Guessing Flip Saunders' player rotation in August isn't going to be easy when there are so many players who have started games for their respective teams in the last two years. Hell, it's already en vogue for us to throw out names of Wizards that we "shouldn't forget about," as some of us already have.
So take this declaration as an educated guess of sorts, since it's the best we can do at this point.
Okay. There's one guy who has started to become an afterthought that has a much better chance of cracking Flip's top eight than most believe. Yes, it's true that the Wizards just traded for two guys that can play his primary positions. It's also true that he plays the same position as DeShawn Stevenson, a returning starter from two years ago provided he remains healthy. But judging from Flip's past history, I'd say this guy's got a great chance to vault into the top eight.
That guy is Dominic McGuire.
A case for Dominic McGuire to crack the rotation has to begin with what he's done as a Wizard. In a season where pretty much nothing went right, McGuire was the only guy who displayed some growth. He was provided an opportunity when Ed Tapscott took over and did enough to earn over 26 minutes a game. We can argue forever over whether McGuire deserved his opportunity, whether he played as well as the coaching staff thought or whether he was given a longer leash compared to the team's other young players, but the bottom line is that he stayed consistent enough to play very important minutes.
The case for McGuire also has to include the argument that he provides a unique skill set. We've fallen a bit too much in love with McGuire's defense -- it's got potential, but he still loses his man too easily off the ball -- but the very fact that he emphasizes defense over offense makes him a unique player on this roster. McGuire's also one of the best rebounding wings in the league (his rebound percentage of 12.1% would have put him fifth among small forwards if John Hollinger actually listed him there) and he won't use up too many possessions and steal shots from the offensive-minded guys on the team. Plus, in a rotation that gives eight guys most of the minutes, you need players who can swing between positions like McGuire.
However, the best case for Dominic McGuire would be to simply look back at Flip Saunders-coached teams. Every single successful Flip Saunders team has given major minutes to a defensive-oriented, long wing player who can stand at the point of Flip's zone (or guard the other team's top wing) and quarterback the defense. In Detroit, of course, that guy was Tayshaun Prince, who obviously has much more of a polished offensive game than McGuire, but is a very similar type of player. As the point man in Saunders' zoneish schemes, Prince's length and quickness helped keep Detroit near the top of the defensive rankings. McGuire possesses the same type of length and quickness even if he doesn't have the polish or the offensive game.
But the best case study for McGuire involves considering Saunders' tenure in Minnesota. During the 2003/04 season, when the Timberwolves won 58 games and would have made the Finals if Sam Cassell didn't get hurt in the playoffs, Trenton Hassell of all people averaged 28 minutes a game despite scoring just 6.5 points/36 minutes and posting a pathetic 8.2 PER. Like Washington, the 03/04 Timberwolves had a lot of offensive names. Cassell and Latrell Sprewell were just acquired, and despite being vets, they still were very good offensive players. Flip also had Wally Szczerbiak, formerly the second option behind Kevin Garnett, and Troy Hudson, an offensive-minded combo guard who had a great playoff series against the Lakers in 2002/03. And yet, among that mix, Trenton Hassell of all people ended up playing the fourth-most minutes per game on the team.
Why? He played defense and didn't use any possessions offensively to hurt his team. That earned him significantly more playing time than offensive guys like Szczerbiak and Hudson.
There are a lot of statistical similarities between Hassell's 2003/04 season and McGuire's campaign last year. The teams are also set up in a similar way -- Washington, like Minnesota then, has a lot of offensive-first name guys. Other than Kevin Garnett and possibly veteran center Ervin Johnson, nobody on the Wolves leaned defense-first ... except for Hassell. That alone got Hassell a ton of minutes despite his major limitations.
Hassell's case is a good precedent for Dominic McGuire. Don't be surprised if we see history repeat itself.