The Wizards have had a hard time keeping Trevor Booker off the court, with his tenacity and ability to influence the game with some hard-nosed play. But there was a time when that wasn’t always the case.

Coach Flip Saunders revealed on Thursday that he considered sending Booker to the team’s Developmental-League affiliate, the Dakota Wizards, before Booker gave him reason to think otherwise.

“We had a sit down, about two months ago and I said, ‘Your greatest strength is that you play hard. If you’re not going to play hard, we’re going to send you up to North Dakota, so you can get some time up there. I said, because I know what you do, if you play hard, you can be a very effective player in this league. From that time forward, he’s played hard every time.”

Booker said he didn’t really know how to take to threat of a D-League demotion. “I still did my same routine. I still got extra shots up. Nothing changed really. I just wanted an opportunity to get on the court.”

Booker has had some flashes in recent weeks, scoring a career-high 21 points twice and grabbing a career-high 12 rebounds as well. He only had seven points and seven rebounds in a win over Minnesota on Saturday, but he completely turned around the game with his high-energy dunks.

“I’m proud of him, happy, extremely excited about where he’s been,” Saunders said. “When he came out of the draft, we thought he was going to be a guy who could fit into what we’d like and a guy that would play hard, would always bring something to the game, as all rookies, it’s tough at the beginning, we had some guys that were here, and as he got opportunities, early in the year, he didn’t always take advantage of them, all of the time. He didn’t always play at the level that you wanted him to play.”

When asked if his improved play was sparked by a possible move to Bismark, N.D., Booker said, “No, because I knew what I do once I got on the court. I just needed an opportunity. I just try to give a lot of energy and that rebounding. We definitely needed that rebounding, so I think the last few games, I’ve done a really good job rebounding, but I think I could do better.”

Booker will likely have a challenge on Saturday, when the Wizards welcome Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers at Verizon Center. The Wizards will be shorthanded up front, with Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis still nursing injuries. Blatche sprained his right shoulder in Tuesday’s loss to Milwaukee and he still has limited mobility with his arm. He was unable to lift his arm above his head on Thursday.

“Right now, I don’t anticipate having either one,” Saunders said.

Saunders wasn’t ready to insert Booker in the starting lineup. “We’ll have to see. More than likely, we’ll have Trevor matched up. the thing is, we like what he does for us off the bench, too. I guess we’ll wait and see how, like I said, our guys are going through tryouts this week. Guys will all have opportunities.”

Booker said he is looking forward to getting more opportunities in the final 19 games. “I just get stronger as the season goes. Just keep working on my game, so I keep my confidence high, so I play with a lot of energy,” Booker said. “I think I’ve had a pretty good season. Could I do better? Yeah. I’m just going to keep working. In practice, I’m just trying to get the guys ready. Try to talk junk to the other team, just try to be competitive with those two guys out. Those guys are a big part of our team. We’ve got to be prepared for it, because injuries happen.”

Saunders said he has been pleased by Booker’s growth. “I think over the past four weeks, he’s been one of the top rookies in the league, how he’s played.”