Picking third in a deep NBA Draft is never a bad thing, especially when the alternative is picking fifth and the top four options are off the table. It's not Anthony Davis, of course, but there's plenty of upside to the Washington Wizards' spot.
But this is certainly not an easy spot for the Wizards to be. We've said it before, but it rings true again: Ernie Grunfeld and the rest of his staff don't have an easy job over the next month.
In many ways, this is a unique predicament. Generally speaking, there's a big drop between Anthony Davis and the rest of this draft class. While there's a lot to like with many of the prospects from two all the way down to the mid- to late-lottery, there also hasn't yet been a whole lot separating them from each other. That forces any GM picking in that range to make some very difficult value judgments.
But even if we get into specifics, the Wizards' task is especially tough given the makeup of the team right now.With the No. 3 pick, the Wizards are likely to consider three prospects: Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal, Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson. There will be some outside thought paid to the pedigree of North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, the upside of UConn's Andre Drummond, the positional versatility of Baylor's Perry Jones III and the wide body of Jared Sullinger, but chances are, the pick will be either Beal, Kidd-Gilchrist or Robinson.
Differentiating between those three is very, very tricky. In many ways, all three fit the Wizards' culture like a glove, but there are also some red flags to monitor.
Bradley Beal: As an on-court fit, he seems perfect. He's a guard with a great shooting stroke that has the ability to transition beautifully from playing on and off the ball, with on-court intelligence that has repeated caused Billy Donovan (who coached Joakim Noah and Al Horford, mind you) to swoon about his basketball IQ. Many have made the Isiah Thomas/Joe Dumars comparison between John Wall and Beal, and while Beal may not be as tenacious defensively as Dumars, you could see how the two could trade off playmaking and scoring seamlessly like Isiah and Joe did, especially in a guard-driven era. That said, he didn't shoot all that well in college -- there are all sorts of possible explanations, but you wonder why he even needs them -- and there are questions about his size and his defense. You also have to consider the shaky history of picking shooting guards at the top of the draft.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Everyone raves about Kidd-Gilchrist's tenacity and will to win, not to mention his tremendous athleticism in the open floor and lockdown defense. I forget where I heard this, but someone said that the guys that end up being great are the ones who are so single-minded that nothing else phases them. By all accounts, this is Kidd-Gilchrist. But he also has a very broken jump shot -- a major issue on this roster -- and he did seem to disappear at times on a loaded Kentucky squad. I also always wonder about a high-lottery prospect whose best qualities in the eyes of many are his off-court characteristics rather than his on-court play (if the off-court characteristics are so good, shouldn't they be enhancing the on-court characteristics, etc). Usually, that screams "ROLE PLAYER" to me. We'll have to see if Kidd-Gilchrist is different.
Thomas Robinson: Provides a dose of on-court nastiness the Wizards need, and is exactly the kind of defensive rebounder that will kick-start fast breaks and throw his body around in the paint. If the Wizards are trying to reinvent themselves as a physical team, they'll eventually need to find a legitimate defensive rebounder. That describes Robinson perfectly. But he also plays the same position as two other promising youngsters (Jan Vesely, Trevor Booker), and while he has some offensive skills that I see carrying over and even improving in the pro game (his face-up game, in particular), he still struggles to score against length at times. He's also over two years older than both Beal and Kidd-Gilchrist, so there may not be as much upside there.
So many good qualities for each player ... but also plenty of reasons for concern. Weighing the good with the bad requires a complete evaluation of the entire Wizards fabric. What is the team's culture, exactly? What kind of style are they trying to push? Which pieces on the roster really are close to untouchable, and which ones are less so? How close is the team really to legitimate playoff (and more) contention? Throw in the relative uncertainty at head coach, and on the surface, there's a lot of work the Wizards have to do to really nail down what they are.
To me, that's the most important thing the Wizards have to do over the next month. On the surface, any one of these three prospects would make for good picks, and truth be told, the Bobcats will probably make the Wizards' choice a bit easier by picking one of them.
But if surface analysis was all it took for a team still in the formative years of rebuilding to nail a top-three draft pick, then all of us would be GMs. There's a reason we're not. It's the deeper understanding of a culture, a roster, a personality that is required to make the right pick here.
Luck's got nothing to do with it.