The Washington Wizards defied improbable odds — 4.79 percent — at the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday in New York, hurdling five teams to snag the third overall pick for the second year in a row. Now the franchise finds itself with two enviable choices: hold on to the pick and select a top young talent to go along with John Wall and Bradley Beal, or move the selection to acquire a more veteran player via trade.
“It brings a lot of excitement. Trust me, I’d rather be at three than eight — and we could’ve gone to 11,” said Wizards Coach Randy Wittman, who was finishing up on the golf course when his team’s number combination came up, nerves keeping him from watching the event live. “It’s all luck. There is no rhyme or reason to it.”
This draft doesn’t have any players projected to have an immediate impact, but the Wizards will be able to pick from a pool that includes Georgetown forward Otto Porter Jr., UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett, Indiana guard and DeMatha product Victor Oladipo, Maryland center Alex Len and Indiana center Cody Zeller. They could also get Kentucky center Nerlens Noel or Kansas guard Ben McLemore if either player is bypassed by Cleveland or Orlando.
“It gives you more options, more players to chose from,” Grunfeld said of the third pick. “Obviously, the Ping-Pong balls went our way.”
The Wizards also could use the draft pick as a trade chip to acquire a more experienced player to help the franchise end a string of five consecutive lottery appearances. But since the lottery began in 1985, teams that trade the third pick often look back on those deals with regret. For instance, Minnesota came out ahead when it moved down to acquire Kevin Love from Memphis in exchange for O.J. Mayo in 2008. But Portland is just now recovering from trading the third pick in 2005 — which turned out to be Deron Williams, but could also have been Chris Paul — to Utah in exchange for the pick that became Martell Webster.
Grunfeld hasn’t ruled out dealing the pick.
“Nothing is on the table, but you never say never to anything,” he said. “I think we feel comfortable with the number three pick and that we’ll be able to have a good player there, but if somebody makes an offer that we feel is more helpful, then that’s something we may look at.”
Bennett was in attendance at the lottery with his surgically repaired left shoulder in a sling, and said he probably won’t be able to begin participating in basketball-related activities until August. A physical, low-post bull with the range to step out and convert long jumpers, the 6-foot-8 Bennett is arguably the most polished offensive big man in the draft, and some NBA talent evaluators believe he could emerge as the best player.
“I feel like any pick in the top five is best for me,” Bennett said. “I heard [Washington] is a great organization. Great city. Great fan base. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a great season next year.”
Immediately after the draft order was determined, two Western Conference executives felt that the Wizards would surely pick the 6-8 Porter, with one calling his selection a “no-brainer” for the team.
Porter, a versatile forward who compares himself to Tayshaun Prince, would seem to be an ideal fit to pair with Wall and Beal, giving the Wizards an intriguing trio with complementary skills to build around. Grunfeld hasn’t had to go very far to scout Porter, because he played his Georgetown home games in the same building. Wizards owner and Georgetown alum Ted Leonsis would also be able to add the school’s first first-team all-American since Allen Iverson — and an easily marketable player — to his NBA franchise.
Wittman denied the notion that a higher draft pick raises the pressure with both Wittman and Grunfeld entering the final seasons of their respective contracts. The Wizards had already begun to prove themselves by having success when the team was at full strength, going 24-19 from Jan. 12 to April 6.
“There is always pressure. Getting the third pick doesn’t make it any worse or any less,” Wittman said. “I never really looked at it like that. It’s time for us to continue with the moves we’ve been making. Get a couple of players to help the team. If that’s through the draft, through a trade, through free agency, whatever it is, we’ve got to continue to improve this team and if we do that, I think that takes care of itself.”