Ask any NBA Draft guru or General Manager, and they'll tell you that drafting is an art. Some picks will be home runs. But sometimes, you're just going to whiff on some picks. It happens to everyone.
Former Wizards head coach Flip Saunders -- who is now the Minnesota Timberwolves' President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach -- gave some insight on one notable draft bust in recent memory: Jan Vesely, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 Draft. You know, he is known for air balling free throws, and for making a grand entrance into the league?
Anyway, Grantland's Zach Lowe talked to Saunders about Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love in a column that was released today and many D.C. area outlets took notice of this salacious quote that was in the first footnote of the piece:
Thompson had blown Saunders away during a pre-draft workout in 2011, when Saunders coached the Wizards. The Washington brain trust considered reaching for Thompson with the no. 6 pick before going the safe route with a big man — Jan Vesely, who ranked higher on most draft boards but is now out of the league. "We toyed with it," Saunders says, "but heaven forbid you go out of the box and pick someone you’re higher on than anyone else."
Whoa! I read the column, but at least at first glance, I couldn't find it. You have to click on the footnote, and then it pops up:
There is a lot to digest with the footnote because the Wizards could have drafted one of the Golden State Warriors' Splash Brothers. If Thompson were in D.C. all this time, it's possible that the Wizards could have been a playoff team sooner, and you can argue that the Wizards could be an even better team than they are right now.
After all, we discussed earlier that the Wizards could have drafted 11 out of 15 players on the Warriors' roster which seems bad enough if you want to look at it that way. In theory, an Eastern Conference Championship team was just a few draft selections away. But the footnote in Lowe's piece takes it to another level because the Wizards were seriously considering drafting Thompson to play at the shooting guard or possibly the small forward position with John Wall.
However, there's always the issue of context when it comes to drafting. How were things looking like for the Wizards before the 2011 Draft?
At the time, Jordan Crawford was John Wall's backcourt mate. He averaged 16.3 points per game in 26 games he played for Washington in the 2010-11 season after he was acquired midseason from the Atlanta Hawks. In addition, the Wizards were still figuring out whether they were going to sign Nick Young to a longer term contract. Young averaged a then-career high 17.4 points per game that same season. Finally, Vesely was ranked higher than Thompson on most draft boards, so it wasn't like the pick was totally from left field then.
Another part of the "What if" story that you have to analyze is whether Thompson could have been a good fit here in Washington at the time he was drafted. That's hard to say because he would have been in a fierce competition for minutes against Crawford and Young. In addition, Thompson would have been around the Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee circus, so I wonder how he would have dealt with that.
Even though this is definitely a "What if" story to talk around the water cooler, I'm glad to say that it's not like the Wizards and Warriors went in opposite directions since that time. I'll admit that Washington has been a bit slower than Golden State in terms of their upward trajectory. But they removed locker room problem players, drafted Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, and they have developed a strong defensive identity over the last several years. At the end of the day, we should be proud to have the players we have in Washington though there is always room for improvement.