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Washington Wizards

The franchise forward is still getting bigger, but is he any better?

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By Jack McCallum

Team Page | Conference ranking: 13 | Overall ranking: 26

Kwame Brown
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Kwame Brown
Bill Frakes
Fast Fact
Washington's 15 years without a playoff win ties the NBA record of the 1990-91 Clippers (né Buffalo Braves, when their drought started).

Kwame Brown is all grown up. No, that doesn't mean he's become a star, justifying the Wizards' decision to pick him No. 1 in 2001. And no, it doesn't mean he's become a mature 21-year-old. (After all, in August he was charged with drunken driving in Brunswick, Ga.; a court date has not been set.) What it does mean is that the team pulled out a tape measure at the start of training camp and discovered that Brown had grown a half inch or so. He's now officially a 7-footer.

As for Brown's growth on the court? "I have to be solid and ready to wash the taste of the first two seasons out of my mouth," says the 248-pound forward. "I have to be a natural basketball player."

That sounds as if Brown is acknowledging that he has been a disappointment, a notion that's reinforced by his tepid stats (two-year averages of 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds) and the repeated criticism from the departed Michael Jordan and other veterans that Brown did not extend maximum effort. Brown also didn't have -- or couldn't find -- a true position. Is he an athletic, run-the-court player? Or a back-to-the-basket force who can outjump or overpower opponents? It seems clear that he must become an amalgam of the two, a kind of frontcourt swingman in new coach Eddie Jordan's forward-oriented offense.

Washington's brass is hopeful. "Kwame has shown some real promise that's not based on numbers," says new G.M. Ernie Grunfeld. "It's based on the effort that we get from him on a daily basis. People have to realize that he's still only 21."

Of his decision to drink and drive, a chastened Brown says, "I'm fortunate to be standing right here." How tall he stands during the season will go a long way toward determining whether the Wizards join the playoff hunt.

Enemy Lines

An opposing team's scout sizes up the Wizards

"They ran a lot of set plays to get the ball in Michael Jordan's hands over the last two years. That's going to change with new coach Eddie Jordan, whose Princeton offense will teach the young players to read the defense, move without the ball and make backdoor cuts. Their big weaknesses last year were passing and perimeter shooting, and this offense will help in both areas.... When Jerry Stackhouse comes back from knee surgery, will he fit into the offense or will he try to reestablish himself as a scorer now that Michael's gone? My guess is that he'll play for the good of the team as he did in Detroit.... The bigger question is whether Gilbert Arenas can run this offense and not look to score first. He needs to understand that he'll get his one-on-one opportunities as the shot clock is running down.... Christian Laettner's skills are suited to this offense, but through his negative body language he continues to express frustration and impatience with his young teammates.... The Wizards have the potential to play good, hard defense, though they have a lot to learn in that area.... Eddie Jordan is like Phil Jackson in his preference for big guards, and he has them in Arenas and Larry Hughes, who last year shot a career-high 46.7%.... They'll get decent rebounding from Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas and Jahidi White. On the offensive boards Haywood has the good habit of keeping the ball high and going right back up with it.... They should build around Arenas and Kwame Brown. Though he endured a lot of criticism from MJ and former coach Doug Collins, Brown could become a Jermaine O'Neal-like talent. He needs to go into the post more often and not rush himself when he gets there. Ultimately, he has to prove his toughness and his love for the game."

Issue date: October 27, 2003

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