The Washington Wizards lack shooting depth.
None of their three veteran centers shoot three-pointers or, in the case of backup Jason Smith, earn enough minutes to spread the floor. Power forward Markieff Morris, who finished the 2017-18 season with a career best .367 percentage from the arc, drained only a pair of threes during the team’s first-round playoff loss to Toronto. A prospective draft pick who visited Washington for a recent workout even heralded Kelly Oubre Jr. as one of the team’s three-point threats — though Oubre showed early improvement in the season, he struggled in the final 31 games and shot 27 percent.
Following the season, Wizards Coach Scott Brooks highlighted shooting as one of the team’s most dire needs of improvement and Thursday, he watched with great interest as potential first-round draft pick Keita Bates-Diop completed an individual three-point shooting exhibit following the team’s six-man workout.
While the five other players cooled down on one side of the court, Bates-Diop continued drills on the far end under the instruction of the team’s player development coaches, David Adkins and Ryan Richman. They simulated Bates-Diop, a 6-foot-7 forward who won Big Ten player of the year honors last year at Ohio State, through pick-and-roll plays. At first, he was the ballhandler who elevated and shot the three. Then, Bates-Diop switched to setting the screen and slipping to the perimeter to fire in shots two feet from the arc.
It was an unusual departure from how Bates-Diop, 22, has concluded other pre-draft workouts.
“That was the first time,” he said, “My first time actually, like, working out again.”
Maybe those other teams don’t need a stretch-four as badly as the Wizards.
Last season, Washington found a viable small-ball lineup when shifting the skinny Otto Porter Jr. to the four and playing without a traditional center. The style of play still did not produce a more freewheeling offense from beyond the arc. With little assistance from the frontcourt, the Wizards ranked in the bottom third of the league in three-point attempts. The team’s No. 15 pick in the upcoming NBA draft could help solve the problem. It just so happens that Bates-Diop wants to shoot — or to be more precise, he wants to prove to teams that his range is better than he showed during his redshirt junior year at Ohio State when he averaged 19.8 points and 35.8 percent from three-point range.
“I can shoot the ball better than the percentage I shot in college,” said Bates-Diop, who also has a 7-3 1/4 wingspan and averaged 1.6 blocks and 8.7 rebounds.
During the closed-door workout, the Wizards evaluated the group in competitive play. The natural order of three-on-three allows for spacing and defensive mismatches, so Bates-Diop had to switch onto smaller guards. The group consisted of Khadeen Carrington (Seton Hall), Bryant Crawford (Wake Forest), Brandon McCoy (UNLV), Doral Moore (Wake Forest) and Jonathan Stark (Murray State).
“It’s open floor, no help side. You can see if you can guard a person one-on-one,” Bates-Diop said. “I had to chase [the guards] off screens … they were pretty quick. I did well.”
When the scheduled workout concluded, Bates-Diop turned his attention to an impromptu shootout. And the Wizards decision-makers turned their attention to him.
Besides Brooks and assistant coach Maz Trakh, the team’s general manager and president, Ernie Grunfeld, and senior vice president of basketball operations, Tommy Sheppard, also lingered to take in the extra work.
Bates-Diop performed better as the spot-up shooter than he did during reps that had him dribbling then shooting. Still, he expressed his comfort in being able to play in both situations, as he did at Ohio State. Before the June 21 draft, his goal is to prove he can be just as versatile in the NBA. Although mock drafts have projected Bates-Diop as high as No. 15 or into the early second round, with auditions like Thursday, he hopes to convince teams that he can be a capable stretch-four.
“I don’t exactly know why,” Bates-Diop said about the vast fluctuations of where he’s projected to land. “I don’t pay attention to [mock drafts], I just focus on what I can control which is these workouts and do the best I can.”