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,
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
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.
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.