The Wizards need perimeter defense. You could make the argument that they need that more than they need a shot-blocking center (which we covered in a previous article). The NBA is a perimeter-dominated league these days and all of the best teams have a lock-down defender on the wing. A wing that is capable of being a point-of-attack defender is one of the more valuable assets a team can have. Accordingly, that type of player will fetch a premium in free agency.
Bradley Beal spends too much energy carrying the offense to be a “stopper” and John Wall has been known to gamble for steals a little too often to truly “put the clamps on anyone.” Troy Brown Jr. hasn’t shown any special defensive acumen at this point. Isaac Bonga is too limited offensively to earn meaningful crunch-time minutes. If the Wizards decide to opt for a wing in the draft, here are some of their more realistic options in the first round.
Draft Lottery prospects
Isaac Okoro (Auburn) – If you need someone to come in right away and be your best defender, Isaac Okoro is the guy. The 6-foot-6 freshman is the cream of the crop in this draft in terms of defensive potential. Okoro could get minutes right away because he fills an immediate need for the Wizards. He’s quick enough laterally to stay in front of the most dynamic guards and also strong enough to body bigger players. Seeing the impact Gary Payton II was able to make just by being an above-average defender should make it clear how dire the need for perimeter defense is.
Similar to Payton II, Okoro is a below-average three-point shooter. Every team in the league is always in the market for more 3-and-D options. The fact that Robert Covington, a player with a legitimate injury history, was so coveted at the trade deadline really illustrates that. Currently, Okoro is missing the “3” from 3-and-D. He would be an elite finisher in transition next to John Wall, he was a reasonable enough ball-handler to get by guys at the college level, and he’s an adequate passer. He could be an impact player for the Wizards right away, but working on his shooting would give him elite potential.
Deni Avdija (Maccabi Tel Aviv) – Deni Avdija might seem a bit redundant with some other players on the Wizards roster as he’s probably best suited as a power forward. However, as the top international prospect in the draft, Avdija would be too tempting to pass up if he fell to the Wizards. The 6-foot-9 forward isn’t a traditional wing but has enough ball skills to play there. Avdija, an Israeli player, is averaging 12.3 points per game in Israeli League play and is also a regular participant when Maccabi plays in EuroLeague games.
Orlando Magic-era Hedo Turkoglu comparisons have been thrown around due to his ball-handling and play-making ability at his size. He sees the floor very well and is at his best with the ball in his hands. Watching five minutes of highlights would be enough to get fans excited about his ability to run dynamic pick-and-rolls with just about anyone else on the Wizards roster. He’s a bit of a streaky shooter and scouts have continually questioned his inconsistent mechanics. When you watch Avdija though, it isn’t hard to imagine him fine-tuning things because when it looks right, it’s pretty convincing.
Avdija isn’t the most explosive athlete but seems to put in enough effort to be a respectable defender. The fact that he’s smart enough to be in the right spots to defend wings and big enough to bang with bigger forwards offers some nice positional versatility. A forward rotation of Avdija, Rui Hachimura, and Davis Bertans wouldn’t necessarily be the best defensive group in the NBA but any combination of the three would be scary offensively.
Late lottery / Mid-first round
Devin Vassell (Florida State) – The 6-foot-5 sophomore isn’t the most dynamic play-maker and doesn’t consistently get his own shot (although some of that could be due to the unique offensive system at Florida State). He does offer a lot of positives though and brings legitimate NBA skills to the table. He’s one of the better three-point shooting prospects in the draft, making over 41-percent for his college career. You often hear scouts talk about a player’s free-throw shooting as an indicator of long-term shooting potential and Vassell made a respectable 74-percent. He’s also a good athlete and smart defender so he would be a nice 3-and-D option for the Wizards.
Saddiq Bey (Villanova) – A legitimate 6-foot-8, Bey has the size to be able to play both forward spots (with the right match-ups). He shot over 45-percent from three-point range at Villanova and just always seemed to be working within the flow of the offense. Considering all of the offensive threats the Wizards already have, Bey would offer them an efficient complementary option. And one who plays pretty good defense in the process. Bey often guarded the opponent’s best player regardless of their position. The Wizards could use that type of defensive versatility.
Aaron Nesmith (Vanderbilt) – The 6-foot-6 sophomore spent this past season playing for former-Wizard Jerry Stackhouse. Nesmith’s season was ultimately cut short due to a foot injury, limiting him to only 14 games. In those games, he averaged 23 points and 5 rebounds. He also shot 52-percent from three-point range and 83-percent from the free-throw line. He seems to have the tools to be a pretty good NBA defender and he’s already an elite catch-and-shoot option. If the Wizards are determined to take a wing and end up in the late lottery, Nesmith should definitely get some consideration.
Jaden McDaniels (Washington) – I’m probably more of a fan of Jaden McDaniels than most but I’m not sure he makes sense for a Wizards team that wants to try to win now. If Tommy Sheppard was intending to blow things up and rebuild, I would like McDaniels’ long-term potential in the late lottery. He is definitely a project though and that doesn’t seem to be what they have in mind with this year’s draft pick.
He’s 6-foot-10, has extremely long arms, moves great for his size, can dribble, pass, and shoot from distance. So what’s not to love? He’s streaky, scrawny, and immature. For every jaw-dropping play this season, there seemed to be just as many face-palm moments. To be fair, he played most of the season without a point guard and I think he would have really benefited from a savvy veteran putting him in positions to be successful. If the Wizards weren’t looking for someone ready to play now, I would say take a shot on him developing into a Jonathan Isaac or maybe even a Brandon Ingram (absolute best case scenario).
The NBA Draft has two rounds. Tomorrow, I will offer a list of more wing prospects who might be good fits for the second round.