A few minutes after Arizona sophomore Derrick Williams finished his last interview and coolly walked out of a ballroom at a downtown Chicago hotel, Turkish big man Enes Kanter entered and was quickly surrounded by a huge throng of reporters.
The Washington Wizards obviously have interest in both players — one, a dynamic forward who could go first overall, and the other, a rugged big man who could go as high as second. And, Kanter, who is good friends with John Wall after spending the past year enrolled at Kentucky, even said on Thursday that the Wizards are one of the teams that he would like to play for next season.
“If I had the choice, I like Washington,” Kanter said.
But when it comes to the NBA draft, Kanter doesn’t have the choice and the Wizards probably won’t either. The decision was so much easier for the Wizards last year, when they had the No. 1 overall pick and all the discretion to get the player they truly desired, which turned out to be Wall. This year, the Wizards have the sixth pick, a position that leads to maddening speculation and wide-ranging possibilities.
They would have to trade up to get Williams and maybe Kanter, or simply hope that Kanter slides down. More realistically, the Wizards would have to look at players such as San Diego State sophomore swingman Kawhi Leonard, Texas freshman forward Tristan Thompson, Kansas twin junior forwards Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, center Jan Vesely from the Czech Republic or Lithuanian forwards Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas.
Duke point guard Kyrie Irving is considered the player most likely to go first to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Wizards have no interest since they are already set at that position. The Wizards spoke with Kanter on Wednesday and have already set up an interview with Williams this week at the NBA combine, where more than 50 draft prospects hope to leave an impression in advance of the June 23 draft.
If they can make a deal to move up for Williams, the Wizards would get someone who believes he’s the best player available. “Definitely. I am,” Williams said. “A lot of people in this draft have already peaked or reached their mountain. I haven’t hit the surface. It’s pretty crazy, kind of like a movie, coming out of nowhere, being a top two, three, pick, it’s kind of amazing, considering where I come from.”
Vesely, Valanciunas and Motiejunas were not in Chicago, but the Wizards still had several players to evaluate for their lottery selection, and their other two choices — 18th and 34th. In addition to Kanter, the Wizards also spoke with the Morris twins, and Kansas combo guard Josh Selby on Wednesday. They expect to interview 15 players in Chicago and bring in others for workouts at Verizon Center.
The Morris twins boast matching tattoos and facial hair and were virtually interchangeable parts at Kansas, where they took turns grabbing rebounds and scoring inside. Marcus Morris, a 6-foot-9 forward, is trying to transition to playing small forward at the next level while Markieff Morris is an inch taller and about 10 pounds heavier and expects to remain at power forward.
Markieff Morris said the Wizards told him that they were looking for him to possibly be another big body and be a defensive stopper inside. “I definitely can bring that to any team. I can score. Anything you need me to do. I will work as hard as possible.”
In his one season at Texas, the 6-9 Thompson was a solid rebounder, who used his length and athleticism to score in a variety of ways. He also was a solid student who said he had a 4.0 grade point average in his first semester. But he also is considered to be small for his position. “It definitely motivates me, when somebody says you’re undersized,” said Thompson, who said he plans to meet with the Wizards this week and later work out for the team. “Some people use it as a knock, I use it as fuel for the fire.”
The Wizards need size, but they also need help at small forward, where the field of talent is light in a draft class that is already considered to be one of the weakest in recent memory. But the Wizards are high on Leonard, who emerged as a star while leading the Aztecs to the top of the college basketball rankings for much of last season. Leonard is an incredibly athletic player who provides a lot of energy and defensive intensity and has spent the past few weeks working on improving his jumper. He compared his game to former Lakers star James Worthy. “It’s not really overwhelming at all for me,” Leonard said of his surprising rise. “If you’re working hard, good things will come to you. You just can’t get caught up in all the hype and what people say around you. Because the highest fit, might not be what’s best for you. I’m just out here working hard, trying to get picked. I just want to be a player in the NBA.”
Kanter is just ready to return to the court after missing all of last season at Kentucky when the NCAA ruled him ineligible after he received more than $30,000 in benefits from his club basketball team in Turkey. He worked out in Lexington and practiced with the team, but admitted sitting out was a struggle. “It was really hard, because when I watched the game, I was crying because I could not help my team,” Kanter said. “I haven’t played in a long time. No one has seen me play yet. Right now I feel like I’m in great shape. I’m ready.”