The news that John Wall would miss the first month of the 2012-13 season with a stress injury to his left patella has shaken the curiosity and optimism Wizards fans once had about a squad which many figured could push for playoff spot.
The team already had no shortage of interesting storylines heading into training camp. How healthy is Nene? How long before Bradley Beal "earns" the starting shooting guard spot and Jordan Crawford assumes his natural position as a bench scorer? How will Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza mesh with their new teammates? Is Jan Vesely's jumper really as improved as it seemed in summer league? How do Chris Singleton and Trevor Booker find their way into a pretty crowded forward rotation? But those have all been hijacked by the burning question of how the Wizards will survive the first month of the season without their franchise player.
Yesterday, Thomas examined which free agents could potentially fill the massive void left by Wall's injury. In a conference call with reporters hours after Wall's injury was announced, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld did not rule out the possibility of of bringing in a free agent, but he also claimed to be comfortable with the players already on the roster.
So which of the current Wizards is most able to fill in while Wall rehabs during the first month of the season? There are quite a few options, but for various reasons, each is less than ideal. Let's take a look:
Jordan Crawford: Let's start with Crawford, whom Jake argued is the Wizards' best in-house option simply because he's the most talented. There's little question that Crawford is a better scorer and more dynamic player than A.J. Price or Shelvin Mack. He is a capable ball-handler has also shown that he can be a creative and effective passer when he wants to be. Crawford even looked good while playing point guard in spurts immediately following the 2011 trade which brought him over from the Hawks, prompting the coaching staff to experiment with using him as a swing guard backing up both Wall and Nick Young to begin the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. But that experiment ended quickly after Crawford struggled mightily getting the offense into its sets, and Mack soon took over as Wall's designated backup.
With Wall out, Crawford becomes the Wizards' primary threat in the backcourt, but I worry what it will do to the rest of the offense if he's asked to initiate it. Those concerns could be allayed somewhat if Nene starts the season healthy; because he's such an effective passer out of the high post, the Wizards could have him initiate much of the offense with Crawford merely bringing the ball upcourt. In theory, this would allow the Wizards to start Crawford and Bradley Beal together, giving the team two legitimate scoring threats on the wing.
A.J. Price: This is probably the most obvious answer, since Price was brought in to serve as Wall's backup. Price is certainly not someone you want starting at point guard for a playoff-caliber team, but he's a steady veteran and tough defender who's played on playoff squads. If you're looking for someone who can best get the offense into its sets quickly, Price is your answer. He's a decent passer, but not much of a shooter, though his three-point shooting percentage is higher than Crawford's.
Basically, Price is the definition of a backup point guard and lacks Crawford's upside at the position, but he also doesn't struggle as Crawford can at a point guard's core tasks, which is initiating offense and distributing the ball.
Shelvin Mack: like Mack. He's tough, a willing defender and can be a crafty scorer when he's assertive. But good gracious did he struggle bringing the ball upcourt against pressure in the summer league. And if he got exposed at that level, imagine what NBA point guards could do to Mack if he's forced into starter's minutes. Mack is worth keeping around, but I don't want him leading the starting offense until he shows he can deal with full-court pressure and become less tentative in the half court.
Bradley Beal: This may surprise some people, but it wouldn't shock me at all if Wizards coach Randy Wittman gave his first-round pick a real look at playing point guard in training camp and the preseason. Beal said prior to the draft that he wanted to develop his point guard skills and showed during summer league that he can be a playmaker as well as a scorer. He even brought the ball up on occasion and didn't seem to have much difficulty doing so against pressure. It would be a lot to ask of the rookie to lead the offense in his first month as a professional -- not to mention it would kind of go against the whole making-him-earn-a-starting-job thing -- but I think Beal has the mindset and the maturity to handle any role asked of him. It's not very likely you'll see Beal fill in at point, at least not for extended stretches, but I don't think he can be eliminated from the discussion.
Steven Gray - Okay, maybe Gray isn't an official member of the roster per se, but he's been invited to training camp and counts as an "in-house" option as far as I'm concerned. That said, there's zero chance you'll see Gray start any games for the Wizards this season unless something truly catastrophic happens, like Crawford getting left behind at the airport. Gray had some decent moments during summer league, but it's hard to see how the Wizards would ever benefit from having him on the court given their other options. If they're looking for a fifth guard who could also log some minutes at the point, they can do better in free agency.
Ultimately, I'd prefer keeping Crawford where he's more comfortable off the ball and have Price run the point until Wall gets back, with Mack and Beal both coming off the bench. There will undoubtedly be times where Wittman wants Beal and Crawford on the floor together, so I would be surprised if the coach doesn't give Beal some time at point guard in the preseason just to see if he's more comfortable initiating the offense than Crawford is.
What do you make of the Wizards in-house options at point guard? Who do you think is most likely to fill in for Wall come Oct. 30? Let us know in the comments and poll below.