The Washington Wizards have made a habit over the last decade of allowing the free agency storm to settle before nabbing a veteran who wasn’t getting much attention around the league. For the most part, these moves have panned out, resulting in productive veterans like Antonio Daniels, Deshawn Stevenson, and most recently, Martell Webster. The next in the lineage of players is Al Harrington, who was signed this August after an injury-plagued and unsuccessful stint with the Orlando Magic. Harrington brings a pedigree shared by no others off the Washington bench and could prove to be a valuable asset if he can recreate the magic of his days with the Denver Nuggets. With Emeka Okafor down for the count and Jan Vesely preferring to keep his basketball success to the Eastern Hemisphere, Harrington will definitely have his chance in an underwhelming front court. What do we need to see from him to deem this year a success for the man they call Cheddah?
Harrington has actually been a fairly accurate shooter from deep throughout most of his career, hovering in the mid 30’s percentage-wise for most of his career. John Wall has been very vocal about the dire need for a stretch 4 and Big Al might be able to provide some of that range, at least for his short spurts on the court. He’ll be able to draw a big man defender out to the perimeter to give Wall and Bradley Beal some driving lanes to the basket. Harrington’s best spot on the court is the right corner, where he shot a scintillating 55% in 2011-12 (his last full season) per NBA.com. That could be an issue with Beal, Webster, and Ariza all sporting great corner 3s but there should be enough minutes to go around for everyone to have some time at the sniper’s favorite spot. At the very least, reputation is half the battle in the league and you never know which underprepared forward is going to remember Harrington hitting killer threes in years past and assuming nothing’s changed.
No one has ever accused Harrington of being a lockdown defender (sporting a career Defensive Rating of 107), but the one asset that he does have is the ability to guard multiple positions. With a 6’9” frame and good lateral quickness, he has guarded everyone from small forwards to centers throughout his career. In Washington, the 3 is pretty locked down with Webster, Ariza, and Otto Porter’s hip flexor but Harrington can expect to see time at both the 4 and the 5 alongside a combination of players who are in a similar boat. As it currently stands, Nene is probably going to start the year at center with either Vesely or Seraphin taking the other front court spot in the starting lineup. But it won’t take much for Wittman to yank around his starters around the core group so Harrington could see extended minutes if he can stick with his man defensively (And for the record, if you’re considering Al Harrington as a potential starter in 2012-13, no, your team can no longer claim having high expectations).
Harrington is only 33, but he’s entering his 16th season in the NBA after coming into the league straight from high school in the 1998 Draft. He’s logged over 28,500 minutes between regular season and playoffs and has a lingering knee issue that kept him out of all but 10 games last season to show for it. Harrington will have to put that incident behind him or the Wizards might want to limit his playing time in back-to-back games or practice. To reiterate for the 1000th time, the front court is weak (read: sucks) without Okafor and cannot afford injuries to any other potential contributors. Lest we forget, the front court is also occupied by Nene, who may not even play 82 games in a season of NBA 2K13 with injuries turned off.
The Wizards latest addition may be an important one on the quest to the postseason. After arriving in Washington, Al Harrington proclaimed that this team was definitely headed to the playoffs and that played a role with his signing here despite overtures from Chicago and L.A. Clippers. The outlook is not looking as rosy on this day but in a weak Eastern Conference, bench scoring from a guy like Harrington could be the difference in 3-4 games that take a 10th place team to 7th. If Harrington can stay on the court and knock down the outside jumper, this signing will look like a coup in the list of August success stories for the Wizards.