Of course, the worst case scenario played out right before our eyes.
Even though the Washington Wizards had the second-best chance to secure the number one overall pick and add a top-flight player to their already formidable core, the Lottery Gods would not have it.
Last night, as Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver began to open the envelopes, every Wizards fan had great reason to be optimistic.
It wasn’t a matter of greed, as most fans would have been more than happy with the second pick; just the opportunity to add Ricky Rubio or even Blake Griffin if the right team received the top choice.
However, that optimism quickly dissipated when Wiz fans across the nation heard their favorite team’s name mentioned way too early.
The Draft Lottery proved yet again last night how flaky it can be, pushing the two worst teams with the best chances to get the top two slots, the Kings and Wizards, far back as mathematically possible, to the four and five slots, respectively.
Typically, the fifth overall pick is an incredibly valuable asset, but this year, in such a brutally weak draft, any pick beyond Griffin and Rubio carries significant risk.
Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill, James Harden and Brandon Jennings have the potential to be major busts, as each of their games possesses glaring flaws.
Thabeet’s offensive game is non-existent, and there are questions as to whether he can have the same defensive presence in the pros and he did in college now that he cannot camp in the lane. There’s no denying Hill is very athletic, but his shaky hands, questionable post game and tendency to take plays off makes Wizards fans see shades of Andray Blatche 2.0.
Harden has proven that he can be a go-to scorer, but his lack of explosiveness and size combined with his proclivity for turnovers is reason to worry. Jennings’ poor shot and affinity for the flashy play instead of the heady one raises red flags.
Given the risks presented, there will undoubtedly be a great deal of pressure on Ernie Grunfeld to make a wise choice. The only problem is that in this draft, besides Rubio and Griffin, there may be no wise choices.
The first possibility is for the Wizards to trade the pick for a future first rounder. The Wizards are only approximately $1.5 million under the luxury tax threshold, and adding a top five pick will push them above the line. Hence, the rookie’s contact would be doubled—an unwelcome development for a pick that the team may not even be confident in.
However, trading a top five pick may be a disaster for public relations, and a team with sagging attendance can hardly afford to alienate any more fans.
The other, more likely scenario is that the team takes either a guard or a power forward. Adding a pure point guard would allow Gilbert Arenas to slide back to his natural position and adding a two guard would send Deshawn Stevenson back to the bench where he belongs.
On the other hand, if they add a big man, the team could shop Antawn Jamison’s bloated contract and add some much-needed youth to the front court.
So, given the team’s needs and financial situation, it is crucial that Grunfeld and his staff pick a player who would be not only the best fit, but also the safest pick, and that pick is clearly James Harden.
Harden is a great fit for the Wizards’ offense, as he does not need to dominate the ball, and on a team with Arenas, Jamison and Caron Butler, that trait is almost compulsory. Harden is also a fantastic play maker, blessed with great court vision for an off guard, which will benefit the high volume scorers on the squad.
In addition, Harden, with his length and strength, could blossom into a lockdown defender with time.
However, there remains the strong chance that Harden may be gone by the time the Wizards are on the clock, as Oklahoma City and Sacramento at numbers three and four, respectively, will have interest in him. If that is the case, then all “safe bets” are off, and the team will be assuming a huge risk without doubt.
If Harden is indeed gone, then the next best option is Jennings. Jennings, though too careless with the ball sometimes, matured during his time in Italy and though he did not post spectacular numbers, don’t be so quick to forget what he accomplished before he went overseas.
This is the same kid who just a year ago averaged 33 points, eight assists, five rebounds, and 3.7 steals per game at Oak Hill Academy and was the 2008 Naismith High School Basketball Player of the Year, Parade Magazine Player of the Year and EA Sports Player of the Year.
Jennings uses his jaw-dropping athleticism and explosiveness to get to the rim at will, is already a committed defender (rare for a player his age) and has phenomenal court vision. Though he needs the ball in his hands more than other point guards, his play making ability will benefit the Wizards nonetheless.
Other good fits beyond those players include Louisville’s Earl Clark, who has the potential to be a Jamison clone, though he suffers from inconsistency; USC’s DeMar DeRozen, whose game really came together during the PAC-10 Tournament; and Tyreke Evans, a highly skilled slasher whose penetration ability will be welcome amongst a crowd of jump shooters.
Depending on how the four picks ahead of them play out, this draft, while lacking in depth and star-potential, can be a major coup for the Wizards.
Blessed with any already talented core that saw its season decimated by injuries to its key players, the Wizards are surely not a cellar dweller, and adding a premier talent could be just the thing to push the team over the top and into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.