The Washington Wizards have struggled to a 0-3 record through their first three games. Blame injuries, blame the schedule, blame the lack of continuity in the starting lineup. But at the end of the day, the team just isn't performing, and some people are already talking about altering the starting lineup.
A large part of the Wizards' struggles has been a lack of production from starting small forward Trevor Ariza. Brought in to provide defense and a veteran role model for the youngsters, Ariza has accomplished neither, struggling to score, rebound, and defend and appearing to be completely devoid of intensity. Even more frustratingly, the much lower-paid and less well-known Martell Webster and Chris Singleton are outplaying him every time they see the floor, while shooting specialist and competent defender Cartier Martin continues to wait in the wings.
In theory, all four small forwards could see action in any particular game, especially if Coach Randy Wittman is willing to experiment with Martin at shooting guard and/or Singleton at power forward. In practice, though, all four players are more effective at small forward, and having too many players coming in and out of games could hurt the team's chemistry. Ideally, the Wizards would have a two-man small forward rotation in which each player sees between 20 and 32 minutes of action a night.
So who should those two players be? The case for each is made below.
Trevor Ariza: Ariza would have to make a concerted effort to continue to do as poorly as he has through his first three games in DC. He's a weak shooter who has demonstrated solid (if overrated) defensive chops for every team he's played for thus far, and should improve once he gets his head on straight. That said, his main selling point is his defense. Effort is a large part of defense. Ariza's level of effort isn't good. As a result, his defense hasn't been as good as advertised, and even when he's at his best, he's not the man-to-man stopper that Washington really needs to slot next to Bradley Beal while he gets accustomed to NBA defense.
Martell Webster: You really can't say enough about how good Webster has been this year, especially if you include the pre-season. Known primarily for not living up to his draft status (6th overall in 2005) and his sweet jump shot, Webster has been a force in D.C., setting an example with his hustle and intensity while spacing the floor, defending, and even creating a little bit of offense off the dribble. Webster tended to get tunnel vision with the ball and toss up low-percentage shots during previous stops in Minnesota and Portland, making him a natural fit for a role as a bench scorer or starter next to a ball-dominant point guard.
Cartier Martin: Someone please explain why it's taken this guy so long to get a guaranteed full-season contract. Martin's not a spectacular player, and he's a flammable defender in the wrong situation, but the guy knows where to be, is an excellent shooter, and can create the occasional shot off the dribble. While a lot of his skillset overlaps with Webster's, that's really not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the Wizards aren't facing a team with a strong scorer at either wing spot. Martin has only played limited minutes so far this year, but if he's basically the same player he's always been, he could fit in really well, especially once the Wizards have more shot-creators available to find him open looks.
Chris Singleton: Singleton is the biggest x-factor on the Wizards right now. Ariza's underperforming, but like Webster and to a lesser extent Martin, he's a known quantity. That's not quite the case with Singleton. After a brutal rookie year, he's come back looking a lot more aggressive, a little more polished, and maybe, just maybe, someone who might exceed expectations. Singleton has two big problems right now: he's not experienced enough to be a true stopper on the wing, and he has no offensive role other than the occasional corner three-pointer. However, he's flashed a somewhat accurate set-shot in Summer League and pre-season, and has become more aggressive attacking the basket. The main drawback to playing Singleton a lot of minutes as opposed to Webster or Martin is that he can't create off of the dribble. That's less of a problem when Wall, Nene, and Seraphin are out there with him, but with the team as starved for shot creation as it currently is, whether or not Singleton's recent success with the ball is a product of a small sample size or a genuine improvement in his game could decide whether he's a prominent member of the team or an end-of-rotation player.