For the fourth time in five games, Chris Singleton left his seat on the Wizards’ bench only to applaud his teammates or to gather around the huddle as Coach Randy Wittman diagrammed the next sequence during Washington’s 103-94 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
Singleton has gone from starter to forgotten man on a depleted and struggling team, assuming a spot in Wittman’s doghouse that is apparently reserved for one underperforming member of the 2011 draft class at a time.
A few weeks ago, Jan Vesely was buried deep on the bench but has returned to the rotation. Now Singleton can only wait, or hope, for his number to be called again.
“It’s been stretches like this, early in my career before. I just take from that,” Singleton said. “I’ve just been learning. Still trying to support my team and do what I can do to get on the court.”
After starting 57 games at small forward as a rookie, Singleton has had an uneven sophomore campaign while trying to find a defined role. Used primarily as a power forward, the 6-foot-9 Singleton is averaging just 4.7 points and 3.8 rebounds while shooting just 38 percent from the floor and 12.5 percent from beyond the three-point line.
Singleton’s hustle and aggressiveness on defense helped him earn more minutes and eventually put him back in the starting lineup last month. Singleton started eight consecutive games at power forward before Wittman benched him for the second half of an overtime loss to Atlanta on Dec. 18 and replaced him with Earl Barron — who is no longer on the team after getting waived.
Nene has started the past five games, which has brought out the best in center Emeka Okafor and added more stability and consistency to the front line. Since then, Singleton has played a total of 23 minutes, even with the Wizards down to just 10 healthy players and Nene still adhering to a playing time limit.
“I mean, right now, there’s not enough minutes to play everybody. Can’t play everybody. I think you guys think we should play 15 guys sometimes,” Wittman said, when asked about Singleton. “You’ve got Nene, Kevin [Seraphin], and Emeka, who’s playing probably the best stretch he’s played and Jan. Somebody’s got to sit. Can’t play them all.”
Wittman used a similar explanation for Vesely’s lack of playing time shortly after the 7-foot forward from the Czech Republic lost his spot in the rotation. When Vesely returned, Wittman revealed that he needed to see more and benched him because there had been too many times that he looked on the floor and asked, “Is Jan out there?”
“Listen, I sat him down for a reason,” Wittman said, recently, about Vesely. “There are different ways to get a guy’s attention and to try to motivate. I’m committed to all these young guys. I’m not giving up on any of them. It’s a matter of also not taking advantage of your minutes and opportunity. We’ll continue to develop and work at practice but the results have to be improvement and showing, ‘I get it, I belong.’ It’s a two-way street.”
Singleton said he has spoken with Wittman and understands why he isn’t playing. “He’s basically just looking for more consistency on the court. Wants my energy to be up, every time I touch the court and just go out there and play hard.
Wittman is seeking more reliability from Singleton, who has reached double figures just three times this season but has also gone scoreless in three games that he has received at least 14 minutes.
“He’s got to be more consistent. Both he and Jan, have got to be consistent in their play. That’s the main thing,” Wittman said. “Good one day, bad the next. Inconsistency. Fluxuates how well you play night in and night out.”
Singleton could fall deeper into the rotation with Trevor Ariza expected to return from a strained left calf injury in less than a week. Ariza, an eight-year veteran, said Singleton is handling the situation well.
“Chris is a mature kid. He understands there is going to be stretches where things change,” he said. “It happens everywhere where sometimes you’ll play a lot, sometimes you’ll play a little. You still have to work on your job to stay ready for when your number is called. Actually, he’s been doing a great job of doing that on his own. In his second year, I think he’s understanding more that he has to be ready.”
When the season began, Wittman scrambled to find a rotation that worked and threw in several different combinations. He has recently tried to find a group of nine players that can form some chemistry and continuity, but the results — or lack thereof — leave open the possibility of another shuffle that could include Singleton. Wittman could use him on Wednesday in Indiana.
Singleton won’t complain.
“He made a coaching change and I have to go with it. Live with it,” Singleton said.