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The failures of the 2011 NBA Draft still affect the Washington Wizards five years later

Washington Wizards v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This isn’t a post to remind you about all the players the Wizards missed out on in the 2011 NBA Draft. Everyone knows the Wizards took Jan Vesely over Kawhi Leonard. Everyone knows they took Chris Singleton over Jimmy Butler. Everyone knows they took Shelvin Mack over Chandler Parsons. Everyone knows the Wizards gave up on Mack sooner than they gave up on Vesely or Singleton, even though he was the only player Washington selected who is still in the NBA.

No, this is about avoiding the temptation to write off the mistakes of that draft the same way a business would write off a sunk cost. The whole purpose of writing something off as a sunk cost is to keep a business from chasing bad money with good money. You don’t want a failing part of your business to cut into the parts of the business that work.

The problem is, you can’t isolate the negative effects of sunk costs in the NBA the same way you can isolate them in a business. If a draft pick fails, you still have to invest resources to replace what they were supposed to bring to the team, and odds are, you’ll have to do it at a premium since chances to draft good, young talent on the cheap don’t come around often.

So when it comes to assessing what the Wizards lost out on in the 2011 draft, it isn’t just about the players they missed out on in the actual draft, but what they had to invest to replace the production they were expecting to get from two first round picks and a very high second round pick.

With that in mind, let’s review some of the moves the team has made since the 2011 draft and how those decisions were influenced by their draft picks:

  • To compensate for Vesely and Singleton’s struggles during their rookie season, the team used Rashard Lewis’ expiring contract to acquire Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to shore up depth the team’s depth.
  • The Wizards gave Martell Webster a four year deal because they weren’t confident enough in Chris Singleton to let him back up Trevor Ariza. Because they spent so much on Webster, they opted against bringing back Ariza when he hit free agency the following summer.
  • The team had to trade a first round pick to Phoenix because they didn’t feel confident going into the 2013-14 season with a starting frontcourt tandem of Nene and Jan Vesely.
  • When the team gave up on the Jan Vesely experiment, all they could get for him was Andre Miller, who was brought in to fill the role they thought Shelvin Mack was supposed to fill. Plus, they had to give up a second round pick as part of that three-way trade to unload their current backup point guard.
  • Speaking of the backup point guard position, let’s quickly review all the players the Wizards tried at that spot after they decided Shelvin Mack wasn’t the right fit in Washington: A.J. Price, Jannero Pargo, Shaun Livingston, Garrett Temple, Eric Maynor, Andre Miller (which cost them a 2nd round pick, as we mentioned earlier), and Ramon Sessions. That’s a lot of wasted money, time, and effort to address a spot a second round pick should be able to fill — the 12 minutes per game when John Wall is not on the floor.
  • Finally, let’s not forget the Wizards traded a 2016 first round pick to acquire Markieff Morris to fill the hole at starting power forward they’ve been trying to fix since they drafted Jan Vesely. Related: Morris was taken seven picks after Jan Vesely in 2011.

Now, some might argue here that without the draft failure of 2011, they wouldn’t have had the chance to draft Bradley Beal and Otto Porter the next two years. While that may be true, it ignores that there were opportunities later on in those drafts that could have yielded even better results. If they had taken Klay Thompson (who the team was reportedly high on before the draft) they would have been free to go after a center like Andre Drummond to pair with Nene in 2012. If they had a Wall-Klay-Drummond core, they probably wouldn’t have had a chance to get a #3 pick in 2013, but they still probably would have been high enough in the draft to get a forward like Giannis Antetokounmpo later on in the draft.

The bottom line is, the Wizards missed out on a lot because of their miscues in the 2011 draft. Not only did they lose the value of the picks themselves, but they had to give up cap space, roster spots, and draft picks trying to replace what they lost. It’s hard to take the next step forward as a franchise when you have to devote resources that should be going to put a team over the top to fixing foundational issues.

Again, this post isn’t about beating the Wizards over the head with another reminder the 2011 draft didn’t go to plan. But while it may be tempting to leave the failures of the 2011 NBA Draft in the past, the reality is the team is ripple effects of that draft night still affect the team today.