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Could Ian Mahinmi be the Wizards’ starting center after all?

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Now in the third year of his contract, Mahinmi could be making a case that he, not Dwight Howard should be the Wizards’ starting center.

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Wizards center Ian Mahinmi is in the third year of a four-year $64 million contract that he signed in the 2016 NBA offseason. By nearly all accounts, Washington overpaid for his services.

Considering that Mahinmi will average $16 million a year for four seasons, the Wizards clearly gave him that contract with the expectation that he would be the Wizards starting center over Marcin Gortat for most of the four years.

Instead, Mahinmi had an injury riddled 2016-17 season and a foul-prone 2017-18 season though he played 77 games.

Washington signed Dwight Howard in free agency this past summer where he would be the team’s best center in decades. However, Howard has back issues, including a setback last weekend.

Meanwhile, Mahinmi has been inserted into the starting lineup alongside John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, and Markieff Morris. In three games, he is averaging 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. Mahinmi only averaged one foul per 14.26 minutes played, which is about 2.5 fouls per 36 minutes in the Wizards’ first two home games though he fouled five times in 20 minutes in Monday’s game against the Knicks.

Let’s say that Mahinmi plays more like he did in the first two preseason games than Monday for the rest of the preseason. If Howard is still unable to play, Mahinmi will surely be the starting center on opening night. And if he continues to play good basketball on both ends of the floor (which include his improved perimeter shooting) without getting into foul trouble more often than not, then perhaps Mahinmi should be the starting center after all.

Howard will continue to get his minutes regardless of whether he is a starter or reserve. Double doubles don’t come out of nowhere. But Mahinmi has shown noticeable improvement on the court and he should get a chance to show what he can do, at least until foul trouble hits him again.