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Just What the Wizards Needed: A Big Man

JaVale McGee
Though the Wizards never brought him in for a workout, the team selects JaVale McGee from Nevada with the 18th overall pick. (Brad Horn - AP)

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By Michael Wilbon
Friday, June 27, 2008

Anybody who spent any time watching the Washington Wizards the past four years could see the Wizards weren't big enough, strong enough or physically tough enough to be a serious playoff contender. So the Wizards' primary need was no secret going into last night's NBA draft.

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They needed a Big Man. Not a tall, skinny kid who might fill out one day; they've got that in Andray Blatche. They didn't need another scorer; the Wizards have plenty of those. They didn't need a tall guy who plays like a little guy and shoots pretty shots from the perimeter. They didn't need a swingman, or a backup point guard, or a young mesomorph with huge upside, like Congo's Serge Ibaka, the 6-foot-10 jumping jack who probably will need to play in Spain at least another year or two.

I'm not as down on Brendan Haywood as others, but if you don't have one great big man like Dwight Howard, then you'd better have a posse of them. The Wizards took a step in the right direction last night when they used the 18th pick in the draft to select JaVale McGee, 7 feet and 237 pounds. The Wizards didn't take a beanpole, and they didn't take a munchkin. They took a Big Man.

Okay, he's not Shaq. If he were, he wouldn't have lasted 18 picks deep in the draft. McGee didn't play at a big school you see on prime-time television; if he had you'd have heard of him before last night. He's not the sexiest pick in the draft; that honor belongs to Derrick Rose, who went to Chicago with the first pick. And then Michael Beasley, the D.C. kid by way of Kansas State whom Pat Riley, seemingly by his own admission, was talked into taking in Miami.

But first and foremost, McGee fulfills the most important requirements of being a Big Man. I watched him play a handful of times for Nevada. He's not afraid to knock somebody down or put a knee in somebody's chest. He dunks enough, blocks enough shots, takes up enough space to know his address is within six feet of the basket. His position isn't a mystery. McGee is no tweener. There's no wondering where he's going to play or how he fits in. He's not a 4/5, he's a Big Man, a run stuffer.

I like McGee better than J.J. Hickson from N.C. State, who went to Cleveland with the very next pick, because he's only 6-9, 242. I like McGee better than Cal's very polished Ryan Anderson, who went to New Jersey because the Wizards don't need another perimeter shooter. I like Georgetown's Roy Hibbert a bit better because he spent four years in an offense similar to what the Wizards run for Coach Eddie Jordan, but the Pacers ended up with Hibbert just before the Wizards were on the clock.

There's no guarantee McGee is going to help the Wizards get deeper in the playoffs in the next couple of years. Still, there's no downside to this selection. If you're tired of seeing the Wizards get sand kicked in their faces, then you should be happy with their picking McGee.

There were a run on big guys beginning with the 10th pick and lasting through the middle third of the first round last night. Stanford's Brook Lopez, projected to be the best of them, went to the Nets. Sacramento took Jason Thompson from Rider. Golden State took a monstrously talented kid from LSU, Anthony Randolph, at No. 14. The other Lopez, twin Robin, went to Phoenix at No. 15. The very next pick saw the 76ers take Marreese Speights from Florida. Hibbert, all 7-2 of him, went to the Pacers at No. 17. The Wizards took McGee at No. 18. Cleveland took Hickson at No. 19. Charlotte, 20th, took a Frenchman named Alexis Ajinca who goes 7 feet and has a wingspan reported to be 7-8 but weighs only 220.

The hits, at that point, just kept on coming. The Nets, having already taken a Big Man in Lopez, took a sweet shooting tall guy in Anderson with the 21st pick. And Ohio State's Kosta Koufos, 7 feet and 265 pounds with a nice touch from 16 feet, went 23rd to Utah before Seattle closed the run by taking Ibaka at 24. They were all between 6-9 and 7-2. Little people need not apply.

There was another run, mostly of internationals, in the second round. So, while the argument for Chicago taking Rose to lead off the draft is that point guards -- Chris Paul, Deron Williams, etc. -- big men ( or at least very tall ones) populated the 2008 NBA draft.

They're all rather indistinguishable at the moment. There's no Dwight Howard or Shaq or Tim Duncan or Brad Daugherty or Moses Malone. Brook Lopez appears to be the most polished of the bunch but hardly the dominant sort. Randolph is too skinny, Hickson seems a bit on the small side; all the bigs have their flaws. So, the Wizards took the guy they say they had highest on their board. They took a Big Man. The night was a success. The pick will be a success if McGee turns into a bona fide NBA Big Man and plays the way, say, Boston's Kendrick Perkins has since the night he was drafted.

You know who I like instantly in the draft, besides Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley? Joe Alexander, the kid from West Virginia who is a freakish athlete but will never be called that because he's white, is part of an impressive offseason overhaul by the Milwaukee Bucks. Presuming the trade with the Nets is approved by the league, which should be a formality, the Bucks will have added Richard Jefferson and Alexander to Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut and point guard Mo Williams. (Why the Knicks would take Italian shooter Danilo Gallinari over Joe Alexander is something I simply don't understand and for now seems insane.)

The Nets, for a team having gotten rid of all their proven assets (Jason Kidd, Jefferson) earned a gold star on draft night. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers just keep on stockpiling. They added Ike Diogu and his offensive skills, first-round pick Jerryd Bayless and second-round pick Darrell Arthur from NCAA champion Kansas. My goodness, if Greg Oden, last year's overall No. 1 pick, is ever healthy enough to play the way we suspect, the Trail Blazers are going to be beastly for years.

But the big news locally is that the Wizards at the very least tried to address an obvious weakness on the night when every team in the game tries to get well.


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