Only three games into his stay with the Washington Wizards, guard Larry Hughes is seeing basketball from a new perspective.
"I'm real used to playing off the wings and coming in from under the basket," Hughes said after practice yesterday. "To play out top, where nine guys are looking at you, it's different."
The conversion from a high-scoring shooting guard to point guard, which he is attempting for a second straight season -- the first came with the Golden State Warriors -- is still a work in progress, Hughes said. He is averaging six points, 1.7 assists and 26.7 minutes for the 1-2 Wizards, who will visit the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight.
Hughes said his bruised left knee is a big reason for his slow start. A 6-foot-5 slasher, he has not been able to push off with the leg as he did during preseason, when he was sharp on both ends and effectively ran the offense.
Hughes said the knee pain has diminished, and Coach Doug Collins said Hughes looked more confident yesterday in practice than he had over the past week.
"I expect him to play very well [tonight]," Collins said.
Hughes said he also expects a breakout game soon.
"The knee's feeling better to where I think I can finally be aggressive," Hughes said. "I'm going to be able to make moves out there, use my strengths, get into the lane and make things happen. I'm looking to come out and finally get going."
Hughes said he needs to score but also play within the system and generate shots for teammates.
At times in the preseason, Hughes's rapid-fire scoring binges put opposing defenses on their heels and allowed him to be more creative in setting up his teammates. But since beginning of the regular season, Hughes has been indecisive.
"I am thinking too much right now, but that's coming into a new system and knowing that I'm the guy that has to start everybody going and learning the system that we're running while trying to pick my spots," said Hughes, who plays off the ball when Jerry Stackhouse, Bryon Russell or Michael Jordan brings the ball up court. "It's going to take a little while."
Tyronn Lue, Hughes's backup, went through a similar adjustment last season when he came to Washington. Lue had played infrequently in three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he struggled when the Wizards called on him early in the 2001-02 schedule.
After a few weeks on the injured list, Lue found his game, meshed into the Wizards' scheme and played well. And Lue has played better this season than he did last.
"Playing the point-guard position in the NBA is hard," Lue said. "Larry was a good [shooting] guard and he came into the league and over time they made him into a point guard. That's hard to do when you come to a place where you're new, you're not comfortable, and you're trying to fit in with a bunch of new guys.
"He's not quite sure what Brendan [Haywood] is going to do off a pick and roll or what Michael's going to do or Kwame [Brown] is going to do. It's going to take some getting used to. I was in that position last year. I was trying to fit in, then I started playing my game and things fell in place. He just needs to play his game and everything's going to be all right."
Collins said Hughes and some of his teammates have the type of high-energy games that will stall if Washington doesn't run its offense correctly. If the ball sticks in one player's hands too long, he said, everything breaks down, players get impatient, and the chain is broken.
With that in mind, Collins yesterday told his players to make at least five passes before anyone could take a shot. That way, Collins said, players could see how effective the offense could be.
"As much as anything, Larry is going to thrive, as all of our guys are going to thrive in our system, when the ball is moving and we're screening people," Collins said. "When we play impatiently, he will be a guy who will suffer like some other guys on our team will suffer."