Wizards want instant-impact player
It's been over a month since we learned the Wizards jumped up in the NBA Draft lottery, all the way to the third overall pick. That's created an excitable discussion held online and in all kinds of public forums has largely focused on the merits and maladies of the top prospects. Otto Porter Jr. or Anthony Bennett? What if Nerlens Noel or Alex Len is available? Why not Victor Oladipo or Ben McLemore?
All interesting debates, yet they distract from the question Wizards brass should be contemplating most of all this week: which player best helps John Wall and Bradley Beal reach their maximum potential.
The difference between this pick even compared to having the same No. 3 selection last season where they took Beal - and certainly versus 2010 when they moved all the up one and landed Wall - is that the Wizards actually have pieces to build around. Plant seeds, check. But they need tending.
Entering last year's draft, Wall had yet to show significant progress toward living up to his No. 1 status, which is why so many criticized him heavily entering his third season. Based on what the young pair showed together (in between injuries), it's now realistic to believe they can eventually form one of the NBA's top backcourts. It's also conceivable the wrong draft day decision can slow their growth.
Which brings us back to Thursday's draft. It's not enough for the team to acquire another asset*, a broad line of thinking the franchise has championed in recent years. This asset must help those already on the roster, namely the speedy point guard and the deadeye shooter. From there, the question is in what way and by when.
*Even though Indiana's Victor Oladipo and Kansas' Ben McLemore have their supporters, Washington simply cannot take a guard unless the decision-makers believe they are truly better than the options (I asked an NBA scout today about the Wizards taking one of the guards. "What, why? Seriously? No, they shouldn't."). After this season, only Nene currently stands as a viable frontcourt option and his injury history suggests he'll be sitting here and there. Between the roster imbalance and the future cap conundrum of having three high drafted (and high paid) guards, we're looking at frontcourters only.
*If the primary goal is enhancing Wall and Beal's promise with the additional desire for immediate help toward a playoff push, the pick is Georgetown's Otto Porter Jr. The lengthy 6-foot-8 forward works well without the ball, doesn't need plays drawn for him to remain effective, won't steal shots from the two guards (or Nene) but can score, pass and dribble as needed. Also, the Big East Player of the Year is a versatile defender, has no discernible sports ego (at least by normal professional standards) and fills a long-term need at small forward. The downside is Porter's lack of athleticism compared to the other high-end prospects, which to some limits the 20-year-olds upside. His shooting stroke is not textbook and if both he and Beal play a deferential style, perhaps the Wizards will not have enough alpha dogs among their core. Bottom line, his high-IQ, instinct-heavy game will blend well with the Washington's pass-first approach offensively while his guarding skills should help maintain the team's top-10 defense status.
*If we stick with the help now angle, but include a shoot for the moon component (think a "Big 3"), then the call is UNLV's Anthony Bennett. The 6-foot-7 forward has significant offensive weaponry with his perimeter touch and ability to drive/score with both hands. The Canadian product also proved highly efficient as a rebounder during his lone season on the college level thanks to his 7-foot-1 wingspan and thick build. The downside is he's possibly too short to tangle with NBA power forwards yet not quick enough to defend 3's - and concerns about his physical conditioning impact both scenarios. Even though he has the game to be a major point-producer, Bennett also has a ball-dominant trait which could turn the Wizards away from being a sharing is caring crew. Bottom line, Washington needs a go-to frontcourt scorer and Bennett is the clear option among the top half dozen prospects if the other factors don't slow him down. He should be ready for training camp despite pre-draft rotator cuff surgery.
Click here for part two, which looks at what happens if the Wizards take a patient approach.