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20 Days, 20 Questions: Injuries and early season progress

With the first day of Wizards training camp coming, Bullets Forever is asking 20 questions about key issues with the team in 2010/11.

As we discussed in the previous post in this series, the Wizards had a "strong-ish" finish to the year. When you combine the progress that the young Wizards made with the return of Gilbert Arenas, and the new additions there are reasons to feel a little optimism for the team. However, as is often the case with the Wizards good news is often accompanied by bad news - you know, like the free-loading cousin that shows up at your house with your brother.

The Wizards were able to generate a little momentum at the end of the season due to their play in the final 10 games. The Wizards would like nothing better but to build upon that effort. Unfortunately, the team's early season progress could be affected by injuries to three players who are expected to play a significant role with the team - Josh Howard, Andray Blatche and Yi Jianlian.

Question 17: How much will the injuries to Josh Howard, Andray Blatche and Yi Jianlian affect team progress early in the season?

First let's quickly recap their injuries:

  • Yi Jianlian - Pain in his Achilles' tendon kept him out of a game against Turkey at the FIBA Worlds. The results of a MRI were negative and the injury was not considered serious. After a little rest, Yi started in China's final game against Lithuania. The Wizards believe that with some rest, following the tournament, Yi should be 100% by the start of training camp.
  • Andray Blatche - In mid-June Andray Blatche broke his fifth metatarsal in his right foot, which required surgery to correct. Originally, it was predicted that it would take three months to recover possibly keeping him out of training camp. Blatche, who had a protective boot removed from his foot in late August, is predicting that he will be ready for the start of training camp. The team is happy with his progress but does not want to rush him back unnecessarily and risk aggravating the injury.
  • Josh Howard - Howard tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) on February 22nd in his fourth game with the Wizards (vs. Chicago Bulls). Howard had surgery in mid-march and the recovery was expected to take between six to eight months. Howard's recovery has progressed faster than was expected. And while the Wizards do not expect him to be ready at the start of the regular season, Howard's agent, according to Michael Lee, has said that he "could be able to go full speed by October."

The Wizards dodged a bullet with Yi as his injury turned out only to be inflammation of the tendon and will not be a factor. The news about Andray Blatche is encouraging as well. Quietly, Blatche was begging to show the type of work ethic that many wished for him since he originally signed with the team. Hopefully, he does not push it too fast, too soon and re-injure his foot. Assuming that does not happen, it is very likely that the Wizards will try to be conservative with Blatche, but that he will be ready before the regular season gets underway.

The Wizards also have the benefit of having two guys at Power Forward who have started in the NBA. If for some unlikely reason, Andray Blatche's injury were to linger they have the option, unlike last year, to start Yi Jianlian and have Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and possibly Hilton Armstrong come off the bench. Their roster, particularly at Power Forward, provides them with a great deal of flexibility.

Only slightly more problematic is Josh Howard and the Small Forward position. It is only slightly because they did not finish the year with him on the active roster due to his injury. It is great news that Howard appears to be recovering more quickly than is expected. However, it is still very likely that when he returns he will still need time to fully get into game shape and get his game back to a pre-injury level.

Gone is Mike Miller who split time between Shooting Guard and Small Forward last season. So while Howard is fully mending, the majority of the Small Forward minutes will likely fall to Al Thornton, Nick Young and possibly Cartier Martin (assuming he makes the final roster). The Wizards also have the flexibility to switch up their lineups and have Hinrich play some Small Forward when they go to a smaller lineup. When the Wizards want to go with a bigger lineup they can potentially use either Andray Blatche or Yi Jianlian in that role, but likely for limited minutes. The Wizards also have the possibility of using Trevor Booker at the position to potentially match up with the bigger, more physical Small Forwards.

Barring further setbacks to these three players, these particular injuries should not have a significant impact on the Wizards play in the early part of the season. Overall, the team has more talent on the roster than it had at the end of last season, and it has more flexibility with players who can play multiple positions. The most significant injury is to Josh Howard, but the Wizards have enough options that should provide them with enough time to allow Howard to fully work himself back into form.