The dunk was emphatic enough, accentuated by screams from the Washington Wizards’ bench. And despite failing to stick the landing, Martell Webster truly announced his return Saturday night with a one-handed windmill jam over Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo that left the Wizards swingman on his back side.
Webster had missed the previous two games with a bad back, and if he felt any pain, Webster didn’t show it as he mostly patted his forehead to make sure he wasn’t cut. And after Drew Gooden helped him up, Webster didn’t reveal much emotion aside from an angry snarl as his teammates huffed and hooted on sideline, gleefully slapping five with him.
“My teammates loved it,” Webster said with a shrug after scoring 15 points off the bench in the Wizards’ 114-107 victory at Bradley Center. “I guess I feel good about it.”
Whereas a dunk like that probably would’ve resulted in a joke or two last season, Webster has been more subdued in his second season with the team, providing postgame entertainment in smaller doses. Webster’s laughter and nonstop chatter seemed to always keep the mood loose, but he has picked his spots, choosing the well-timed videobomb as his go-to move.
For the most part, though, Webster has quietly gone about his business, with his diminished theatrics also reflecting a season that hasn’t gone quite the way he expected after cashing in on a career season by signing a four-year, $22 million contract last summer.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” said Webster, the Wizards’ leading scorer off the bench this season at 10.7 points per game.
Statistically, Webster is having an almost identical season to his first in Washington: He’s playing basically the same minutes, shooting basically the same percentage from the field, averaging slightly fewer points but marginally more three-pointers and shooting close to 40 percent from long distance. But he also has played through a nagging left ankle injury and other unmentioned ailments while adjusting to a frequently changing Wizards second unit.
Webster made a noble gesture during training camp, publicly declaring he would be willing to come off the bench to avoid any controversy after Trevor Ariza made it abundantly clear he wasn’t comfortable being a backup again.
“For Martell to do that helped the whole situation,” said Coach Randy Wittman, who has split the minutes at the wing positions between Ariza, Webster and Bradley Beal. “There wasn’t a feeling sorry or a ‘Why am I not . . . ?’ ”
With Webster taking a step back after starting 62 games last season, Ariza has thrived as the starting small forward and produced a career season that likely will lead to a lucrative contract this summer. Benefiting from sharing the floor with John Wall, Ariza already has made 10 more three-pointers than Webster did last season, when Webster made 139 — which, at the time, was the most by any Wizard in five years.
“We have a team that understands what it takes to win. Nobody is worried about who’s taking what shots, who’s scoring the points,” Ariza said. “As long as we win, that’s all that matters to anybody over here. That just shows the kind of character that we have.”
The Wizards’ bench has undergone several transformations this season, with the team now finding some success with veteran point guard Andre Miller, acquired at the trade deadline, running the reserves with fellow 30-somethings Al Harrington and Drew Gooden. But Webster has also had to learn to play first with Eric Maynor, who has since been traded to Philadelphia, and Garrett Temple, a defensive specialist who now receives spot duty.
Webster has started 13 games this season, filling in while Ariza and Beal dealt with injuries. But the second-unit shuffle has resulted in some inconsistent performances, and the 27-year-old Webster said he has been frustrated at times trying to find his niche in the offense.
“You’re a creature of habits, and I’ve had a habit of being in situations where I have to go through adversity and I adapt,” Webster said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of my close confidants and family that understands the game, and they’ve been saying to me, ‘The most important thing is you can always give effort and play defense.’
“I’m a shooter, so shots are going to fluctuate, the makes and misses,” he said. “But you can never have an excuse on the defensive end of the floor, and for me, it took stepping back and really reevaluating yourself and understanding where my mind-set was and too focused on offense. I can be a man and admit that.”
Webster played just 25 minutes in Milwaukee, but he made two huge shots in the second half, converting a three-point play to push the Wizards’ lead to 15 in the third quarter and making another three-pointer to put them ahead 90-80.
“He’s a professional,” Wall said of Webster. “When he’s healthy he knows he’s a big part of our team and he has to be aggressive for us to win.”
The Wizards (33-29) are fifth in the Eastern Conference as they prepare to face the Miami Heat for the third time this season Monday and should give Webster the chance to make the postseason for the first time since 2010, when he played in Portland. That push has made this season worthwhile.
“No matter what, if it’s seven, 10, 15 minutes, whatever I’m playing, I’ve got to go out there and be productive,” Webster said. “A lot of people end up regretting all the decisions they make in their career because they felt like they deserved something better and they felt like everything was against them and they end up looking at it at the end of their career like, ‘I’ve always had it great.’
“I have it great,” Webster continued. “I can’t complain.”