The Washington Wizards, this year’s eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, maneuvered the 2018 NBA draft with an arrogance that should only be reserved for the best teams in the league. They drafted Troy Brown, an 18-year-old wing out of the University of Oregon that Scott Brooks said “might” have a chance at earning some minutes next season. Then, they drafted Issuf Sanon, an 18-year-old Ukranian prospect who will likely need a few seasons in Europe before he’s ready to have a shot at making the league.
Unless Brown is more pro-ready than the team anticipates, the draft did nothing to address the immediate needs of a thin roster that’s set to pay the luxury tax next season. They’re solid at four of their five starting positions, but the depth behind those starters is nearly barren and in need of a talent infusion. They desperately need a big man, they need more shooting to support Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, and they need another ball handler Scott Brooks trusts to take pressure off of Wall and Beal to initiate the offense.
Certainly, other moves will be made to address these needs. Marcin Gortat has been heavily rumored to be on his way out of D.C., and the only thing Jason Smith does better than collect DNP-CDs is negotiate a player option. Something has to give there.
However, the team’s selections in the draft make it clear they did not find it prudent to target players who could fill those holes. Using draft picks on long-term prospects can work, but it’s best done by contenders who already have all their key rotation spots filled, or by teams who are a ways off from contention. The Wizards don’t fall in either category. If any team is in need of inexpensive labor, it’s the Wizards. They are operating above the tax line and John Wall’s max extension hasn’t even kicked in yet.
What makes the strategy even worse is the Wizards’ young talent pool is nearly dry after not making a pick in 2016 or 2017. Washington will likely only have two players from the last five drafts in training camp (Brown and Kelly Oubre Jr.). That means they’ll need to go back to the same rinse-and-repeat plan of signing low-cost veterans to fill out their playing rotation.
The Wizards have constantly underrated the ability of young players to help right away, and it has cost them dearly. Just look back at what he said on draft night in 2009, a day after he traded the fifth overall pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye:
”We wouldn’t have done anything different at all. The only player I would’ve been upset if he slipped to five, would’ve been Blake Griffin. But he did go number one,” Grunfeld said. “Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans, James Harden, we like all of those players, and I think everybody else did. But if we had a choice to get Miller and Foye for any of those players, it wouldn’t have been a question whether we do it or not.”
Washington had a chance to remedy the mistakes of the past in this year’s draft, especially after watching so many rookies prove their worth on the playoff stage this season. Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, and Donovan Mitchell all played vital roles on teams that won playoff series. Players taken outside of the lottery like OG Anunoby and Jordan Bell helped their team’s causes as well, and now they’ll get to grow into even more valuable pieces in the future.
By contrast, the Wizards keep going back to the plan with the same pitfalls. The upside of targeting low-cost veterans is finding a guy like Mike Scott, a quality player who may have played himself out of Washington’s price range this summer. The downside is finding players like Eric Maynor, Tim Frazier, Gary Neal, Marcus Thornton, Jodie Meeks, Al Harrington, and Alan Anderson, who played themselves right out of the league.
This year, established players who could have helped right away were available in the first round (Donte DiVincenzo, Zhaire Smith, Robert Williams) and the second round (Keita Bates-Diop). But once again, the Wizards operated like a team living off non-accomplishments from prior years with an overinflated sense of worth, believing they could take a swing on long-term prospects like Brown and Sanon, and patch holes with the right low-cost veterans in the meantime.
To that I say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me for the tenth time, shame on me.