RICHMOND -- For Randy Foye, training camp might as well have been dubbed "The Great Point Guard Experiment, Part II." The new Wizard, whom current Wizards assistant coach Randy Wittman tried to make a point guard when he was coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves, spent nearly every drill, scrimmage and set initiating the offense on the ball during the week-long training camp.
So how'd he grade out in his first preseason game? Well, there was that one possession in the second quarter where he missed a wide-open Mike Miller spotting up at the three-point line, instead flinging an off-balanced runner against three defenders. There was that other possession where he got to the basket, but had everyone collapse on him and eventually committed a turnover.
Through three quarters, Foye had five points on 1-5 shooting, with just one assist and two turnovers. He looked uncomfortable and unnatural, like a square peg in a round hole.
"In the beginning, [I] just had a little bit of jitters," Foye said. "New team, new guys, new offense, so I had to get accustomed to everything."
Then, in the fourth quarter, coach Flip Saunders put Miller in the game with Foye for an extended stretch. The result? Foye looked more comfortable, tallying nine points in the quarter, Miller was more involved in the offense and the Wizards pulled away to get a victory. Maybe it was the poor level of the opposition, but both players -- and the offense -- just looked more comfortable.
"In the fourth quarter, guys didn't really search shots," Saunders said after the game. "They just kind of played, moved the ball, and if a guy had a shot, he took it."
It's still very, very early, but the stint raises some interesting questions regarding both players' roles this season.
For Foye, it makes you wonder whether it makes sense for Saunders to employ him as a pure point guard like Gilbert Arenas. Last year in Minnesota, Foye spent time at both guard positions, but his production, at least offensively, was significantly better as a shooting guard than as a point guard. But with so many shooting guards already on the roster, Saunders and company have played Foye at point guard because it gives him the best chance to get playing time.
Earlier in training camp, Foye said he had a leg up on learning Saunders' system because Wittman ran a similar offense during his coaching tenure in Minnesota. He sounded confident that he was picking Flip's sets up. But once he had to do it in a game, Foye admitted that switching back to playing point guard was an adjustment.
"Last year, I was at the 2, and the point a little bit, but this is something new for me, so at the beginning, I had to get my mentality back of playing point guard and setting everyone up," he said.
True to his optimistic, steady nature, Foye said that he picked it up as the game continued, saying "once I got into the flow, that was it." But Saunders made a subtle change, one that probably empowered Foye as much as it empowered the team. Rather than rely on Foye to create shots for everybody, Saunders put the ball in Miller's hands more often on pick and rolls, allowing Foye to do some spotting up instead of feeling pressured to make every play.
"I tried to put [Miller] in there because I thought he would help Randy a little bit, calm him down, which I thought it did," Saunders said. "Randy looked pretty comfortable and he started knocking down some shots."
The result was that the Wizards scored 30 points in the final period, even though none of the starters were on the floor. More importantly, it provided Foye with some comfort and familiarity during a time when he's trying to re-learn yet another new approach to the game. Foye admitted afterwards that playing with Miller reminded him of their time together in Minnesota.
"Last year, when Mike would get rebounds, we used to just take off, because Mike could handle the ball," Foye said. "A couple times, I caught myself going off running, and I heard Coach saying 'Get the ball Randy!' so I had to run back."
The subtle switch also empowered Miller, who had previously been content to stand around and not get involved in the offense. Miller's problem in Minnesota was that he was too unselfish, but he barely made a dent doing anything in the second quarter yesterday because Foye was the one doing the creating. In the fourth quarter, however, Miller was setting others up, showing off his all-around game that many of us didn't believe he possessed. His numbers might not reflect his impact, but he was making plays that eventually led to open shots for others, like the time he delivered a beautiful touch pass to JaVale McGee for a huge slam.
"Randy [Foye] is still learning the [point guard] position; he's not really as vocal as you'd want him to be right now," Saunders said. "Mike gives you another facilitator. Mike's almost like a point guard that plays small forward, [because he can] handle the ball and get guys in their spots."
Miller left the locker room too quick for anyone to ask him questions last night, but all through training camp, he has talked about fitting in and making an impact on the floor without doing anything because of his shooting reputation. But as we saw yesterday, Miller has too many great skills that go to waste if he just serves as a spot-up shooter. Perhaps that's what Minnesota wanted him to do, but there are so many weapons here that Miller could be setting up.
One of those weapons is Randy Foye. For both players' sake, playing together and trading off the ball-handling duties might be the key in getting them both to adjust to a new situation.