The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

At No. 10 spot in NBA draft, Wizards have more options than usual

Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. was stone-faced when the his team claimed the No. 10 pick in next month's draft. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
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CHICAGO — Coach Wes Unseld Jr. was off the stage in a flash after the NBA draft lottery Tuesday night, hardly enough time to rub elbows with his seatmate, David Robinson, so scant was the drama for the Washington Wizards. When NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum revealed the placard signifying the Wizards had claimed the No. 10 pick in the June 23 draft, Unseld remained stoic.

There was no surprise in Washington’s placement after it finished with the 10th-worst record in the NBA. But unsurprising does not equate to uninteresting.

While there is a slim likelihood that the Wizards will be able to nab franchise-altering talent with whomever they select at No. 10 next month, the position affords the front office a wide number of possibilities — arguably wider than usual — in a draft with two distinct tiers of prospects rather than a neat hierarchy in the first round. There are Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr., Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, Duke forward Paolo Banchero and Purdue guard Jaden Ivey — and then there’s everyone else.

By the time the No. 10 pick rolls around, Washington could be looking at a swath of players that includes Memphis big man Jalen Duren, Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, Baylor forward Jeremy Sochan, G League Elite guard Dyson Daniels, Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis and Ohio State wing Malaki Branham.

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But the Wizards have considerable flexibility beyond that group for one main reason: They almost certainly won’t depend on the draft to address their main area of need this offseason, which is a dependable starting point guard.

Tomas Satoransky — who ended the season in the starting lineup but is set to become a free agent, as is third-stringer Raul Neto — and backup Ish Smith are most likely not permanent solutions.

Not only is this draft class light on guards, but Unseld prefers a floor general who skews more traditional, a pass-first player who can keep the Wizards organized. An inexperienced player isn’t what Washington needs; look for the franchise to turn to free agency and the trade market for a more established point guard to play with Bradley Beal, who is still expected to re-sign for the equivalent of a max contract this summer, and Kristaps Porzingis.

Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ president and general manager, represented the team in the backroom where NBA President of Operations Byron Spruell announced the picks as determined by randomly selected ping-pong balls ahead of the broadcast version of the lottery.

Sheppard was blunt about the difference between Washington’s immediate need for a starting point guard and the team’s objectives in the draft.

“They’re two separate issues,” he said.

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That leaves the Wizards free to address nearly any hole in the roster, be it their perennially paltry defense or their three-point shooting. What Washington needs more than any singular aspect is pure talent — an exciting, quality player to bolster depth, help the team reach the postseason in the short term and develop into a meaningful contributor in the long term.

Sheppard and his assistants need not overly concern themselves with fit as long as the player’s ability is there.

“You always go for the best talent, and there’s going to be talent there no matter what,” Sheppard said of the No. 10 slot. “There’s always free agency and trades, too. So we look at everything. The opportunity to add another young player, certainly that’s appealing. I think there’s going to be a lot of guys who can do several things in this draft. For us, you’ve got to step back and say: ‘Do we have enough young guys? Do we need more talent?’ Whatever it is, we have this time to evaluate our roster, and the league tells you what it thinks about your players by the calls you get. We’re going to hear from a lot of people, already have heard from a lot of people. We can move up, we can move out, we can move — all these things are on the table.”

Sheppard believes there will be worthy talent available when the Wizards pick. The team is familiar with picking toward the bottom of the lottery after selecting Rui Hachimura, in 2019, and Deni Avdija, in 2020, at the No. 9 spot, although it hasn’t picked 10th since taking Jarvis Hayes in 2003.

“I think it’s really solid,” Sheppard said. “It’s a deep draft, got a lot of players who are well coached, some intriguing prospects.”

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