Alas, the universe is always going to make the Wizards’ life somewhat more difficult, and now the (interim) front office will have to find a way to unearth a gem later in the draft than anticipated.
The ninth pick — while not ideal — is still the highest draft selection the Wizards have had since 2013, when they picked Otto Porter third overall.
Here are five things to watch for the Wizards tonight:
Will the Wizards buy into the second round?
As I mentioned in this week’s mailbag, the Wizards are starved for players. The roster is so thin they might ask Ted Leonsis to run point guard next season.
Assuming the team declines Jabari Parker’s $20 million team option (and they likely will), the Wizards could start free agency with five healthy players: Bradley Beal, Troy Brown, Ian Mahinmi, Jordan McRae and Tarik Phillip. That would be totally okay if they had the cap space to fill out their roster, but John Wall’s super max contract is kicking in.
The only pick the Wizards own is the ninth — and they could use affordable contracts. Finding a way to get into the second round is something the Wizards should do. After all, the vast majority of the players that worked out for the Wizards during pre-draft workouts were projected to go in the second round. And with the Go-Go’s inaugural season in the books, the Wizards will need to continue developing players in the G-League.
Did the Wizards fall in love with a prospect?
As teams become enamored with talent, talk themselves out of picks and strike agreements to trades, the draft tends to become chaotic. The Wizards are no strangers to the chaos, either.
Washington spent most of its off-season workouts watching second round prospects — but they did have one workout featuring UNC’s Coby White and Nassir Little that was particularly interesting.
White’s stock has grown a lot since he declared for the draft, with some boards having him as high as sixth (where the Wizards were originally supposed to pick). Little is expected to be available when it’s the Wizards’ time to make a selection.
For the Wizards to be in the range to snag White, they will have to complete a trade — and they don’t have many assets available. Brown Jr. or a future first round pick are the only interesting trade pieces the Wizards can dangle to move up for White (unless they shock everyone and trade Beal).
Leonsis, Wizards interim general manager Tommy Sheppard and Beal were all in attendance for White’s workout with the Wizards. It’s just something to keep an eye on, although it does seem a bit far-fetched.
Upside or NBA ready?
Washington’s draft selection will provide some insight into the Wizards’ future plans.
It’s hard to see how the Wizards will be able to retool this summer and become competitive, but picking an “NBA ready” prospect might reveal the team’s cards a bit. On the flip side, the Wizards might show their willingness to start a full-blown rebuild if the team decides to pick a more raw prospect — like Texas center Jaxson Hayes, or Duke forward Cam Reddish.
The international prospect(s)
Ernie Grunfeld is gone — and everyone knows how much he loved international talent. I’ll refrain from bringing up any names, because even though the Wizards have a ton of love for international players, they haven’t had much luck in finding contributing players from overseas.
Sheppard, who’s leading the Wizards at the moment, played an integral role in the team’s international scouting before becoming the interim GM. If he wants to take a risk — and the Wizards haven’t been afraid to do so — Sheppard could pull the trigger on French forward Sekou Doumbouya, who visited Washington during the pre-draft process.
Doumbouya has incredible upside — he’s 6-foot-9 and still growing (he’s only 18 years old), showed an improved outside shot in front of NBA executives, and has a physical profile that will make him a mismatch for a lot of players on day one. It’s easy to watch Doumbouya play and understand the comparisons to Pascal Siakam. But it’s also a pick that could get Sheppard’s interim title snatched and sent to the unemployment line. Given the talent he played against, Doumbouya is more difficult to gauge than his fellow draft prospects, so he carries as much bust potential as he does star potential.
Oh — and Goga Bitadze, anyone?
Best player available — or need?
The Wizards “need” a lot, but some of those needs can get addressed via free agency — like re-signing Thomas Bryant, for instance.
In 2015, the Wizards were really high on Kelly Oubre (even though he didn’t visit with the team — hint, hint), so they completed a trade with the Atlanta Hawks and got him. Porter was still on the roster at the time, so the Wizards didn’t necessary “need” a small forward.
Depending on how the Wizards’ draft board looks when it’s their turn to pick, the team might have to decide whether to take a big man — and ultimately say goodbye to either Bryant, Bobby Portis, or both. Sometimes, teams will take the best player available and figure out the fit later. If the Wizards hold onto Beal — and it looks like they will — how will they react if someone like Reddish is still available? Or, what if Jarrett Culver ends up being the top-five pick that slips and suddenly, yet unexpectedly becomes available?
Usually, beggars can’t be choosers — but the Wizards are desperate for talent, and, uniquely, will have their pick.