Picking John Wall: A great starting point for the Washington Wizards

By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; D01

Finally, the Washington Wizards get to make the pick . . . not hope and then pick, or wait and then pick, or pick and then frown. They won't have to sit there, mortified, as Indiana takes Reggie Miller one pick before the Bullets go on the clock, and get forced into taking Muggsy Bogues, who stayed in Washington for one measly season. They aren't sliding from second, where they ought to pick, to fifth. They're not getting somebody who's too fat or too tall or too short or too young. They're getting the guy they want, they're getting their guy, a franchise player, presumably a future all-star.

Thursday is a gigantic day for Washington's NBA franchise. It cannot be overstated. This isn't like picking Kwame Brown, a total unknown out of high school. What a disaster that 2001 draft was, what with three high school players (Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry) selected in the top four picks. Hell, if it wasn't thought to be so incredibly risky at the time to pick an international player with the first pick in the draft, Michael Jordan would have taken Pau Gasol from FC Barcelona instead of Brown. Imagine how different the recent history of the league would be if the Wizards had taken Gasol!

Anyway, there's no thought that it will be risky to take John Wall with the first pick. You listen but don't act on all the calls coming in between now and Thursday. You show up at the arena, you select John Wall out of the University of Kentucky, and you commit every resource available to making sure the kid has everything he needs to become a great player. His stock seems to have risen, even without playing any games, since his freshman season at Kentucky ended. The widely held perception is that even more than that he loves to win, he hates to lose. And that's a great place to start.

Also, there ought to be some returns right away. No, I'm not suggesting the Wizards are going to be a playoff team next year or Wall's going to set the world afire. But he's a point guard, not a big man. Big men need time. Most, necessarily, are late bloomers. And they play at center, a dependent position. Wall should be ready to go, and do it at the most important position in today's game, point guard.

For decades the NBA was a Big Man's game, and that's where you started. The game was played inside out. Now, a Big Man is still necessary, but he's not always the focal point. The Big Men of the last three NBA champs -- Gasol and Kevin Garnett -- are not power players who crash their way through a game, they're tall, skilled players. But there doesn't appear to be anybody like them in this draft. If somebody, such as Derrick Favors, emerges as a championship-caliber big man in five years, bless his heart.

For a while, back when Larry Bird and Julius Erving were in their primes, small forward became the influential position in the league. But now there are so many long, talented wing players from all over the world. There simply shouldn't be any second-guessing for taking Wall, not with the way the game is played today.

Just look at the top teams in the NBA now. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant, but they're in a class by themselves, because of the way Coach Phil Jackson, Kobe and the triangle work. The Celtics have an elite lead guard in Rajon Rondo, as do the Phoenix Suns in Steve Nash. So does Utah in Deron Williams. So does Dallas in Jason Kidd. So does Chicago in Derrick Rose. If the Atlanta Hawks had selected Chris Paul instead of Marvin Williams in the 2005 draft, the Hawks would be much further along than they are. Look at the three top rookies from the 2010 season: Tyreke Evans of Sacramento, Stephen Curry of the Warriors and Brandon Jennings of the Bucks.

What to do with Gilbert Arenas, which is the issue that worries a lot of folks, is a secondary issue. From conversations I had with several club executives Tuesday, it's apparent that the Wizards most likely would have to take back somebody else's hideous contract or bad actors in a swap for Arenas. What could really be advantageous for the Wizards is to simply wait to trade Arenas. If he plays relatively well during the first half of the season, he becomes a more attractive player to trade for in February, before the trade deadline.

This wouldn't fly in some markets; I'm thinking about Phoenix. But Washington isn't a place where the conservatives are going to run Arenas out of town. He'll get booed, but that's about it. Team owner Ted Leonsis and President Ernie Grunfeld know this market, which means they have to know they shouldn't be in a hurry. Knowing this market also means knowing there's no overbearing impatience here. For better or worse, we're not New York or Boston or Philly, where the need to put a winner on the floor sometimes turns desperate, which leads to terrible deals being made. The Wizards, we all know, are rebuilding and it's going to take a while, so whether you deal Arenas in July or January makes very little difference.

So Thursday ought to be as happy for the Wizards as draft day has been in a great while, a day when they acquire a player who should be the first building block in erecting a winner, a day when the optimism isn't forced. It's a long way from where the Lakers and Celtics live, but the first step in leaving that forlorn place where the Wizards usually dwell.

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