Relying primarily on the draft for roster-building is often a slow, difficult process. Even executives with keen eyes for judging talent occasionally find lumps of coal where they were expecting diamonds. It’s simply hard to tell whether today’s raw prospect will mature into tomorrow’s polished superstar. But unless the Wizards suddenly get a lot better at drafting and developing players, or hire new people to oversee those key areas, you can count on them staying where they are: at the bottom of the NBA.
When it comes to the draft, Grunfeld is mostly known for shooting air balls. Guard Michael Redd is the only all-star Grunfeld has selected in more than 20 years as a player-personnel executive in New York, Milwaukee and Washington. Even accounting for all the variables that go into drafting — team needs, who’s available, draft position, etc. — that’s an incredibly long, undistinguished run by any criteria. And Grunfeld has had some glaring first-round misses.
With the Wizards in 2006, Grunfeld selected Oleksiy Pecherov at 18th overall. Pecherov lasted just three seasons in the NBA, averaging 3.9 points with Washington and Minnesota. When Grunfeld picked Pecherov, some guy named Rajon Rondo was available. Rondo has been an all-star the past three seasons.
In 2008, Grunfeld chose JaVale McGee; shot-blocking big man Serge Ibaka would have looked better in a Wizards uniform. Last season, Grunfeld made Jan Vesely the sixth overall pick. Vesely, who shoots poorly, isn’t even good enough to play for the Wizards: In Washington’s last five games, he has played a total of 32 minutes and scored two points. Two. Instead of Vesely, Grunfeld could have taken sharp-shooting guard Klay Thompson, versatile forward Kawhi Leonard or inside force Kenneth Faried.
“Vesely brings a lot of energy and a lot hustle on defense,” Grunfeld said.
Undrafted free agents also can do the same things. A sixth overall pick is supposed to make an immediate impact, especially on a team with desperate needs.
Teams that build “exclusively through the draft can’t have any glaring misses in the early part of the lottery,” a Western Conference general manager said. “It takes a combination of patience, skill and luck . . . but you just can’t miss early” because mistakes can set back the process for years.