The Wizards didn’t win the lottery last night—New Orleans “did”*—but they didn’t lose, either.
Anthony Davis—who looks, at minimum, like a franchise-changing player and a once-a-generation defensive force, a combination of Marcus Camby and Tim Duncan but with greater agility and quickness than either—would have been a fantastic prize, an enormous package of compensation for a team that suffered a second painful season of a putative three-year rebuild.
Davis would have completed the transformation of the team’s frontline and cemented its identity as the tough, scrappy, energetic, defensive-focused outfit that owner Ted Leonsis clearly lusts for. In Davis and Wall, the Wizards would have had their inside-out combination for the next decade and beyond.
In fact, picking third is the next-best place the Wizards could be.
They won’t get what they want. But they may just get what they need.
Given the Wizards’ lottery “luck,” falling in the lottery ten times in 17 years, picking fifth was a near certainty in many fans’ minds. We avoided that fate. At five, Andre Drummond is likely to still be on the board, and despite his spectacularly underwhelming season at UConn, a hulking specimen with quick feet and a gift for blocking shots might have been too tempting for GM Ernie Grunfeld. Grunfeld’s history with the Wizards has been full of reaches, particularly on big men who are intriguing in their athleticism and fluidity but who lack the necessary skills (shooting, boxing out) to make a difference on the court.
Drummond has “upside” he won’t realize for years, and maybe never. I’m dubious of his mental makeup. I think he’s Kwame redux.
Picking second, where the Wizards had been slotted before the lottery, would have occasioned a tough decision, too.
The second-best talent in the draft is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a teammate of Davis’s and an integral component of the energetic, ball-pressuring defense that Kentucky rode to this year's NCAA title. I like Kidd-Gilchrist an awful lot—for another team.
MKG in the fold in Washington come training camp would mean two starters, at point guard and small forward, who can’t shoot. Can’t have that in today’s NBA.
It’d be very interesting to watch on the one end—I think they’d potentially be a dominant defensive team. Bear in mind that after the trade-deadline castoff of JaVale McGee and Nick Young and the arrival of Nene (the first real interior presence in DC since Chris Webber almost 15 years ago), the Wizards ranked as a top-five defensive team. With MKG hawking on the perimeter, John Wall at the point (his defensive awareness grew noticeably last season, an area of his game that such NBA know-nothings as Tony Kornheiser, Steve Czaban, and Thom Loverro of SportsTalk 980 and others never remarked upon, content to blather on only about his lack of a jumper), Nene and Kevin Seraphin in the middle, and Jan Vesely (who may flower into a sort of latter-day Bobby Jones) trapping frenetically and knifing into the passing lanes, the Wizards would create hell for other teams. But they would be hellish to watch on the other end, too.
DC native Thomas Robinson, an exceptional rebounder at Kansas, looks to be in the mix at number three, but I think the Wizards pass. With Nene and the rapid development of Seraphin—who was a late-season revelation in the post with his soft hands, nimble footwork, and ability to bang and stay out of foul trouble—they have big men to build around. How seriously Grunfeld mulls the possibility of Robinson in Washington has as much to do with the roster that is beginning to coalesce, finally, as it does with Robinson and his appealingly rugged, if somewhat unathletic, game. Does Grunfeld view Nene and Seraphin as centers only? Or as big men who can slide between the four and five? If the GM leans more toward the former, then I could see Robinson being tempting. He’s a great rebounder, and that’s the one skill in college that almost always translates to the NBA. And Nene and Seraphin are not great rebounders. My worry, though, is that Robinson just doesn’t have enough lift in his game, and, more worrisome, is not a paint protector. Teams that advance deep in the postseason are stingy around the hoop.
I think our guy is Bradley Beal, a fluid, somewhat heady guard from Florida who reminds many of Ray Allen and some of Joe Dumars. Short of Davis, I think he’s actually the best fit next to Wall.**
He has a smart floor game, doesn’t dominate the ball, and has shown that he can shoot from range. The operative phrase, of course, is “has shown.” In his single season at Florida, Beal was far from the deadeye he’d been billed to be. Part of that was being a freshman. Part of that was being the best player on a team without a lot of talent, making him susceptible to defenses that locked in on him. His excellent, all-around performance in the NCAA Tournament, and particularly his steady shooting, should allay some of those concerns. So should the fact that he’s only 19 and not 22.
Many fans saw how Seraphin and Nene provided Wall with a lot more room to work with than he had previously, and fantasized about the possibility of having a two-guard on the floor who doesn’t just jack up shots and knows how to move off the ball. Beal is that guard. He’ll help space the floor even more, he’ll be a willing defender, and—with the open looks he will most likely get in the NBA that he didn’t get in college and with coaching that allows him to grow at his own pace—will prove himself to be a rarity in the game: a guy who can score without taking a lot of shoots and without dominating the ball.
He may not be
the piece, but he’s a very, very attractive piece, one that ought to fit seamlessly with the selfless, hustling, swing-the-ball,
defensive-oriented team the Wizards are building.
* Win, in the sense that they came away with the top pick. Conspiracy theories are rampant around the league right now, and it’s hard not to see the New Orleans win as, at the least, awfully convenient. There’s the fact that Tom Benson, the Hornets’ new owner, recently purchased the franchise from the league itself at a price that surprised many observers, and the fact that the NBA rather aggressively nixed the Chris Paul trade and engineered one more to its own liking, to the consternation of other owners, GMs and even some players. The Hornets’ victory also continues a pattern of recent years of the lottery going to a hard-luck franchise with a compelling, made-for-TV storyline and/or demonstrated emotional need (see: our own Wizards, who won after the NBA’s longtime owner Abe Pollin died and after the franchise changed hands; Cleveland, which snagged the top pick last year in the wake of Lebron James fleeing town and with the owner’s son, afflicted with neurofibromatosis, on hand as a good luck charm).
** With Beal on board and the backcourt set for the immediate future, the Wizards ought to pursue free agent Nic Batum, of Portland, with a desperate ferocity this summer. Batum is a defensive perimeter stalwart, like MKG, but also possesses a reliable jumper and range out to three. He won’t come cheap—$10 million a year is my guess—but you always have to overpay in free agency. And Nicolas Batum (a French national team member, like Seraphin) is an ideal fit in the new Wizards culture.