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Wizards staid draft night suggests they’re sticking with the same old tried-and-failed strategies

Expect more of the same.

Monumental Basketball Introductory Press Conference
Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis (R) and team president Tommy Sheppard (L).
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Washington Wizards draft night is making me grouchy, and it has little to do with the players they chose.

Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis has a reasonable shot at becoming a good NBA player. Congolese big Yannick Nzosa, their second round selection, was the lowest ranked player in Ye Olde Draft Analyzer (YODA — my stat-based draft analysis tool), but he also rated as being worth a second round pick in his previous season.

What has my hackles up is the contrast between the Wizards and other teams. In many cases, these other teams are better — higher winning percentage, greater accomplishments, better stars, deeper roster — and they moved aggressively to acquire prospects they wanted.

Consider the Memphis Grizzlies. They made the second round of the playoffs and gave the eventual championship winning Golden State Warriors a helluva series despite an injury to their best player, Ja Morant. As I wrote back in April, Memphis is LOADED with talented youngsters.

On draft night, the Grizzlies made three trades and emerged with promising prospects Kennedy Chandler (15th ranked in YODA), David Roddy (16th in YODA), and Jake LaRavia (25th).

The Dallas Mavericks, which reached the Western Conference Finals, made a deal before the draft to acquire Christian Wood, and then swapped a pair of future second round picks to obtain Jaden Hardy, a promising guard from the G-League Ignite.

A week after winning the NBA Championship, and with a bloated payroll and massive luxury tax payment, the Warriors paid to move up and select Toledo guard Ryan Rollins.

The Wizards, in significant need of talented players — especially given their “win now” goals — were content to sit still and wait. And the “waiting” strategy doesn’t apply merely to making draft picks. In the case of Nzosa, they’re literally going to wait a few years before even attempting to bring him to the NBA.

This is a strategy that would make a lot more sense for the Warriors or Grizzlies — winning teams with talented rosters. But those teams actively used draft night to add players. Despite being a consistent loser over the years, the Wizards continue to behave like a perennial title winner.

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels weird to watch a professional sports franchise operate in a way that suggests a fear of having too much talent. Perhaps it’s merely a symptom of something else — the front office’s age-old legacy of overrating its players. If you think your roster is stocked up on talent, that you’ve just been unlucky with injuries and some bad bounces, and that you just need to tweak the fit, then maybe it makes sense to stand pat, draft-and-stash and act with inexhaustible patience.

Again, maybe it’s just me, but this seems silly and almost guaranteed to produce disappointing results. Organizational culture starts at the top. If Ted Leonsis and Sheppard want more “dogs,” maybe they need to make roster moves that communicate urgency. Maybe they need to load up on talented players and let them compete for playing time and opportunities. Maybe a competitive internal culture will stoke competitive fire when they’re facing other teams.

Maybe the same old “we have enough talent” strategy is going to yield the same old losing results.

The Wizards keep saying they want to win. The way to do it is to acquire talented players and teach them how to play together as a unit. Free agency, which starts in two days, gives Sheppard and the Wizards yet another opportunity to show whether they’re willing to put the rhetoric into action or if they’ll remain content to contend for the play-in. Wizards fans should be hoping that history is no guide to the team’s offseason moves.