The Washington Wizards welcomed Bradley Beal back to the lineup Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time since Dec. 9 -- and promptly lost Otto Porter with a hip injury. That's how things have gone much of the season and particularly the last seven weeks. Just when somebody returns, someone else takes a seat.
Yet at some point this season, in theory, coach Randy Wittman will have a deep array of options. That's when certain rotation decisions become rather interesting.
Since Nov. 27, Wittman hasn't many choices. Teams typically use 10-11 players and occasionally a dozen during regular season games. The late November meeting at the Boston Celtics was the last time Washington had 12 players available.
By the way, of the 15 players on a roster, teams can have 13 active. You might not realize that based on watching the Wizards. They haven't had a baker's dozen almost the entire season.
They certainly haven't had a full roster at the ready seeing as swingman Alan Anderson missed every game following offseason ankle surgery. Center Marcin Gortat (infection) and forward Kris Humphries (knee) joined Anderson on Wednesday's inactive list. We'll see if Porter becomes a candidate before Friday's game at Indiana.
Only John Wall, who's played through pain at times, and backup point guard Ramon Sessions have been in the lineup for all 37 games. Though Jared Dudley played every game since sitting out the season opener, it took some time before he shook off the rust after undergoing back surgery in July.
Beal returning against Milwaukee was important. Their leading scorer will need some time before ramping up -- he had 11 points over 23 minutes in Washington's 106-101 win. Eventually he'll play in the 25-35 minute range most nights.
Yet even with Beal's limited minutes Wednesday, rookie Kelly Oubre appeared headed for a DNP-coach's decision after becoming a regular and occasional starter over the last month. Wittman used Porter, Garrett Temple, Beal and Gary Neal at the two wing positions. Then Porter goes out in the third quarter and Oubre eventually entered. Rave reviews followed. He "helped change [the game] with his activity at the defensive end," Wittman said.
Assuming Porter doesn't miss a game and Beal soon plays more, the lengthy rookie may not. His coach historically bypasses first-year players when a veteran option exists. Temple stepped up with all the injuries, turning into one of Washington's better two-players. Neal is one of the few on the roster who can get his own shot. This doesn't even factor in when Wittman goes with his two point guards together or Anderson's eventual appearance.
This post isn't about Oubre specifically, but rather pointing out there won't be room at the inn for all whenever the injury report becomes empty.
But let's say Wittman goes with Oubre in certain small ball looks - get the first round pick more experienced regardless - while still using Dudley as the primary stretch-4. If Gortat and Nene eat up the center minutes, then Humphries or Gooden are watching and possibly both.
Regardless of how the coach wants to use his perimeter players, how many of the bigs does Wittman really want to use together? Gortat, Nene, Gooden and Humphries have all missed games over the last seven weeks and in such a sequence that Wittman often had only two available at a time. For a team thinking small ball, ball movement and up-tempo offense, that's been fine.
Gortat is much better playing alongside the 3-point shooting Dudley than a true power player. Just ask him. Nene's interior and passing presence must play assuming the Big Brazilian is cool with that on a given night. During the three-game winning streak, Nene's net rating (points per 100 possessions) is an impressive 29.2.
Humphries and Gooden can sink the 3-pointer and battle for boards. Defending opposing stretch-4's is a challenge and neither is a ball handler, but both are worthy of work.
When the Wizards are at their best, the ball is moving offensively and the defense forces turnovers, both of which help pick up the pace and get many players involved. Washington had seven players reach double digit scoring in each of the last two games. Assists and shooting percentages are up.
"They've been playing a little bit smaller so the ball has been moving a lot more," Bucks center Greg Monroe said. "They have a lot of shooters on the floor so the next pass is always to a shooter. It makes it tough for any defense."
Depending on the opponent, Wittman can mix and match with his lineups. Well, at least he'll be able to someday. The better teams can play different styles. Once healthy, the Wizards might able to do that. Simply having all available will allow Wall, Dudley and Nene more rest for the second half of the season.
Wittman will have many options. The fun part involves seeing which he chooses.