If you can think back to 2019 (the good ol’ days), you’ll remember that Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard was still operating with the “interim” title.
Allowing an “interim” general manager make a pick inside the NBA lottery was unusual, which sparked questions about the boundaries for Sheppard’s selection. Would he be able to swing for the fences and draft, say, Cam Reddish, or would he opt for a safer pick in Nassir Little?
Ultimately, Sheppard went with Rui Hachimura — a consistent, reliable presence from Gonzaga.
Now, any restraints Sheppard might have had are gone, as he’s been given complete control of the Wizards’ draft process (with the help of the team’s revamped front office, of course).
The 2019 NBA Draft had a set top-three order before teams called in their picks: it was going to be Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barrett.
If the Wizards were fortunate enough to pick in the top three, Sheppard’s work would have already been done for him.
This year is drastically different. We’re about 24 hours away from the draft and we still don’t even know who’s going first overall.
Many mock drafts, without predicting teams trading up or down from their selections, have USC forward/center Onyeka Okongwu going to the nation’s capital.
On paper, Okongwu is exactly what the Wizards need — a dynamic, defensive-oriented big man, capable of switching onto guards and scoring double-digit points without necessarily needing the ball. He’s been compared to Miami’s Bam Adebayo, a do-it-all big man who’s helped reshape the idea of what a center is in today’s game. Okongwu’s stock, however, has risen considerably over the past several weeks, as he’s being projected to go as high as third overall.
Chances are, unless the Wizards complete a deal for a top pick, Okongwu will be off the board.
And that’s where things get tricky.
Because we don’t have much of a clue as to the order before the Wizards make their selection, it’s difficult to speculate who will remain on the board, but we can safely assume one or two of the following players will be available: Isaac Okoro, Tyrese Haliburton, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams, and Killian Hayes.
From a talent standpoint, any one of these players could come in and immediately provide a boost for the Wizards.
Okoro is considered the best perimeter defender in this year’s draft — and, well, the Wizards could use a number of them. His jump shot is shaky, but he plays a winning form of basketball — an Andre Iguodala type, if things work out for him in his career.
Haliburton could end up being a long-term replacement for John Wall at point guard, and for now, a combo-guard capable of providing a much-needed playmaking relief for Bradley Beal. ESPN’s Mike Schmitz called him “one of the best catch-and-shoot marksmen in the draft,” so don’t let his awkward looking jump shot scare you.
Vassell could be the deep-ball threat the Wizards need at small forward. It’s difficult to believe that the Wizards had Otto Porter, Bojan Bogdanovic and Kelly Oubre all splitting minutes at one point, and now they’re looking for someone to provide help at that position. Ironically, his game is similar to Porter’s, so if you saw the viral video of Vassell’s seemingly broken jump shot — don’t be alarmed. He says it was just a joke...
Basically, without getting too into the weeds with every potentially available player: Sheppard will have options, and none of them are particularly bad.
In past drafts, it was easy to pinpoint the single player that had ultimate boom or bust potential — and because Wizards, would likely become a colossal bust (hi, Jan Vesely) if he landed in Washington. This year, Aleksej Pokuševski is that player — but so far, I haven’t seen a mock draft with him landing in D.C. (take that for what it’s worth, and be afraid).
The rest of the players, like Okoro, Haliburton, or Vassell, would have obvious roles in the nation’s capital. And that’s because outside of Beal, the Wizards have question marks all over their roster.
Is Wall going to be himself when he returns? Will Davis Bertans re-sign, or will the team be left with a monstrous 3-point shooting void? Is Thomas Bryant a starting-caliber center, or is he more of an energy player off the bench?
Having many options with the ninth pick is a perk of managing a relatively talent-deprived roster.
For all we know, the Wizards could have already pinpointed their guy. Maybe it is Okongwu, after all, and the Wizards will swing a deal for him at the draft.
But if things stay the way they are, Sheppard will have a fantastic opportunity to prove himself. No longer is he an “interim.” He’s now running the team with a vision to rebuild somewhat quickly, and show Beal that Washington is a place where he can eventually contend.
In other words, gone are the days when the Wizards are almost expected to miss on their pick. Sheppard has a lot at stake, and because the team could use virtually any one of the aforementioned players, the selection could serve as a test of the team’s draft preparation and advanced scouting.