The Washington Wizards were nearing the end of a scrimmage between the starters and the second unit on Monday night when guard Roger Mason drove aggressively to the basket and finished with a layup in traffic. Moments later, Mason swished a jumper from the left side that drew his side comprising the reserves within two points.
Even though the second team lost, Mason continued to look comfortable in Coach Flip Saunders’s system in his second stint with Washington. The former University of Virginia star last was with the Wizards during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, and this time his value is not just as a seasoned reserve but also as a heady leader from a winning culture.
Mason spent two subsequent seasons with the San Antonio Spurs during which time he learned from future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and other champions such as point guard Tony Parker and swingman Manu Ginobli. That’s the knowledge Mason is eager to share with his new teammates in Washington.
“I’m a better player than the last time I was here, that’s for sure,” Mason said. “I’m a better player than I was in San Antonio. I’m here to be a leader, but I’m also here to show that on the court, and I think I’ll do that.”
Mason didn’t become a regular member of the rotation on an NBA team until he arrived in Washington for the first time. His previous two stops in Chicago and Toronto comprised 43 games with just three starts, and the 31st overall pick in 2002 didn’t average more than 14.3 minutes in any of those three seasons.
In his first season with the Wizards, Mason played in 62 games and averaged a little less than eight minutes. The following season, with regulars Gilbert Arenas and Antonio Daniels hurt, Mason’s playing time increased, and he averaged 21.4 minutes and 9.1 points in 80 games, all career highs at the time.
That production caught the eye of the Spurs, who signed Mason to a two-year contract worth $7.3 million. In San Antonio, Mason started a career-high 71 games and played in all 82 in 2008-09 while averaging 11.8 points.
“He’s been shooting the ball extremely well,” Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said of Mason. “Knocks down open shots. I think our guys have a lot of confidence in him to try to find him.”
The jumpers are but only a part of how he’s impacted the team since training camp began on Friday. On a roster filled with young players without postseason experience, Mason’s insights have been invaluable, almost acting as another coach on the court for a team is trying to become more businesslike in its approach.
“It’s been great to be back home,” said Mason, who grew up in Silver Spring and played high school basketball at Sidwell Friends as a freshman before finishing at Good Counsel. “But more importantly than being back here, it’s a group of guys that’s willing to listen, and I think our young guys are receptive to the coaching, and that’s good to see.”