Earl Barron's play vs. the Hawks exposes the problem in the middle

Rob Carr

The decision to start Earl Barron in the second half against the Hawks on Tuesday said as much about Barron's play as it did about the state of the rest of the Wizards' front court.

WASHINGTON -- Here's a transcript of an exchange that I thought was noteworthy following Tuesday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks:

Reporter: What made you go to [Earl] Barron?

Randy Wittman: Activity. I mean, this guy, there wasn't a play run for him. He gets 10 shots, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Activity. I mean, I'm not getting enough activity out of that spot. I'm looking for somebody that's going to step up and show me that, and he did tonight. You know, we just can't continue along and go through the motions and think you're going to play night in and night out.

---

Earl Barron: [Coach Wittman] just wanted to see some energy, and for me to try to give us a little boost out there. He wanted me to just play hard. At halftime he told me I was going to start, so I just had to prepare myself. ...This league is a matter of being ready when your name is called. Coach threw me in there tonight unexpectedly and I was ready to go out there and battle.

Barron played 26 minutes against the Hawks. Now, 26 minutes may not seem like a lot, but considering that he's only played seven other minutes the entire month of December and has been DNP-ed 13 times this season, last night's game was significant for both Barron and the Wizards.

Here's the minutes allocation breakdown for all the Wizards bigs:

  • Earl Barron: 26
  • Emeka Okafor: 25
  • Nene: 24 (four minutes over his allotted minutes to not re-aggravate his foot injury)
  • Kevin Seraphin: 20
  • Chris Singleton: 11
  • Jan Vesely: 0 (DNP-CD)

By starting Barron alongside Emeka Okafor in the second half, Randy Wittman seems to have fully embraced the "Positions be damned! I want production!" attitude. (Then again, you could say that's why he started Chris Singleton at power forward to begin with, since Singleton himself is a small forward.)

It's clear from Wittman's statement above that the lack of point guards on the roster isn't the only issue the team faces on a nightly basis. Maybe you could assume that Josh Smith and Al Horford just frustrated the hell out of the Wizards bigs last night, but Wittman's words point to a recurring problem: who is the most reliable big man on this team?

Barron had a fantastic game against the Hawks, and he'll likely get more minutes or even a start in the next few games. Another game, another starting lineup change, right? Now, Barron could be the best big on the team; he certainly played like it last night. But he has been in the league since the 2005-2006 season and has played in 121 games (started 28). As much as the Wizards needed his strong play last night, I'm going to assume it was more of an outlier game than an indication of things to come. A player with a career average of 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game is not the future of the front court on this team. However, his energy was noted and needed last night, and I'd be more than happy to see him fit back into the rotation.

I think most of us would agree that this team is completely different when Nene is on the court. However, with a nagging foot injury that's sometimes-sidelining and sometimes-minute-restricting, he's only on the floor a (usual) max of 20 minutes per night. It's not through his play that he's not reliable--only through his minutes.

Emeka Okafor is his own story. The upper brass brought him in because of his collegiate winning pedigree and presumably because this team needed some more maturity from its big men (well, it needed maturity everywhere, but particularly with big men). Unfortunately, in terms of on-court production, Okafor is averaging career-lows in just about every category: minutes, points, rebounds, blocks (tied for career low). His turnovers are better, but that might just be a reflection of seeing 11 fewer minutes on the floor per game than his career average.

The last time the Wizards played the Hawks, Kevin Seraphin turned 23 years old. He also didn't see it fit to celebrate his birthday because he felt guilty celebrating when the Wizards weren't playing in ways that warranted celebration. Since that game, he has averaged almost nine points and six rebounds in 27 minutes per game, and he has taken a total of three free throws. Maybe he should have had a birthday party to life his spirits and put a little pep in his step. He needs to be doing a LOT more on the floor, especially after what he showed us at the end of last season.

Vesely is Vesely is Vesely. We haven't seen him on the court because Wittman hasn't seen enough from him in practice (otherwise, he'd be getting some burn, right?). If and when John Wall returns this season, we'll see more minutes out of Vesely. In the meantime, he needs to be sent to the D-League. He'll only get better by playing.

And then there's Chris Singleton. Singleton was drafted last year to be the defensive-stopper-small-forward on the team. He started most games last season and he didn't quite live up to his ACC Defensive Player of the Year expectations. He also didn't play well offensively. During summer league and into this season, Singleton has been thrust into a role as power forward. On paper, he seems like a great "stretch-4": he's quick, he's long, he can shoot above 35 percent from 3, and he can even play close to the basket. Trouble is, this team needs more of a proper 4 than a stretch 4, and Singleton's play has dwindled in that area as of late. And by as of late, I mean this whole godforsaken season, when he's been averaging five points and four rebounds per game.

Last night, the front court didn't kill the Wizards. They put up a valiant effort against Horford and Smith (who finished the night with a combined 24 rebounds), and Barron was a huge part of that fight. But as much energy as Barron can bring on a nightly basis, and as much as he doesn't get dispirited by not playing on a nightly basis (it really is a measure of maturity and experience to not get dejected by erratic minutes), he's not the answer to the Wizards front line woes. I'm not sure anyone on the roster is, frankly. But Wittman is right: the front line needs more activity, and it needs it sooner rather than later.

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