spraining his right ankle, and Butler and Fabricio Oberto carried him off the court.
After missing the next game against Detroit, Foye has since returned to a far more reduced role. In the past six games, he is averaging just 4.8 points in 13.5 minutes.
"We got to get him going," Saunders said, with his team set to face the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. "It's just one of those things, you get hurt and you just fall out of the rotation because of injuries and you're just waiting for an opportunity."
The circumstances that contributed to Foye's awkward position can be attributed to injury and bad luck. The day after Foye sprained his ankle, the Wizards picked up point guard Earl Boykins to provide depth at a depleted position. But Boykins has been more of a revelation than a roster spot holder, playing so well that Saunders has had to keep him on the floor, in favor of Arenas, to close out wins against Cleveland and Miami.
"Earl came in," Foye said, "things changed."
When Mike Miller strained his right calf in San Antonio, Saunders decided to start the 6-foot-7 Nick Young, with the Wizards facing some bigger guards in Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Charlotte's Stephen Jackson and Miami's Dwyane Wade, who plays much bigger than his listed 6-4. Moving Young into the starting lineup has worked out surprisingly well, with the Wizards winning two games and Young holding all three of those players well below their season scoring averages. Young has also averaging 17.3 points over that span.
But Foye, the primary perimeter scorer in Minnesota last season, won't complain. He has been taking extra shots and working out with Saunders's son, Ryan, after practice and getting himself prepared for whenever his number is called.
"It's a learning experience for me. I really don't have too much to say about it. I just got to keep working hard. Earn my minutes," Foye said. "I feel good. I felt as though I was playing pretty well for a minute, then I went down with the injury, it pushed me back because I had to sit out seven days without doing anything."
After learning how to play both guard positions in Saunders's system, he is adjusting to playing mostly off the ball at shooting guard while on the floor with Boykins. Saunders has even experimented with using Foye at small forward in a small guard lineup with Boykins and Arenas.
"Whatever the team needs, I can do it," Foye said. "I'm comfortable with the system."
The team will likely need more from Foye with Miller sidelined for at least two more weeks and Saunders admitting on Monday that Arenas "is not confident right now" as he grapples with the burden of running the team and carrying the offensive load while handling the physical grind of the NBA schedule after missing most of the past two seasons.
Foye has only scored in double figures once since he came back, when he scored 10 points in 27 minutes in a blowout loss to the Spurs. He hit three three-pointers in a win against Philadelphia last week, but admitted that he still didn't feel as if he was all the way back. He got a reminder during that game, when he attempted to dunk on 76ers reserve center Jason Smith and Smith stuffed him.
But Foye said his ankle has healed and he's ready to accept a bigger role. Saunders has "just been trying to squeeze me in there. Not trying to push me too hard, but at the same time, I'm letting him know, I'm ready. 'If you need me for 40 [minutes], I can do it,' " he said.