The Wizards have struggled greatly this season with just about everything at times. This includes running their offense without turning the ball over, playing solid defense, or just playing consistently. It's easy to point to those things as the key parts as to why the team has underachieved so far this season but I would like to take a far more high-level approach to this topic. That topic is on the personnel.
One of the things that we have seen with the NBA's elite teams is that they rarely they reach success by getting middling free agent talent to fill the gaps of their team like the Wizards have for a couple of years.
Let's be honest. Players like Gary Neal, Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat, etc. aren't bad players. But they do not make the current young trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter a contender. Teams are built by solid drafting. Out of all the players that are left on this roster that has been drafted, what can you really say about the foundation of this team? Let's look at a few elite teams and their core players:
As you can see four out of their five starters were homegrown draft picks. The other player Andrew Bogut was traded to the Warriors using Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh, two players that the Warriors drafted. As you can see, drafting was a key component to their success. It has given them the necessary depth to not only build a solid team but also to use assets to acquire necessary pieces to a championship. Without the additions of Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, or Marresse Speights this is still a solid but not a championship-level squad. That said, those players fill in the Warriors' gaps and they are not single-handedly depended on to turn a mediocre team into a contender.
I don't consider LeBron James a player the Cavaliers drafted because he left the team in 2010 and re-signed with them in 2014. Although their list looks short and although they were very fortunate to get the picks that they did, they still were able to find value out of those picks that turned into key players for them now.
Dion Waiters was able to give them enough value to get Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith who both contributed greatly to their success last year and even the pick of Anthony Bennett, paired with Andrew Wiggins, the 2014 #1 draft pick, brought them Kevin Love from the Timberwolves.
Some would argue that some of their moves were questionable and that perhaps they benefit from having LeBron on their team. But the Cavaliers still have some quality players on their team that they were able to get as a result of their draft picks. Can the Wizards even say that much?
The Spurs are perhaps the best model of this idea of using the draft of building a solid team. They have won five hampionships with their draft picks being the key part of their runs. Out of the four players named above only one of them was drafted in the lottery, Tim Duncan, which shows you that it's not always about draft position, but rather about a philosophy, a team concept and finding players who fit the mold. It should be noted also that Kawhi Leonard was acquired on drafted day for a trade that included George Hill, who was also a Spurs late first-round draft pick.
OKC has done very well in drafting their core. While they have a solid foundation with two superstar players, they have also been able to add complimentary players that have either been rotational players or have been assets that allowed them to add depth. Reggie Jackson, who was one of their draft picks in 2011, was involved in a trade to Detroit that allowed them to pick up solid role players D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler and Enes Kanter. That makes up a large portion of their current rotation and has allowed them to stay relevant in the West. And none of this includes the fact that they drafted James Harden, how they did a poor job getting assets in return for Harden and only really gained Steven Adams as a result of that trade.
Drafting has played a key part in building the rosters of these teams. These teams not only drafted well enough to have great players but they also drafted well enough to build great assets to obtain more great players. When you look at the Wizards current roster, there are only four homegrown draft picks on this year's team.
Of those four picks, only one -- John Wall -- has become an All-Star. Bradley Beal is still a great pick, but he still has issues of living up to the bill as a cornerstone of a franchise. Otto Porter is in his first year as a starter where he has been inconsistent on both ends on the court and has not proven to be a valued asset yet. And rookie Kelly Oubre is not getting a lot of opportunities to show if he is a rotation-level player with this team.
These are the four picks that this team has been able to hang onto since the John Wall Era started. The rest of the draft picks that were made since 2010 did not yield a single return. None of those players were traded and returned any type of asset. OUCH!
Think about that compared to the four teams that I just mentioned and how they were able to find value out of some of their picks. On top of this, since Ernie Grunfeld has become GM of the Wizards, only four other players besides the four we just mentioned remain in the league. That means teams like the Spurs and Thunder have been able to build contending teams with their draft picks using close to the same amount of picks as Grunfeld has even drafted that are competent enough to even stay in the league.
I can't stress this enough, this phase that the Wizards are going through screams of a team that is suffering from years of poor decisions. The reality is, without some miracle acquisition, of the likes of getting Kevin Durant, this team at best maybe years away from being a true contender.
A contending team is not built by trying to pick up free agents left and right. It's all about drafting. If you do not draft well, then you don't have a good team and the odds of building a good one via free agency is just not likely. The best thing for this team to do is to find someone who is capable of drafting and building depth that way. You shouldn't just be looking for players that can contribute to your team, but you also should consider players in the draft that can bring you added value down the road.
Trying to get a secondary free agent if the team strikes out on Durant, is nothing but a band-aid to a bullet wound. It's time to stop patching this team up and build a true contender. The longer you neglect the value of drafting, the longer this team will take to be an elite team.