How Scott Brooks Disperses Minutes at the "5" Has Become Center of Attention | Wizards Blog Truth About

Wizards “5” Man is Now The Center of Attention

Updated: October 8, 2018

(Photo courtesy of Baltimore Sun)

Scott Brooks sent a ripple effect through Wizards twitter  before the team’s third preseason game when he announced that Dwight Howard would be returning to D.C. to receive a pain injection. Howard suffered a setback in his recovery from a back injury after going through a light workout with Wizards coaches on Saturday. He woke up with back soreness on Sunday, and after seeing a specialist in New York City on Monday, the Wizards decided the best course of action was to send Dwight back to D.C.  Not only does this severely decrease the chances that Howard will play any preseason basketball but it also jeopardizes his availability for the season opener against the Miami Heat on October 18th.

Howard was signed this offseason to be the team’s franchise center after they traded away Marcin Gortat, who had been in the starting lineup for five years as a Wizard. With Gortat gone and Howard yet to officially step on the court, it puts Scott Brooks in a compromising position in terms of how he will distribute 48 minutes per game for the center position.

Ian Mahinmi has started all three preseason games and has honestly looked the best he has in a Wizards uniform after signing his four year, $64 million contract in the summer of 2016. Mahinmi credits having his first healthy offseason in quite some time as the reason he has been able to look so spry on the court this season. “These last two years, I would have to wait until the second part of the season to get my rhythm. I felt like this year, having a healthy summer, I’m ready now,” Mahinmi told the media scrum after the Wizards last preseason game against the Heat. Combine that with the fact that Ian has worked diligently on improving his outside shot and has even hit multiple three-point shots this preseason, he is a more than serviceable option to play 20-25 minutes per game at center.

The Wizards have planned on exploring more ways to get Markieff Morris involved at center this season, after playing him sparingly there last season. Markieff has commented that playing center is not something that is new to him since he played center at Kansas, next to his twin brother Marcus who started at power forward. Going into the summer, Keef knew that he could possibly be in this position and even commented in his exit interview that he would take extra steps in order to prepare for playing more center “I’m up to any challenge. Get in the weight room and put on a few pounds. Whatever I gotta do,” Morris told reporters.

Morris missed Monday’s 110-98 win against the Knicks because of a sore abdomen and it is also worth mentioning that he had surgery on that abdomen before the start of last season.  That surgery contributed to his slow start last season since he was unable to have a normal training summer. Keef is probably the team’s best option for finishing games at the center position as he gives the team a high level of versatility on the defensive end with his ability to guard perimeter players, while holding his own on the block.

Jeff Green, who has spent the majority of his career playing the small forward position, replaced Morris at the starting forward position against the Knicks.   One of the things that was quite noticeable when Jeff Green walked around at media day is that he is a legitimate 6-foot-9 which means he has the necessary size to guard bigger players in the post. Against the Knicks, Green was tabbed to play minutes at center in a small-ball lineup that consisted of Green-Porter-Rivers-Beal-Wall.  Even at age 32, Green has is still an elite NBA-level athlete and he was able to put that on display in Madison Square Garden Monday night. Look for Green to use that athleticism and versatility to create a variety of lineup options for Scott Brooks this season.

The Wizards also unveiled an super small-ball lineup that consisted of Otto Porter playing center and if the Wizards injuries at the position continue to pile up, we could be seeing Porter at center more. Washington was able to get away with playing super small against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden because New York played without their top two big men, Enes Kanter and Mitchell Robinson. It is one thing for Porter to get minutes against viable big men, and something  completely different for Scott Brooks to experiment against the likes of Luke Kornet.

There are two more traditional options at the center position on the Wizards bench in Jason Smith and Thomas Bryant. Smith is an NBA journeyman who is coming off of the worst season of his career in which he shot 39 percent from the field and 12 percent from three-point range. Having Smith on the roster is good to balance out the locker room with a veteran presence and by all accounts, he’s a pro’s pro, but if he has to have any major basketball related role on this team, something went drastically wrong.

Thomas Bryant flashed a bit of potential as a stretch big man in his showcase at NBA summer league and Bryant had been building up on that momentum by having a strong training camp and earning an increased role within the team. Bryant entered the game late in first quarter and  played eight minutes of total game action.  He had seven points and six rebounds in the first half but left the game in the third quarter after taking a nasty fall on a rebound attempt. Bryant left the floor with the help of two Wizards teammates and could not put any weight on that left leg. The second-year pro seemed ready to seize a potential opportunity to carve out an early season role with the uncertainty of Dwight Howard’s injury, but now his own availability may be in doubt.

Washington has a few options to serve as stop-gaps until Dwight Howard returns, which is not a luxury this team has had in the past. Attribute that to Ian finally being healthy and Scott Brooks’ forward thinking of realizing that he has to adapt to the changing style of play in the NBA. The Wizards can play big, but as we may be quickly learning they are also versatile enough to play a fierce brand of small-ball.

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. Bylines on bylines on bylines.

Will write for food.