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It's Time to Grow Up

If the Young Talent Reaches Its Potential, A Big Year for Wizards Isn't Such a Tall Order

With Gilbert Arenas hurt, second-year swingman Nick Young is expected to consistently provide significant scoring punch off the bench.
With Gilbert Arenas hurt, second-year swingman Nick Young is expected to consistently provide significant scoring punch off the bench. (By Fernando Medina -- Nbae/getty Images)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 29, 2008; Page E01

Practice had just finished on Monday, but Dee Brown, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Oleksiy Pecherov and JaVale McGee remained on the court going over plays under the watchful eyes of Coach Eddie Jordan and his assistants.

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The five players worked on spacing, cutting and setting screens with no defense on the floor to oppose them. But the time will come, perhaps as soon as tonight when the Wizards open the regular season against the New Jersey Nets at Verizon Center, when the team's young players will be counted on to perform in critical situations against real, live NBA opponents.

With three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas expected to miss at least the first month with a left knee injury and starting center Brendan Haywood expected to be out four to six months following right wrist surgery, the season could depend on how quickly those five players plus fourth-year forward-center Andray Blatche elevate their play.

"The waiting game is over," two-time all-star forward Caron Butler said. "With the injuries we have, we are going to need those guys to help us. It's not a matter of whether they are ready or not, because they have to be ready. We need them."

No one knows what to expect because the seven-game preseason seemed to raise as many questions as it answered.

The Wizards finished 2-5, were blown out three times and often struggled when the team's starters and veterans were not on the floor.

For that reason, Jordan said he would rely on a "veteran rotation" tonight -- one that will likely include forward Darius Songaila and guard Juan Dixon off the bench -- and evaluate his young players on a day-to-day basis.

Solid efforts in practice, day-of-game shoot-arounds and games will be rewarded with playing time. A lack of effort, failure to pay attention to detail and poor performance will result in long stretches on the bench.

"It's consistency," Jordan said. "Not just a flash here and a flash there, I want them to run the floor every time, I want them to think about defense and I want them to look to help their teammates with good passing and not just be a flash. Pretty much, that's what we've seen."

The Wizards particularly need breakout efforts from Young and Blatche.

Without Arenas and his career average of 22.8 points per game, the 6-foot-7 Young is one of the team's best hopes for generating consistent offense off the bench.

Young had a decent rookie season when he averaged 7.5 points on 43.9 percent shooting and he periodically flashed all-star talent, but he also struggled to learn Jordan's offense and remains a work in progress defensively.

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