The Washington Wizards have the ninth overall pick in Wednesday night’s NBA Draft, and right before the team’s selection, general manager Tommy Sheppard expects to be tied up fielding phone calls from other executives around the league.
“You take every single phone call and you listen to every opportunity because we owe that to the Wizards,” said Sheppard. “But we know there’s very few things that we would do that would change the direction of what we’re trying to do right now.
We’ve kind of pre-established that before the draft, but you never know because something could be out there to change your franchise for the better.”
To be sure, Sheppard has already taken lots of phone calls, and Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting the Rockets and Wizards have discussed a deal centered on Russell Westbrook for John Wall. There also have been plenty of rumors about other teams interested in leading scorer Bradley Beal, but the Wizards have said they are looking forward to having a healthy Wall with Beal on the court together when the NBA’s new season starts Dec. 22.
Sheppard is a big believer in the importance of continuity and allowing a team a chance to blend together. In the last couple of years, there have been significant changes to the Wizards roster, including the addition last season of Davis Bertans, who the Wizards want to re-sign when free agency begins Friday.
First, the Wizards will try to improve their roster on draft night like they believed they did last year, when the team selected Rui Hachimura with the ninth overall pick. Hachimura averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds to earn second team All-Rookie honors, becoming the first All-Rookie Wizards player since Beal in 2013.
“I certainly want to see somebody that has an elite level skill, that’ll translate to the NBA”, said Sheppard when asked what he looks for in a draft pick. “It might be shooting, or rebounding, or defending, but we are looking for a player that can perform at least one of those skills at an elite level. In addition, we want to make sure the player is the best fit for the Wizards, and sometimes the best talent is not always the best fit.”
A giant board will be brought into the Wizards’ draft room on Wednesday night with players ranked based on who Sheppard and the rest of his basketball management team believe will be the best addition to their team. Hence the phrase a team will take the best player available is not only subjective, but also true in practice.
Improving on defense is a priority for the Wizards. Even with Wall sidelined by injury, the Wizards had one of the best offenses in the NBA last season and were ranked seventh overall in points scored. It was the team’s struggles on defense that explains the Wizards 25-47 record. They allowed over 119 points per game, the second-worst mark in the NBA.
Three options for the Wizards to consider
If he is still available with the ninth pick, 19-year old Onyeka Okongwu, who played one season at USC, would give the Wizards the rim protector they need. At 6-foot-9-inches, Okongwu is undersized for a center, but makes up for it with 7-foot-2-inch wing span and is considered by many scouts to be the draft’s most instinctual shot blocker.
From Auburn, 6-foot-6-inch forward Isaac Okoro has drawn comparisons to former Wizards star Caron Butler. Okoro is 19 years old and earned a reputation in one season at the college level as a very good defensive wing. Okoro is not the best perimeter shooter (29.7 % from three-point distance) but plays to his strengths of athleticism and explosiveness and attacks the rim and finishes well.
In two years at Florida State, 6-foot-7-inch shooting guard Devin Vassell was disruptive on the defensive end of the floor and averaged two steals and 1.3 blocks per 40 minutes played. As a sophomore, Vassell averaged 12.7 points per game as an effective midrange shooter and provider of highlight reel dunks.
The Wizards also have the 37th overall pick in the second round. In both cases, the Wizards will be looking to not only select a player that can make it the NBA, but also last in the NBA, where every player has talent and every player has some level of athleticism. Statistics show about half the NBA changes every four years.
“A player’s growth potential is important to consider,” said Sheppard. “The simple things are very important to us like what kind of teammate will this player be or what kind of citizen is he because that will predict their success as well as anything they can do on the court.”