As the Bullets continue to lose, Coach Gene Shue continues to look to the future, and insists that rookies Frank Johnson and Jeff Ruland, if they continue to progress, will probably be full-fledged stars when the Bullets again become contenders.
"Both Jeff and Frank are very important to our future," Shue said. "Jeff is our best post-up player, and Frank is a solid all-around guard. They have both come along terrifically. I'm really pleased with their development."
The two played well again Saturday night, although the Bullets lost, 92-90, to the Indiana Pacers when Johnny Davis made two free throws with three seconds left.
Davis was sent to the foul line after Johnson was deemed guilty of blocking on a controversial call.
The Bullets made only 38 percent of their shots, but Johnson made seven of 13 and Ruland six of 11. Without their statistics, the Bullets shot only 33 percent.
Johnson finished with 16 points. Ruland had 15 and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Ruland is averaging 9.7 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. Only New Jersey's Buck Williams and San Diego's Tom Chambers have produced more among the rookie big men.
Johnson is averaging 9.5 points, and the only first-year guards scoring more are Isiah Thomas of Detroit and Rolando Blackman of Dallas, both starters. Johnson plays behind John Lucas, but is usually in the games at the end.
Johnson didn't start scoring consistently until he had 15 points in Detroit two weeks ago. He was averaging 8.3 points then, but is 13.2 over the last six games, including outings of 23, 17, 16 and 15 points.
"I was trying to be just a point guard before and wasn't really looking to score," said Johnson, who may be the Bullets' best defensive guard. "But Gene and I had a talk, and he said I had to score. That's more my natural game anyway, so I started looking to the basket. I'm playing now the same way I played at Wake Forest."
One of Johnson's best moves is a pullup jumper that he shoots from the top of the key off the fast break. He is probably the quickest Bullet and uses that ability to get inside for layups.
The 4-10 Bullet record is better than many National Basketball Association observers thought it would be at this point, considering the team's talent. A year ago at this time, the Bullets were 5-9.
Their most glaring weakness is the inability to put the opposing team away once they have it on the ropes. They had a 40-26 lead against Indiana Saturday night.
"We just haven't developed that killer instinct yet," Johnson said, "but we will. Our offense is starting to look smoother, and we are learning a lot about each other. I guess these things take time."