Last week I wrote about the top 5 Wizards moments this century based on an episode of the Bleav in Wizards podcast we posted earlier that week. While doing my homework for that, I came across some real “blast from the past” names and started thinking about the role players the Wizards have had who probably didn’t get enough credit because they weren’t flashy or didn’t average a lot of points per game.
During that same episode, Osman Baig and I shared some of the players we personally think contributed more than just what showed up in the box score. I’ll share my list below but would love to hear a few of your favorites in the comments section.
“Role player” is a relative term that relies on your interpretation so I’ll try to explain the criteria I used. If someone was a high-end starter for the team for several seasons or you could have made a case for them as a fringe All-Star even for a short amount of time, I deemed them too good to make my personal list.
For instance, I originally thought about including Marcin Gortat but ultimately decided that because you could make a strong case for him being one of John Wall’s three best Wizards teammates, he was too good to include. Osman included Larry Hughes on his list, and I understood his reason, but for me, Hughes was too good to make the cut. Only one person on my list scored more than 10 points per game.
Antonio Daniels, point guard, 2005-09
Daniels played a little over three seasons with the Wizards (244 games) and averaged 8.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 turnovers. Those numbers, especially the assist-to-turnover ratio, automatically make him one of the better backup point guards the Wizards have had this century (an admittedly low bar) but I think he provided a lot more value than what the numbers may show.
He was a veteran, steadying presence off the bench on two playoff teams and brought enough size and smarts that he could defend the other team’s best perimeter player while he was out there. During the 2007-2008 season, Gilbert Arenas missed most of the season and Daniels started 63 of his 71 games and helped lead the team to 43 wins and the playoffs.
We’ve had several members of the Arenas-era Wizards on our podcast, including Arenas himself, who have all said that Larry Hughes was the adult in the room who helped keep Arenas in check. Once Hughes left, having responsible locker room presences like Daniels became even more important.
Daniels’ big drawback was his lack of shooting but after multiple seasons of watching short backup point guards, I miss seeing someone Daniels’ size out there.
Trevor Booker, power forward, 2010-14
Booker played 235 games for the Wizards and helped bridge the gap from them being really bad to pretty good. During his overall tenure, he averaged 6.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, mostly off the bench. During the 2013-2014 season, he actually started 45 of his 72 games and slightly boosted those averages to 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds for a 44-win Wizards team.
That team ultimately lost in the second round to the Indiana Pacers, a series that Booker barely played in. I always found that a bit weird because he was pretty impactful during several games of the previous round against Chicago.
I’m not implying that benching Booker is what directly led to them losing to the Pacers but I always got the sense that his energy and effort were infectious to his teammates and people seemed to play harder because he was bouncing around like a human pinball out there. Sometimes you just need guys willing to do the dirty work.
Rasual Butler, small forward, 2014-15
The late Butler only appeared in 75 games for the Wizards but his impact was felt for several seasons after that. He averaged 7.7 points with 38.7% three-point shooting. Butler only took about three three-pointers per game and realistically should have been asked to take more. His floor-spacing was valuable for a Wizards team that ultimately won 46 games and lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs.
His on-court contributions were meaningful to arguably the best Wizards team this century but it’s the off-court contributions that were the longest-lasting. We’ve told the story several times on our podcast but Butler spent every day after practice helping Otto Porter Jr. refine his jump shot and expand his range to the NBA three-point line. Until Kyle Kuzma came along, we didn’t hear much about veteran players taking an interest in helping their young teammates improve to this extent.
His leadership and professionalism were crucial for a team featuring two relatively young stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. They’ve referenced his impact multiple times and everyone around the organization at that time speaks glowingly of Butler, who has since passed away. Rest in peace, Rasual.
Paul Pierce, small forward, 2014-15
Last but not least is the person who started ahead of Butler on that 46-win team. Pierce started all 73 of the games he played that season and brought a championship swagger with him that the roster was sorely lacking otherwise. Pierce’s 11.9 points (38.9% three-point shooting), 4 rebounds, and 2 assists were all valuable. But the biggest thing he added to that team was his attitude and toughness.
Pierce was a shell of the player who carried the Celtics for over a decade but on certain nights he could turn back time and provide a big lift on the court. He also gave us one of the best moments in recent memory with his “I called game” game-winner against the Atlanta Hawks. The Wizards were without Wall in that game and needed someone to step up. The 37-year-old Pierce finished with 13 points and 7 rebounds and kept them alive in that series, although they ultimately lost.
I think Pierce’s (borderline irrational) confidence rubbed off on Wall and Beal and helped them each grow into bigger stars. All up-and-coming playoff teams could use some of Pierce’s stature on the roster to help give them that next-level belief and playoff experience.
We kept our lists to Wizards this century because that aligned with the previous topic on top moments but feel free to chime in with any of your favorite role players from previous eras as well!