The worst thing the Washington Wizards could do at this moment is give in to public sentiment and view their unexpected surprise of a No. 3 pick in the NBA draft lottery as a nameplate above a cubicle in their locker room next season.
The Wizards got lucky, moved up five picks from where they were projected to choose in the draft, and drew the third selection Tuesday night for the second year in a row. Their good fortune could allow them to keep a local college or high school kid close to home. But they should resist the temptation.
Available at No. 3 in a month is very possibly Otto Porter Jr., the Georgetown all-American who was a finalist for numerous player-of-the-year awards. Or there could be Victor Oladipo, Indiana’s levitating swingman and DeMatha’s own. They both think the game like old souls. They move without the ball, pass, rebound and shoot the three-point bomb with aplomb. Either one is instant insurance in case Martell Webster, the team’s current starting small forward, decides to leave via free agency.
Porter is also just 20, and there is no certainty he can play 20-plus minutes per game his rookie year and help the Wizards immediately become a playoff team. The same goes for Oladipo, who turned 21 this month and would admittedly be eye candy on a two-on-none break with John Wall in mid-March.
Either seems like a good fit to play alongside Wall and Bradley Beal for years to come.
But the Wizards don’t have years. They have next season. Postseason or bust. That’s it. And as much as I think Porter could be an all-star within three years and Oladipo could be sixth man of the year off the Wizards’ bench in 2015, I’m not sure either one makes their mark next season.
And if Ernie Grunfeld can secure an established veteran now for that pick, someone who could even help take this franchise to the second round for the first time since 2005, he’s got to take that chance.
If he can dangle the No. 3 pick and Trevor Booker for, say, Detroit’s No. 8 pick and Greg Monroe or Minnesota’s No. 9 pick and an established veteran who’s not too old and not making more than $15 million per season, that makes the Wizards better now, not later.
Either way, Grunfeld has a much bigger bargaining chip than he did before 9 p.m. Tuesday night.
Bottom line, he can’t throw “developing player” at the problem anymore. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky’s shot-blocking freshman coming off ACL surgery on his left knee, will probably be gone at No. 3. If the Wizards got No. 1, they could make a good argument for not moving the pick. Noel has that much upside.
But take a name like Porter’s and the sentimental attachment to a local player away and now Grunfeld has a legitimate opportunity to go out and swing a deal for a player of larger stature, maybe someone like Danny Granger, provided the Pacers all-star’s knee is finally sound again.
The truth: Grunfeld can’t take a chance on this June’s No. 3 pick not being a key contributor this upcoming season. He has one year remaining on his contract with the team. He can plan for the future all he wants, but that’s a fact. Don’t trade the pick to save your job, trade it for a fan base that hasn’t seen the playoffs in five years.
After all, since the Bulls won in 1998, of the 13 different NBA finalists in the past 15 years just eight drafted the player that led them to the Finals. It’s wrong-headed to think help is on the way because a few teams like Oklahoma City and Golden State have profited mightily from the draft recently. Look at the league as a whole to truly gauge its effectiveness.
Thirty-two players taken in the first or second round of the past three drafts haven’t played a minute in the NBA. That’s slightly less than a 20 percent chance that a guy you pick might not even make your roster.
Just two players drafted since 2010 have been selected to the all-star game — Kyrie Irving and Paul George.
There is always a sleeper late (Jrue Holiday in ’09 and Roy Hibbert in ’08 — each taken at No. 17, Rajon Rondo in ’06 at No. 21), but mostly teams need to wait a few years before their picks truly show dividends (Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Mike Conley, from ’07 or LaMarcus Aldridge, who went No. 2 in ’06.)
And if Noah, Horford, Conley and Aldridge were all coming out today and needed time to develop into the players they have become, the advice to Grunfeld and the Wizards’ brass would still be the same: move the pick for a guy who can help take you to the postseason today, not in three to five years.
Grunfeld needs to begin the process of moving the No. 3 pick for someone who can guarantee a playoff appearance in 2014, not in 2015 or 2016. That player probably isn’t Carmelo Anthony or even Kevin Love. But he could be someone who doesn’t need a single more minute to develop. And if that player can be acquired, this town can start seriously talking about its pro basketball team again instead of who they might pluck from the lottery.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/wise.