Andray Blatche is not the first big man the Washington Wizards have drafted straight out of high school. But he certainly will be brought along differently than the Wizards' last teenage tower.
Despite their struggle in developing 2001 No.1 overall pick Kwame Brown, the Wizards selected the 6-foot-11 Blatche with their only pick, the 49th overall, in last night's NBA Draft. The 235-pound Blatche, who will turn 19 in August, never committed to a college after playing last season at South Kent (Conn.) Prep.
"Every case is a different case," said Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld, when comparing Blatche and Brown. "We'll give him all the attention that we can. At the same time, he's going to have to put the effort in on his own."
Grunfeld said the new collective bargaining agreement, which allows teams to send first- or second-year players to the developmental league, was an enticement to take a chance on a high school player.
"We had him ranked as a first-round talent," said Grunfeld, who was impressed with Blatche's ball-handling and passing skills. "We think he really has a good upside with the use of the NBDL. This makes it a better situation for all of us. We have a deep team and we're going to be able to bring him along slowly."
Grunfeld said he spoke with a couple of teams about trades, but mainly about moving second-round picks.
"When you only have the 49th pick to deal with, you don't have much leverage," Grunfeld said. "We had some conversations, but nothing really came close to getting into the first round."
While Blatche, who is originally from Syracuse, N.Y., appears destined to spend at least some time in the developmental league, Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan wants to see him play first. Jordan has seen only video of Blatche.
Jordan said he wants Blatche to play for the Wizards' team in the Reebok Vegas Summer League, which runs from July 6 to July 15.
"Obviously, he's going to need a lot of development," Jordan said. "I want to see how he looks. I want him to play in our summer league."
Grunfeld, however, saw him in action at the Jordan Classic high school all-star game in April, where Blatche shared MVP honors with game highs of 26 points and 16 rebounds in just 28 minutes.
That followed a season, Blatche's fifth in high school, in which he averaged 27.5 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 blocks per game and was one of 10 finalists for the Naismith Award, given to the nation's top high school player.
The Wizards did not have a first-round pick for the first time since 2000. They traded the choice, which ended up being 20th overall, along with guard Laron Profit, to Orlando in 2001 for center Brendan Haywood. The pick later was traded to Denver, which used it to select North Carolina State swingman Julius Hodge.
Only one of the past four 49th overall selections played in the NBA last season -- Indiana reserve forward James Jones, who was drafted in 2003.
The Wizards have only seven players under contract for next season -- Gilbert Arenas, Jarvis Hayes, Haywood, Antawn Jamison, Jared Jeffries, Peter John Ramos and Etan Thomas -- while Steve Blake and Kwame Brown will become restricted free agents. Larry Hughes will become an unrestricted free agent.
Teams cannot begin negotiating with free agents until July 1, and, provided the negotiated collective bargaining agreement is formally ratified, teams cannot sign players until July 22.
"Our number one priority is to keep our own players," Grunfeld said. "Larry Hughes's situation we want to deal with first, and then we have some other free agents we also want to deal with."