It was June 2012 and the NBA Draft was coming up. The Wizards were coming off a disastrous 20-44 lockout-shortened season, fired their Head Coach (the late Flip Saunders) and drafted an underwhelming rookie year from Jan Vesely the previous summer. Clearly, this draft was huge and really was going to play a role in the Wizards being able to find the right complementary player to place next to John Wall.
As the draft approacheed, there is no doubt that everyone knew that Anthony Davis was going to be the first pick, but the next few picks were a bit of a mystery. With the second pick, the Charlotte Bobcats (yes they were still the Bobcats) were up.
Charlotte had just drafted Connecticut point guard Kemba Walker one year prior and were looking for a wing player that they could place next to him for years to come. The Bobcats wanted to build a new core after breaking up their core of Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace, who had a brief playoff run for a couple of years for the new franchise.
But unlike what happened in real-life when they drafted Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, they selected …..Bradley Beal, a guard from the Florida Gators.
What if this actually happened? What would the Wizards have done in this instance? Would they in turn go to draft Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or would they consider someone else?
Let’s consider this. When the Wizards drafted Vesely, they viewed him as a small forward with the potential to develop shooting and become a true complement to Wall. His rookie season didn’t show that potential. And instead, Vesely struggled to display any type of offensive game. With Wall not being a great shooter at the time (he’s still not a sharpshooter per se), scoring became a big need.
One of the reasons why Kidd-Gilchrist was so highly regarded is because in his only year at the University of Kentucky, he showed a tremendous feel for the game and was a jack of all trades. He displayed the potential of being a strong developmental piece, but his game had one major flaw which was shooting. Given the struggles the Wizards already had with Vesely, Washington wasn’t going that route.
So if not MKG, then who? With the #3 pick in the Washington Wizards select……….Harrison Barnes, a forward from North Carolina.
How would have Harrison Barnes worked out in D.C.?
Barnes, once considered one of the best high school basketball players in the country before playing in Chapel Hill. At UNC, Barnes was at times criticized for not living up to the bill as being a top recruit.
He had moments were he would disappear in big games, but his talent was undeniable. At 6’8”, he was a great size to guard some of the bigger, athletic and physical small forwards in the league. Drafting him also took pressure off of Wall because he would have been a player that could shoulder the scoring load with Wall without requiring the ball too much. Barnes also possessds good athleticism that made him a great complement to Wall’s ability to run the floor.
And let’s not forget the Wizards in 2011 already missed out on rookie Kawhi Leonard who was drafted 15th overall and showed promise as a great wing player with superb defensive ability. Would the Wizards front office miss another opportunity to draft yet another wing with the ability to become an excellent defender? Of course not.
By drafting Barnes, the Wizards could move Vesely to the power forward spot where his lack of outside shooting isn’t as much of a hindrance At the time, many teams played a much more basic offense that relied on two big men in the middle of the floor as opposed to the modern style of play that almost requires that the power forward become a ‘stretch 4’.
Other players on the table didn’t make much sense. Dion Waiters for all the talent he showed, would have been a horrible complement to Wall. In much the same way that Waiters struggled playing next to a ball dominant player like Kyrie Irving, he would have equally had the same struggles with Wall.
Damian Lillard could have been another option. In fact, he is perhaps the most intriguing option of the others who were left. But the question would be, could the Wizards find a way for Wall to develop his off-the-ball game well enough to allow him to play with a player like Lillard? Probably not.
It seemed like a lot to ask and given both play very similarly, it would maybe do more harm than good to both of their development as star players.
With all this said, I believe Harrison Barnes would have made the most sense. That would have meant the Wizards would likely not have picked Otto Porter Jr. in the next year’s draft.
In much the same way as Porter, Barnes would have likely faced a lot of similar criticism for his lack of aggressiveness, although he would only have to deal with Wall as being a primary option on offense as opposed to both Wall and Beal, like Porter had to.
All in all, in much the same way that Porter’s time with the Wizards went, Barnes would end up disappointing much of the fanbase who expected him to become a star player and a viable second option behind Wall.
Given that the Wizards were (and should) be protective of their high draft picks, Barnes would have been re-signed to a max contract starting in the 2016-17 NBA season, his fifth year in the league, but his time in a Wizards uniform during his second contract would be short-lived.
In the 2016-17 season, Washington would trade Barnes in the middle of the contract to the Lakers for the expiring contracts of Brook Lopez, Luol Deng and the rights to the International Croatian sensation Luka Bozic. Or at least that would it seem the type of move that then-President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld would have done.
Ultimately, the Wizards would have remained mired in a long period of mediocre-at-best seasons.