When they reach the midway point of the season this weekend, the Washington Bullets will do so in far better shape than even the most optimistic had expected.
One of the reasons, according to coach Wes Unseld, is the most basic of NBA formulas that has worked to the advantage of Harvey Grant and, more recently, Pervis Ellison.
"On the average, it takes about three years for the average player to adjust to the NBA," said Unseld, whose team faces the Indiana Pacers at the Arena tonight (8), and the Dallas Mavericks at the Capital Centre tomorrow night (7:35).
"I'd say Harvey is right on schedule," Unseld said of Grant, who has become an offensive force, averaging 19 points. "This is his third year and he's worked very hard both during the season and in the offseason."
Selected on the first round in 1988 (12th pick overall), Grant did not figure as a franchise maker -- or saver -- only as a workmanlike performer who eventually would provide quality minutes on the floor. His emergence as a scorer, and defensive performer, has enabled the Bullets to survive despite a recent slump by Bernard King.
Unseld's arrival time theory also appears to be working in the case of Ellison. A 6-foot-10 forward/center, Ellison brought higher expectations into the league when the Sacramento Kings made him the first player selected overall in the 1989 draft.
Traded to the Bullets in the offseason as part of the three-way deal that sent high-scoring guard Jeff Malone to Utah, Ellison had trouble fitting into the Bullets' system at first. His improvement was gradual, but eventually he caught on and has been asserting himself for about a month now.
The only thing keeping him out of the starting lineup would appear to be a tendency to get into foul trouble. By keeping him on the bench early, Unseld has a better chance of having an effective Ellison available in the closing minutes.
With an 18-21 record, the Bullets should be flirting with the .500 mark by the end of the month. They are involved in a spirited race with the New York Knicks for third place in the Atlantic Division, a position deemed unreachable when the season started.
The Bullets' success thus far has been startling, especially in view of the absence of John Williams, who won't return to the roster until next month, and the absence of a backcourt scorer to replace Malone. Ledell Eackles was targeted for that spot, but a prolonged holdout has left him struggling to gain a starting role.
Those factors put enormous pressure on King, who amazingly responded by scoring more than 30 points in 21 of the first 35 games.
Tonight's game is the second of four the Bullets will play at the Arena this year.
Approximately 3,000 tickets remain for tonight and the two remaining games at the Arena.