A number of eyebrows were raised in the Washington area and around the National Basketball Association when the Bullets made 6-foot-5 guard Bryan Warrick of St. Joseph's (Pa.) their first pick in June's NBA draft. He was unheralded almost everywhere except Philadelphia.
When asked who was Bryan Warrick and why take him, a wide grin came across General Manager Bob Ferry's face. "You just wait," he said. "The kid can play. He's a little like Phil Chenier, a little like Walt Frazier and a little like Oscar Robertson. You'll see."
If the preseason and the first two regular-season games are an indication, then Ferry knew exactly what he was doing and saying. Warrick already has shown the potential to be the franchise's best all-around guard ever. He and Frank Johnson, the Bullets' No. 1 pick in 1981, make a Bullets' tandem unequaled since the days of Kevin Loughery and Earl Monroe.
Warrick, a second-round draft selection chosen 25th overall, started all six preseason games before he suffered a pulled groin muscle. As a result, Don Collins started the first two regular-season games, but Warrick has come off the bench and fulfilled all the Bullets' expectations.
He had six assists and 12 points in 36 minutes against Indiana in his NBA debut Friday and 14 assists, 11 points and only one turnover in 31 minutes against Chicago Saturday.
On the eve of tonight's 8:10 game at Atlanta, Bullets Coach Gene Shue said Warrick may return to the starting lineup against the Hawks. "It doesn't really matter," Shue said, "because he's going to get a lot of minutes anyway."
Warrick and Johnson are most effective together because each is capable of playing either guard position, enabling the Bullets to run their plays from either side of the floor with either guard directing the offense. With two good ball-handling guards in the game at the same time, it makes it difficult for the opposition to play pressure defense. The Bulls tried and failed, 143-125, as Warrick and Johnson broke down their defense with ease.
Defensively, Warrick is quick enough to guard smaller guards, yet has the size to match up against big guards. When the Bullets used the 6-foot Johnson at shooting guard last year, he sometimes guarded players too tall for him to defend against successfully. With a Johnson-Warrick back court, Warrick always guards the biggest guard.
"I think Bryan has handled himself very well," said Shue. "He sees the floor, makes the right passes to the right people at the right times and he's very alert. He knows what's going on and reacts accordingly."
Said Johnson: "Playing with Bryan takes a lot of the ball-handling pressure off me. That enables me to concentrate more on scoring."
Johnson scored a career-high 36 points Saturday.
Warrick is smooth and fluid, with excellent control of the ball while dribbling. At full speed, he still appears to be under control.
"I'm just trying to play well and fit in," Warrick said. "If I can go in and handle the ball, it gives Frank the opportunity to score more. You saw the result of that in Chicago."
Warrick, though he didn't sign a contract until two days before training camp, spent much of the summer working out with the Bullets and came to camp in excellent condition and with an understanding of the Bullets' system.
"I'm gaining confidence each day," he said. "It's still an adjustment, though."
The rapid development of Warrick, the maturing of Johnson and the size and scoring potential of Collins and Billy Ray Bates have pushed John Lucas back to the fifth guard spot. He didn't play in the first two games.
"There just isn't any room for him," said Shue.
Steve Lingenfelter had the flu and missed practice yesterday, but is expected to be available tonight . . . Atlanta rookie Dominique Wilkins is averaging 22.5 points and shooting 54 percent, but the Hawks are 0-2 . . . The Bullets will play the New Jersey Nets in Wednesday's home opener at Capital Centre.