Tommy Sheppard, the Washington Wizards’ president and general manager, had just three adjectives earlier this week to describe the type of player his team was looking for in the NBA draft: aggressive, assertive and relentless. Sheppard was clear that player’s position mattered less than general talent and overall mind-set.
Davis led Wisconsin with 19.7 points and 8.7 rebounds as a sophomore last season and was named Big Ten player of the year. He played mostly small forward for the Badgers, but Sheppard is so confident in both Davis’s handle and his basketball know-how that he believes the 20-year-old could toggle between point guard and a shooting guard.
“Out on the floor, he understands the game very well. He’s a quick learner — we couldn’t find a coach who could compliment him enough about his basketball IQ, his character, his athleticism,” Sheppard said. “I think he’s an underrated passer — I’m going to continue to say he’s a great passer. He didn’t pass a whole lot in college, so I’m trying to encourage him subliminally to pass a little bit more. But I think he’s going to be able to score at different levels. I think he’s excellent.”
Davis grew up in Wisconsin playing basketball alongside his twin brother on a court his parents constructed in their backyard. There, the twins played out countless battles that shaped Davis into a fierce competitor with a penchant for showing up in big games for the Badgers. He had a 37-point, 14-rebound gem against then-No. 3 Purdue in January and a 30-point outburst against then-No. 12 Houston in November that initially put him on the map for NBA scouts.
“I feel like you can really only understand if you have a twin brother or a twin sister,” Davis said in a teleconference, “just wanting to be better than the other.”
Scoring aside, Unseld is most excited to see how Davis defends. The coach was impressed with Davis’s ability to draw up defensive plays on demand during the 20-year-old’s interview process with the Wizards — Davis worked out for the team June 2.
“The fact that he embraces that side is an important piece — you give yourself a chance. He seems like a very cerebral player,” Unseld said. “A guy who’s going to do his homework, be disciplined in tactically of what we’re trying to accomplish. But I think he’ll pick [defense] up quickly. If you have those two intangibles, you really give yourself an opportunity to be elite in that area.”
Although Sheppard sees Davis as a potential ballhandler, his selection probably will have no effect on Washington’s quest to find a permanent solution at point guard. The Wizards won’t want to entrust point guard duties to a rookie, and Sheppard said Thursday that Washington would be happy having three ballhandlers on the court at one time.
The general manager may have also been accounting for the fact that while his and Unseld’s ideal version of a point guard is a more traditional floor general who prioritizes organizing the offense and passing over scoring, traditional point guards are increasingly rare.
“We’re going to try to have three ballhandlers out there, we’re going to try to keep it really wide open when you’ve got [Kristaps Porzingis] and [Bradley Beal], capable scorers. You put [Kyle Kuzma] out there, [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] out there, now you’ve got Johnny, another guy who can fill it up a little bit. I think it’s exciting to do that,” Sheppard said. “The fact that [Davis] is a good rebounder kind of augments some of the other things that we expect from him. We’re excited. On draft night, everybody’s undefeated, everybody’s excited. We genuinely are.”
Washington selected 18-year-old Yannick Nzosa, a 6-foot-11 center from the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the No. 54 pick.
The Wizards can now move on to the top item on their to-do list: re-signing Beal. The guard, who turns 29 on Tuesday, is eligible to sign a five-year contract in the range of about $250 million next month on the heels of a season shortened by a left wrist injury.
Sheppard lauded Beal as a worthy franchise centerpiece in a Monday news conference and said he expects him to be in tiptop shape by the time Washington opens its training camp in September. The Wizards will then head to Japan to play a pair of preseason games.
“I just look at the player, and I know that’s somebody you can build your franchise around,” Sheppard said. “I know he’s going to have a tremendous season coming up. Where he’s at right now [in his rehab] is not where he’ll be in a month, and in two months, as we get ready to go to Japan, I think he’ll be in full swing in terms of his shot.”