With an entire room at the NBA draft lost for words in New York on Thursday after the first two picks, the Wizards stepped into bring levity to the situation.
They chose Otto Porter of Georgetown, passing on centers Alex Len (Maryland) and Nerlens Noel (Kentucky). They came with potential high rewards but also risks.
Noel was projected as the top overall pick after his freshman season, but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February. Len had a stress fracture in his left ankle that required surgery in May.
Neither was able to work out for the Wizards as they brought in an array of players leading up to the draft, and while president Ernie Grunfeld downplayed the significance of their health, coach Randy Wittman didn't hesitate to admit the obvious:
Yes, their injuries impacted the Wizards’ decision, even though they lack size inside and have Emeka Okafor, who is offensively limited, going into the final year of his deal. They haven't made the playoffs since 2008 and must show progress now. Wittman and Grunfeld are in the final year of their contracts, too.
“It’s a factor. You got to have it in the back of your mind. This is the first draft I've been in the guys being talked about being the No. 1 pick to 2, 3 4 5 can’t even play maybe till December, January. Some of them maybe have to sit out a year,” Wittman said. “You look at that. As a coach that’s frustrating. I don’t want to get a guy … who isn't going to be able to help me right away.”
Anthony Bennett (UNLV), who was taken No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, is recovering from a torn rotation cuff in his left (non-shooting) shoulder. Len was taken by the Phoenix Suns at No. 5 and Noel was next. He was chosen by the New Orleans Pelicans and immediately traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Wittman recalled the summer of 2011, when the NBA lockout kept rookies out of summer league play and training camp. A 66-game season was played, but it hurt Wizards draft picks Jan Vesely, Shelvin Mack and Chris Singleton.
“We saw first-hand what it does to a player when we went through a lockout. The guys that we had picked in the draft that year, we didn't see them until December,” Wittman said. “Couldn't go through summer league (or) being in the gym with us every day leading up to training camp. That’s a lot to miss going into your rookie year.”