Admiral Schofield has his own space, but like all of the young Wizards players, he must abandon it the moment Bradley Beal beckons his crew to pregame chapel.
These are the four candidates to start at small forward when the Wizards begin the regular season Oct. 23: a second-year player packed with potential but who needs more court time to learn the game, a training-camp invitee who signed a non-guaranteed contract (that doesn’t come with a locker during the preseason), a rookie who has to do what he is told and a veteran accustomed to fighting for a roster spot.
Most of the Wizards’ starting lineup is secured. Beal and Ish Smith are set in the backcourt, and Thomas Bryant and No. 9 draft pick Rui Hachimura, most likely, will anchor the front line. But injuries have eliminated top small forwards Troy Brown Jr. and CJ Miles from the rotation for the foreseeable future, leaving the Wizards with a decision to make ahead of the opener in Dallas.
“It’s still open,” Coach Scott Brooks said Friday night in New York. “We got a lot of guys that are fighting for opportunities and, like I said, it’s not just talk — it’s wide open. Especially with all of the injuries, it’s really wide open.”
So open, in fact, that a player who under normal circumstances would have been happy winning the 14th or 15th spot on the roster could become a starter.
Anderson earned the attention of Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard in workouts over the summer and signed a one-year deal to compete for a roster spot. But like any player without a guaranteed contract, he could be waived by Oct. 21. Anderson, a 2015 first-round draft pick, can help as an athletic defender and floor-spacing wing, but he said he has not focused on the possibility of becoming a Day 1 starter.
“Obviously, it would be great to be a starter. Obviously, I feel like I can really help this team,” Anderson said. “But as far as the race, I kind of have tunnel vision. I don’t want to look to the left or to the right of me. I know Usain Bolt, he looks to the left of him because he knows he’s so much far ahead of everybody, but my thing is I want to put myself in a position to not look back.”
The Wizards converted McRae’s two-way contract to a standard deal in April, but his salary will not become fully guaranteed until Dec. 20. McRae is no stranger to this precarious scenario. While he was with Cleveland during the 2016-17 season, his contract did not become guaranteed until January. And last season in the Wizards’ organization, McRae spent the majority of the year dominating G League defenses by averaging 30.4 points and only playing significant NBA minutes near the end of the campaign.
Against the Knicks on Friday, McRae made his best argument for starting when he hit his first six shots and finished with 15 points in a 115-99 win.
“I’ve honestly been in these situations since I’ve been in the league,” McRae said. “So not that you want to get comfortable getting used to it, but I’ve been in it before so I already kind of know what to expect.”
If the Wizards truly want to lean into their youth movement — and live with the shaky results — then Bonga or Schofield could get consideration for the starting spot. The players’ vast potential, however, may not be enough to prove they are ready for the assignment.
The physical possibilities for Bonga, whose 7-foot wingspan enticed the Los Angeles Lakers to trade for him on draft night a year ago, are impressive. With his 6-8 frame, he can play the wing and potentially make plays as a big point guard. He is also light enough on his feet to be active on the defensive end. But Bonga logged only 22 games in the NBA during his rookie season with the Lakers, so his experience is limited.
Bonga started Sunday night against the Bucks but picked up those two fouls within four seconds in the first four minutes. With 8:20 remaining in the third quarter, Bonga, who did not practice during the opening days of training camp because of knee soreness, needed help leaving the court. The team later announced he had suffered a left ankle strain, and he did not return. Bonga finished the game scoreless with one rebound and one assist in 16 minutes.
“I think he has a pretty good feel for the game,” Brooks said recently. “He needs some experience. These are great opportunities for him to get some experience, especially since we have a lot of guys that are out.”
Schofield filled in for Bonga in the second half Sunday and showed off his range by making an open corner three. But Schofield, a muscular, 6-4 wing, concentrated more on the defensive end. He matched up at times against a similarly built player in Thanasis Antetokounmpo and tried to stop his free movement.
The Wizards ultimately received little offensive production from the small forward spot: Anderson and Schofield finished with five points each on a combined 3-for-7 shooting. Just one preseason game remains Friday in Philadelphia, and the four-man race for the small forward starting job continues.
“It literally feels like I’m waiting for a middle school tryout to see if my name is on the list,” Anderson said. “I’m just locked in, trying to get a locker. It’s a brand new situation for me. I don’t want any sympathy. I don’t want any handouts. I want to earn everything. I’m not used to any other way.”