The Washington Wizards’ previous two first-round draft picks, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Troy Brown Jr., had something in common. Besides the suffixes attached to their names, both arrived in Washington as teenage projects. They weren’t expected to impact the rotation significantly, and they ended their rookie seasons playing valuable minutes in meaningless games.
The next teenager selected by the Wizards, however, may take a quicker path to the court.
On Thursday, when the Wizards pick ninth — or make a trade to move higher in the NBA draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn — they will find a talented yet unseasoned player who could become a building block of the 2019-20 roster.
Other than a foundation of five healthy players to start the season buttressed by two-time all-star Bradley Beal, Washington will have to construct a team on a tight budget. Saddled with the maximum contracts of Beal and John Wall that account for 72 percent of the team’s salary, the first opportunity to add depth will come Thursday night.
Ahead of the team’s most important draft in years, the Wizards have interviewed, worked out and attended pro days for multiple prospects. Among those players were Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga), Sekou Doumbouya (France), Keldon Johnson (Kentucky), Nassir Little and Coby White (both of North Carolina).
On Monday, White honored an invitation to Washington even though he is projected to be gone ahead of the ninth pick. Although White primarily was a scorer in high school, in his one season at North Carolina, he showed he could create for himself and facilitate an offense (16.1 points and 4.1 assists per game).
For the Wizards, who lack backcourt depth and anticipate Wall — who ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon in February — will miss most if not all of the season, an ideal pick would be a pro-ready point guard. When White was asked if he would prefer playing right away or learning at a slower rate through his rookie season, he suggested that he would be ready for any scenario.
“Whatever team June 20 selects me, whatever they feel is the best for me, I’m going to put my trust into it and do whatever I can,” White said. “Anywhere you go, you got to earn respect and you’ve got to earn their trust, but for me, just going in and earning their respect and trust and whatever happens, control what I can control.”
Last season, the Wizards selected Brown at No. 15. Although Brown, who was 18 at the time, was nearly a lottery pick, Washington brought him along slowly. He bounced from the Wizards’ sidelines to Capital City Go-Go games in the G League. It wasn’t until the wing depth had been depleted that Brown finally saw steady minutes.
In December, Oubre, whom the team acquired as the No. 15 pick in 2015, was packaged in the Trevor Ariza deal, while Otto Porter Jr. was traded before the February deadline to shed salary. Those moves, plus Ariza’s late-season groin injury, opened the floor for Brown who started the final 10 games and averaged 10.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 30.3 minutes.
Near the end of his rookie season, Brown reflected on his “welcome to the NBA” moment.
“There was like a play this season where I wasn’t getting a lot of minutes and I came in. I think it was during all the trades. We were playing the Raptors. I was playing defense on Kyle Lowry, and I was playing good defense,” Brown said. “I thought I had locked him up, and he hit a fadeaway jump shot and fell to the floor. It was like a ‘I did everything I could and he still hit the shot’ moment. I was like: ‘Yeah, that’s a good player right there. That’s a real NBA star right there.’ ”
Similar to Brown, these jarring moments are sure to greet the Wizards’ next draft pick. But his welcome could come a lot sooner.