The NBA draft kicks off tonight and the Wizards’ front office will be under a tremendous amount of pressure to make the right choices. Every year there are lots of rumors flying around and this year is no different. While this draft is generally weak on impact players, there is a decent amount of talent among possible role players, which means some role players are going to get drafted higher than they should. Teams with talent are looking to move back in the draft while teams that are short on talent, like the Wizards, are trying to improve their position.
The chattering classes have been “reporting” rumors about teams demanding the Wizards trade JaVale McGee for the No. 2 pick. Personally, I wouldn’t trade McGee straight up for a single player in this draft (much less McGee and the sixth pick). Right now he’s one of the top 10 centers in the league (Howard, Horford, Chandler, Gasol, Noah, Bynum and Bogut are all better, and maybe B. Lopez, Okafor and Hibbert), and he’s only 23. Because of what the Wizards have invested in McGee’s development, he’s probably worth more to them than any other team right now.
My favorite non-Wizards rumor was the Suns offering the Timberwolves Steve Nash for the No. 2 pick. Every fantasy sports league has an owner who you can pull one over on. The Timberwolves are the NBA’s version.
It’s pretty much a given that the Cavaliers will draft Kyrie Irving with the first pick, but after that it gets a little hazy. The next two picks are held by the Timberwolves and the Jazz, and either or both of them could trade them. It’s an open question who the Cavaliers will take with their second lottery pick (fourth overall) and the Raptors have nearly as many needs as the Wizards. The upshot is, outside of Irving and Derrick Williams (the only other consensus impact player in the draft and likely second pick) being off the board, there are realistically as many as eight different players the Wizards could take with their first pick. Here are the players the Wizards would most like to have from that group.
l Enes Kantor : Probably the best player the Wizards could realistically get. He probably won’t fall to number six, but if he does (or if the Wizards trade up for him), he’ll be a good addition. He’s a good scorer who enjoys playing in the post and the contact that comes along with it (as opposed to the incumbent power forward). His defense still needs work, but he’d be an immediate contributor.
l Kawhi Leonard: A solid, athletic small forward who can create his own shot but who struggles with his three-point shot (put him on the court with Wall and Crawford and it might be the worst collection of three-point shooting perimeter players in the league). He has the potential to be a good defensive player and is already a good rebounder.
l Tristan Thompson: A solid defender and a great offensive rebounder. He isn’t as good of a man-to-man defender as Chris Singleton, but his offensive skills have more upside.
l Jan Vesely: He makes me very nervous (probably just post-traumatic stress syndrome from Oleksiy Pecherov’s career). Among the things he needs to work on: defense, free throw shooting, shot selection and ball handling. On the plus side he is very athletic and plays with a lot of intensity. Most mock drafts I’ve seen show the Wizards taking him. If they draft him I’ll probably talk myself in to believing it’s a good pick, but for right now I feel angsty.
l Bismack Biyombo: Dear God please don’t let the Wizards draft him. They already have one defensively strong big man with limited offensive moves, they don’t need another. Biyombo may be a great pick-up over the long term, but he’s redundant in the one position the Wizards have strength.
l Klay Thompson: Arguably the best shooter in the draft, but the sixth pick might be too early for him to get selected. The Wizards would be thrilled if he slipped to 18, but that’s highly doubtful.
l Chris Singleton: The best defensive player in the draft, but also a reach at the six slot. He’s been criticized for forcing his shot in college, but in his defense, he sometimes felt (rightly) like he had to carry his team.
l Jonas Valanciunas: He’d be the Wizards (and many other teams) top option, but his massive European contract buyout will probably prevent him from playing in the NBA until at least next year. The Wizards don’t have the luxury of stashing a player overseas for a year.
With their second pick of the first round (No. 18) the Wizards will probably go with the reverse of what they used their first pick on. If they go for scoring they could take Marshon Brooks or Jordan Hamilton, or someone like Markieff Morris or Kenneth Faried for rebounding/defense in the post.
Ernie has frequently proven himself to be a skilled operator in the draft (Nick Young, JaVale McGee, trading for Antawn Jamison, Blatche in the second round) with a few glaring mistakes (Pecherov, Peter John Ramos and of course the trade that will not be named). For the sake of the team’s future (and his own), let’s hope he makes the right choices.
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