The 2021 NBA Draft looms on the schedule this coming Thursday, and the rankings, ratings and wild guesses of front offices around the league need to coalesce into actual decisions.
Armed with the 15th pick (they don’t currently have a second rounder this year) and some room under the luxury tax, the Wizards are well-stocked with needs. In order:
- A starting small forward.
- Better production at power forward.
- Backup guards, preferably one with size and athleticism.
- An overall upgrade in talent/production.
Obviously, all of that can’t from the 15th pick. If they’re fortunate, the Wizards will be able to find year-one help in one of those areas. But, given the reality that draft picks typically take a year or two before they become contributors, the best draft philosophy is to pick the best player available and not reach to try and fill a need.
Given the resources (draft and financial) constraints, it’s likely the Wizards will rely on internal growth for numbers two and four on the list above. Improvement from Rui Hachimura and a bounce-back year from Davis Bertans could be the upgrade they need at the PF spot and help with needed production.
They may hope to do the same at SF — run it back with Deni Avdija as the incumbent and hope an offseason of work and the strategic vision of new coach Wes Unseld Jr. can boost Avdija from replacement level to at least average. The smartest move would be to invest time and effort in maximizing Avdija’s potential and acquiring someone with size who can play significant minutes at SF and SG.
That may need to come in free agency, which I’ll look at more closely after the draft. To get a sense for who might be available if the Wizards keep their pick, I aggregated a collection of credible mock drafts, including those from The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN, Yahoo, SB Nation, NBADraft.net, CBS Sports, and Bleacher Report. Here’s the top 20:
- Cade Cunningham, PG, Oklahoma State
- Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite
- Evan Mobley, F/C, USC
- Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga
- Scottie Barnes, SF, Florida State
- Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite
- James Bouknight, SG, Connecticut
- Franz Wagner, F, Michigan
- Davion Mitchell, PG, Baylor
- Josh Giddey, PG, Adelaide 36ers
- Moses Moody, G/F, Arkansas
- Keon Johnson, SG, Tennessee
- Corey Kispert, SF, Gonzaga
- Kai Jones, F/C, Texas
- Alperen Sengun, C, Besiktas
- Jalen Johnson, PF, Duke
- Chris Duarte, SF, Oregon
- Usman Garuba, F/C, Real Madrid
- Trey Murphy III, SF, Virginia
- Ziaire Williams, G/F, Stanford
Assuming these mocks are at least somewhat reflective of the thinking among NBA decision-makers, players 13-20 are reasonably “in play” for the Wizards at 15. Here’s a quick look at each through my stat-based draft analysis process, called Ye Olde Draft Analyzer (YODA for short).
- Corey Kispert — I wrote about him earlier in the week, when Albert, Diamond and I picked him in the SB Nation mock draft. He’s a terrific shooter who comes with questions about size, athleticism and defense. YODA Range: top 10 pick in most drafts.
- Kai Jones — An intriguing big with good size and agility who picked up the game relatively late. He finished well inside (64% from two-point range) and shot 38%from three-point range on low volume. For his size and athleticism, his rebounds, steals and blocks were unimpressive. YODA Range: late teens.
- Alperen Sengun — He just completed a wildly productive season in a good professional league in Turkey. At 18-years-old, he dominated. The question with him is how his interior scoring and production translate to the NBA given he’s smaller than most NBA centers and he’s not an explosive athlete. YODA Range: top five pick in most drafts.
- Jalen Johnson — An impressive mix of size and athleticism, Johnson is probably best suited to play PF in the NBA, though it’s easy to envision him as a big three or a small-ball five in some situations. In a truncated season at Duke (he left the team after 13 games to prep for the draft), he had some trouble finishing inside (54% from two-point range) and shot well from three (44%). He also did a good job on the boards. In isolation, his assist numbers look nice, but they came with rampant turnovers a 0.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. YODA Range: late lottery.
- Chris Duarte — Terrific shooting with limited rebounding and playmaking. Stat markers for athleticism look good, but...his numbers should be excellent as a 23-year-old going against 18-20 year olds. I’d love to be a fly on the wall to listen to the Wizards’ conversation if he and Kispert are both available when they go on the clock. There are strong arguments for either guy. YODA Range: Early 20s.
- Usman Garuba — Terrific and switchable defender who needs a ton of work on his offensive game. Last season in the high-level Spanish ACB league, he was ultra-low usage and inefficient — just 31.6% from three and 58% from two-point range. His rebounding is decent but not elite. And he’s definitely not a playmaker of any sort. He’s likely to be limited to rim-running and setting screens, but his potential a roll man is iffy because he’s not a threat to pop and he’s not going make plays in the short roll. YODA Range: Late first, early second round.
If the actual NBA draft follows the aggregate mock, the Wizards would have some genuine options with Kispert, Duarte and Sengun. The first two would fit a need (at least in theory) and might even be able to contribute in their first year. Sengun would be a “best available” selection that could pay off huge in 2-3 years but would also likely trigger a series of other transactions to configure the roster for success around Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook.
Overall, YODA thinks this is a stronger draft than last year’s and it’s reasonable to think the Wizards could get a good prospect with the 15th pick. I’ll come back to this in the coming days, but it might be smart to acquire a second round pick — there may be some mid-first round value available.