- The Washington Times
Thursday, November 7, 2019

C.J. Miles was excited to make his season debut with the Wizards earlier this week. More than an hour before Monday’s win against the Detroit Pistons, the veteran swingman was already dressed in full uniform, as he does for all his games.

It’s a habit Miles learned under former assistant Phil Johnson when the two were together in Utah.

“I was just happy to be out there competing again,” Miles said. “It’s just great to be back on the floor and help my team any way I can.”

At 32, Miles is the oldest player on the Wizards, who acquired the forward this offseason. In a season when he doesn’t know how many minutes he’ll play per game, the Dallas native is prepared for any role — one which could potentially include starting.

Coach Scott Brooks said Thursday he’ll be making a change to the starting lineup for Friday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, sending 19-year-old small forward Isaac Bonga to the bench. While Brooks did not disclose who will take Bonga’s place, the logical options are either 2018 first-rounder Troy Brown or Miles, who is averaging 21½ minutes in two games this season.

Of those two, Brown appears to be the most likely candidate — given his age, draft status and the fact he started 10 games last season. The Wizards have stressed the importance of developing their younger players as part of a rebuild.

For a team that is centered around a youth movement, Brooks faces a logjam at the forward position — creating a challenge for the coach to set his rotations.

“He handled (the demotion) well and I love that about him,” Brooks said of Bonga. “He said, ‘Coach, I’m excited this opportunity. I’m going to give you everything we have and do the work I’ve been doing.’ … That’s pretty cool to see because that’s not easy to hear those words that you’re not going to start (Friday).”

Bonga started a total of seven games for the Wizards. That circumstance was largely affected by injuries to both Brown and Miles, who got hurt over the summer and didn’t return until after the Wizards had already started their new campaign.

But Brown and Miles have increasingly looked healthy and each has a skill set that can help Washington. Brown played 30 minutes in Monday’s win against the Pistons, recording his first career double-double (16 points and 10 rebounds). Miles is a career 35.9% shooter from deep and his versatility allows Brooks to mix-and-match lineups.

When the two were rehabbing together, Miles said he picked up on Brown’s talent.

“He’s one of those point forward types of guys that really fits our game because the wing position 2 through 4 really is just a player,” Miles said. “It’s not size or weight or anything anymore. He has a lot of defensive ability, too. The biggest thing (for him) is just playing time. … It’s going to help build his confidence because he works extremely hard.”

Though the Wizards are focused on development, Brooks isn’t committed to having players play minutes just for the sake of playing minutes. For instance, first-rounder Rui Hachimura has seen his playing time fluctuate lately. After the rookie played at least 34 minutes in three of his first four outings, Hachimura has logged less than 20 minutes in each of his last two.

Asked about the discrepancy, Brooks said after Wednesday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers that the Japanese native would have nights when he’ll play 18 to 20 minutes.

“Minutes aren’t given in this league,” said Brooks, who went with Davis Bertans for most of the night instead. “I love Rui. I love what he brings. … Everybody has to earn those minutes.”

On Thursday, Brooks said he needs to do a better job of putting Hachimura in better positions to score. Hachimura, drafted eighth overall, is 7 for his last 23. Including an 0-of-5 performance in Indiana.

The Wizards are just 2-5 this season and searching for the right balance of letting players learn on the job while remaining competitive.

“We’re competing, but there are areas where we’re making mistakes, the mental mistakes we’re making,” Brooks said. “Sometimes I have to tell myself to relax. … These guys are all learning and they’re going to get better.”

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