Washington Wizards guard Glen Rice Jr. (14) holds the ball in the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014 in Washington. The Wizards won 91-89. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
With the news that third-year shooting guard Bradley Beal will miss six to eight weeks after fracturing his wrist in an Oct. 10 game with the Charlotte Bobcats, the window of opportunity could open wide for Washington Wizards sophomore swingman Glen Rice Jr.
Rice, the son of former All Star Glen Rice, has had a pretty interesting offseason. He charged his way to the title of Summer League MVP in Las Vegas after flashing potential in his rookie campaign. Listed as a bench player for shooting guard and small forward roles, the burly 6-foot, 6-inch wing with an eye for the long-range ball could be forced into a prime role.
Original backup swingman Martell Webster is still recovering from offseason back surgery and the newly-acquired Paul Pierce is expected to start at the three position after Trevor Ariza bolted for Houston over the summer. Rice and third overall pick Otto Porter are the healthiest and most athletic bodies left to fill in for Beal as John Wall’s running mate, but Porter is more suited for the small forward role, leaving Rice as the next man up. It’ll be interesting to see if the Wizards elect to bring in a veteran or just let Rice assume the role outright. However, the team does have separate trade exceptions from past dealings that could net them a serviceable veteran who might serve until Beal returns in late December.
Beal’s absence could be a blessing in disguise for Porter and Rice’s growth as players. Rice could easily excel if given major minutes, giving Washington a power shooting guard with the size and range to push around smaller players and still strike from deep. If Rice develops some early season maturation, he could help tie up minutes at the small forward rotation with the aging Pierce, 37, and the unseasoned Porter. Pierce was never going to see heavy minutes anyway, as the team was banking on Porter’s advancement. Beal’s injury speeds up that plan and practically throws Porter and Rice into positions where time and production will be needed. Early preseason takeaways can differ based upon the grader but both sophomore wing players have shown they have a place on the Wizards roster.
The time is now for Rice, however. With one year left on his rookie contract, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket has to make an impression if he wants the Wizards to extend a qualifying option to him for next season. And what better opportunity does he have? Rice was aggressive in Summer League play, showcasing a mindset to take over games when the team was struggling. He’ll have to scale back as he gets more acquainted with the starters.
Porter’s rookie contract stretches to give him more of a leash because the money involved is greater. Washington could pay Porter close to $20 million between now and 2018 if he finds a niche on the team, while the Wizards are only on the hook for less than $1 million with Rice this year. But while Porter is owed more money, Rice has shown that he might be the better player. Rice led the team with 18 points and shot 75 percent from deep in the Wizards’ opening preseason road win over the Chicago Bulls, a preseason favorite for some pundits. If the young Rice can keep up his preseason momentum, he could be in for heavy spotlight as early as this season.