This is our eighth Summer Checklist piece where we break down an area of weakness each player on the roster can improve. Previously: Bradley Beal | John Wall | Marcin Gortat | Nene | Otto Porter | Paul Pierce | Kris Humphries
For those of you who are new to watching the Washington Wizards, here's quick summary of what we have learned about Glen Rice Jr., to this point in his career.
1. Glen Rice Jr. has mastered the D-League
After struggling to earn playing time early in his D-League career, Rice broke out with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2013. The team surged once he was inserted into the lineup in February and he helped the Vipers win their final 16 games as they cruised to the D-League title. In the playoffs, he averaged 25 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as he turned himself into a viable draft prospect.
Rice spent some more time in the D-League last season, with the Wizards' then-affiliate, the Iowa Energy. His first stint was to rehab the wrist he injured while celebrating Bradley Beal's game winner in New York, then he was sent back down to Iowa in late February to get some playing time, since he was racking up DNP's in Washington. In his return to the D-League, he averaged 22.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per 36 minutes, while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three. While efficiency waned a bit from his peak with the Vipers the previous season, he made it pretty clear there's not much more he would gain from completing the trilogy this season.
2. Glen Rice Jr. has mastered the Summer League
Glen Rice Jr. followed up his dominant run in D-League with a stellar showing at the Vegas Summer League. He won the Summer League MVP award, which tends to happen when you average 25 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals a game while leading your team to the Summer League semifinals.
I don't think it's coincidence that Rice's numbers in Vegas were similar to his stats in the D-League. He's shown that he knows how to get to his spots on both levels and proven he can be dependable in a primary scoring role. Beter yet, he's done it while showing the ability to generate scoring opportunities both on and off the ball, which should serve him well at the NBA level. But here's the thing...
3. Glen Rice Jr. has not mastered the NBA
Granted, it's nearly impossible to "master" the NBA, at least to the level Glen Rice Jr. has mastered the D-League and Summer League. Still, what we saw last season didn't provide much evidence that Rice Jr. could translate his success at lower levels to the big stage.
Rice didn't crack the Wizards' rotation until Trevor Ariza injured his hamstring which forced Randy Wittman to mix things up and give him a shot. Let's just say that Kyrie Irving savored the opportunity for Glen Rice Jr. to get playing time just a little bit more than Glen Rice Jr. did.
After that, Rice went back to the bench for almost a month until Bradley Beal and Martell Webster both got injured, which gave him a chance to start his first career game on December 12th against the Denver Nuggets. Webster returned in time for the next game, so Rice was sent back to the bench, but still got nearly 20 minutes of playing time in the next two games before Beal returned in a big way against the Knicks. Of course, that was the game where Rice got injured and it wound up being the last time we'd see him in action with the Wizards last season.
The good news for Rice is that he once again finds himself with a chance to show what he can do thanks to someone else's injury. Webster likely won't be back for the start of the season, and unless the Wizards manage to lure in Ray Allen or get blown away by someone at training camp, Rice appears to be the odds-on favorite to play behind Beal at shooting guard.
And honestly, it could not have worked out better for Rice to be in this position, given how bad things were when he was getting playing time last season. Last year, Rice had to make things happen alongside Eric Maynor, Garrett Temple, Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely. This year, Rice is going to be working alongside players who won't overlap his strengths and can cover up his weaknesses. Andre Miller can always be counted on to generate some points, just by how he runs an offense, but Rice can bail out possessions that fall apart when the defense takes away what the offense is looking to run.
If he can channel some of that efficiency we saw in Vegas and Iowa into short stretches while the starters rest, the Wizards could have something that keeps the second unit serviceable until Webster returns, at worst. In the absolute best-case scenario, he could give the Wizards a true sixth man they've been looking for since Jordan Crawford had his falling out with the organization.
Typically, the advice for players who dominate at the Summer League and D-League level is to find one skill and master it to the point an NBA team can use it in a key role. After all, the D-League isn't trying to develop the next Kevin Durant, it's trying to develop the next Danny Green. But given Glen Rice Jr.'s situation, the best thing he can do is continue to approach games with the same mindset that served him well in Iowa and Vegas and use it to wreak havoc in short spurts off the bench.