In today’s NBA, there is no such thing as having too many wings. Positional duplication doesn’t really matter as long as all of the players are multidimensional. It’s most important to have options, and on many levels, the Washington Wizards increased their options Thursday night by defying convention and obvious need and selecting versatile small forward Troy Brown Jr. at No. 15 overall in the NBA draft.
The Wizards have chosen a small forward the past three times they have made a first-round pick. And they’re all juniors, too. Otto Porter Jr. was the third pick of the 2013 draft. Kelly Oubre Jr., the 15th pick in 2015, was acquired in a draft-day trade. Attention, all 6-foot-7-ish players named after their dads thinking about the 2019 draft: The Wizards are watching.
What the heck are they thinking? Well, they’re not trying to create some odd collection of Stepford role players around John Wall and Bradley Beal. If they keep all of these similar-sized players, they’re actually making the roster more compatible to their version of pace-and-space basketball. And in the big picture, they have given themselves flexibility on several team-building fronts.
Oubre, who is about to enter his fourth year, is due a second contract after next season, and Brown’s development will play a role in whether to make a sizable offer to Oubre — which seems unlikely given the Wizards’ robust current payroll — let him go in free agency or use him as a trade asset. There’s also the possibility that the Wizards find a team enamored with Porter’s shooting, energy and court sense, which would allow them to trade the final three years of his max contract. Although he would be a major loss, the Wizards still would have two young small forwards to compensate for him.
Those are the options off the court. On the floor, Brown provides even more possibilities. As a basketball junkie, I would like to see the Wizards keep Brown and find playing time for him, Porter, Oubre and Tomas Satoransky, another versatile 6-foot-7 athlete who can play any of the three perimeter positions. Imagine the Wizards playing more small ball with Porter or Oubre at power forward. Imagine stealing minutes with Satoransky, Brown, Oubre and Porter playing together with a big man, and they’re all virtually the same size, and Satoransky and Brown possess lead guard abilities.
When we last saw the Wizards, they were being forced to answer for their inadequate roster. The Toronto Raptors, a nice and deep No. 1 seed that looked Finals-worthy before they got LeBron-ed again, had eliminated the Wizards in Game 6 of the first round. Porter missed the series closer after undergoing a minor operation that we couldn’t pronounce for a condition that we couldn’t quite understand. To adjust, the Wizards moved Oubre into the starting lineup — and they prayed a backup small forward would fall from the sky and help them get by for a few minutes. They didn’t have enough wings.
Two months later, the Wizards drafted a wing, and critics are miffed that they would dare do such a thing.
Repeat: In today’s NBA, there is no such thing as having too many wings.
Who is Brown? He’s more of a playmaker on the wing. The Oregon freshman, who doesn’t turn 19 until July 28, must improve as a shooter. He made just 29.1 percent of his three-pointers, but he was a young player who took questionable shots. His strengths are defense, basketball intelligence and versatility. He isn’t Porter or Oubre. He gives the Wizards a new dimension on the wing. He gives them another player who can create offense for others.
But to get the best of Brown, Coach Scott Brooks will have to be creative with his rotation. He’s willing to try if Brown earns the playing time. The Wizards need to commit even more to a modern, free-flowing style of play. Brown gives the team another facilitator, a playmaker who doesn’t have to do it from the point guard position.
“It’s just different,” Brooks said of how the game has changed. “Shooting is a premium, and to get more threes, that’s what we need. We need to have more three-point shooters on the floor. You can either get it with guys that can create it and be able to shoot a three off the dribble, or you can get guys that can attack to create kick-out threes, and I think he can be that type of guy. His three, he needs to work on it. It’s developing. I think his shot is definitely going to improve with the work he’s going to put in with us. But the league has definitely changed. There’s not a lot of bigs. I’ve been in some gyms the last month, and there was not a lot of bigs working on their back-to-the-basket game. Everybody wants to shoot threes. With that the way the trend is going, we need playmakers and guys that can play multiple positions.”
Brown is uncommon because he’s a one-and-done prodigy with a game that isn’t all about athleticism. His upside is his skill and basketball IQ. He needs to spend more time working on his body and trying to get a little more athletic than he does learning the nuances of the game. He already has a great feel, and he’s a mature player despite his age. His savvy can make the Wizards better, provided he tightens up his shooting and takes advantage of NBA training.
“You have to have a lot of versatility,” Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. “You have to have players that can play multiple positions, and the skill level in this game has gotten so much better. He’s a highly skilled player. He can handle the ball real well. He can make plays. He has a high basketball IQ. He can get in the lane and find the open the players, and he can also finish. So versatility and skill is an important part of the game now.”
Versatility is an important part of team building now, too. That’s what the Wizards preferred in this draft. They wanted it so badly that they bypassed athletic center Robert Williams.
Five years ago, it would have been a crazy thing to do. Now? It’s an intriguing decision. The Wizards need options to play a modern style, and Brown gives them more options.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.
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