The “AARP Group” nickname affectionately thrust upon the Washington Wizards‘ experienced trio of reserves by Coach Randy Wittman doesn’t exactly do the unit justice.
Yes, Drew Gooden has populated the roster of 10 different teams in his 11-year career. Yes, Al Harrington is the team’s most grizzled veteran with 15 years of NBA experience since jumping from the preps to pros in 1998. And yes, Andre Miller is the epitome of old school with his deliberate pace and affinity for playing with his back to the basket as a guard.
But in 19 games together, the trio has served as a strong source of energy off the bench, combining for averages of 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists. In the past two games, however, the Wizards’ reserves have struggled, totaling just 34 points in efforts that will need to improve should Washington hope to win Wednesday’s pivotal game against Charlotte and be competitive in next week’s playoffs.
“It’s been tough for the first and second groups,” Gooden said. “The last game we just totally got dominated. I’d say by far that’s the worst butt-whipping we’ve had since I’ve been here and [Wittman] said it’s the worst of the season. … We tried to fight back against the Bulls but it was a little too deep of a hole. But I think we’re going to respond well on Wednesday.”
Of the eight lineups that have played in at least 15 games this season, the Wizards’ second unit of Gooden, Harrington, Miller, Bradley Beal and Martell Webster has recorded the best field-goal percentage (50.6), the third-most points (18.9) and the fourth-most rebounds (7.5).
Though the group features only one starter in Beal, it boasts a sound balance of sharpshooters (Beal and Webster), court awareness (Miller), rebounding and aggression (Gooden) and versatility on both ends of the floor (Harrington).
“Coming in we heard about how the bench had woes and didn’t really have a consistent scoring punch off the bench,” Gooden said. “Add Andre, me and Al coming in there healthy, we brought some veteran leadership and showed that second unit can score some points and get some shots on offense.”
Still, Washington currently ranks 29th in the NBA in bench scoring with 25.6 points per game. The Wizards are in “good” company, as Brooklyn stands as the only Eastern Conference playoff team ranked in the top 15, as Indiana and Toronto rank just ahead of Washington’s mark.
While the Wizards’ current reserves have been together for just 19 of the team’s 77 games, Miller, who has made nine postseason appearances in his career, knows that the reserves must overcome their recent woes in order to boost the team’s chances of a playoff run.
“It’s tough to come together as veterans every game to come out there and be producing,” Miller continued. “We’re playing against some young guys. I think we’ve done a decent job.”said Miller, who was shipped over from Denver in February. “For the short amount of time we’ve been out there, we’ve done an okay job. There’s been times when we haven’t been as cohesive as we can coming into games. I’d give it like a B-minus.”
With Nene expected to return in a reserve role for Wednesday’s game against Charlotte before gradually increasing his minutes during the team’s final week of regular-season play, the bench will gain another capable scorer and rebounder. But whether that be Nene, Trevor Booker (who has started since Nene went down six weeks ago) or the AARP Group, all of the Wizards’ reserves must capitalize during their time on the floor.
“The opportunities we get out there, we just try to do the best that we can, whether it’s protecting the lead or trying get in a rhythm to get the team back in the game,” Miller said. “We definitely can play … but our time has passed and the young guys, this is their team, and it’s our job to be out there and support them for whatever happens.”