How To Quickly Rebuild The Washington Wizards, Pt. 1- The NBA Draft

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How To Quickly Rebuild The Washington Wizards, Pt. 1- The NBA Draft
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I’d like to start off by saying that I hate those armchair GMs who think they know what their team should do.

 

Now that we’ve cleared the air, I think I know what my team should do.

 

The 2009-2010 Washington Wizards’ season was a chapter in franchise history that is best forgotten -- kind of like Rocky V.  A dismal record, a dysfunctional team, a dismantling of the roster, a disillusioned fan base, and a dis……....ummmm…… Gilbert Arenas brought guns into the locker room.

 

GM Ernie Grunfeld has made many statements preaching patience with the rebuilding process that the team has clearly shifted into, but I believe he has created a situation where this team can return to the playoffs quickly.  Ernie’s trade-deadline deals have created $23 million in cap room for this off-season, and that is before the Wizards would decline the nearly $12 million team option on Josh Howard, a move which seems likely.  The team has the 5th-best chance to get the #1 pick in the draft (roughly 11%), and will pick no worse than 8th, in addition to having the 30th and 34th overall selections.  With the right moves, I think this team has a ceiling of a 4 or 5 seed NEXT SEASON.

 

(Disclaimer: the term “ceiling” should be in no way confused with “official prediction.”  Please keep this in mind in the unlikely event that anyone comments on this article.)

 

To begin, let’s take a look at the players under contract for next season, with a little conjecture on who else will return.

 

Gilbert Arenas, Nick Young, Al Thornton, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee remain under contract (Howard, again, I expect will not be brought back despite his option).  All of these pieces have some real value, especially if Gilbert regains his old form, and Blatche maintains his production from the second half of last season.  Al Thornton looked great with the Wizards before being slowed by injuries, Nick Young can score in bunches occasionally, and is still young enough for one to hold out hope he can improve his consistency, and JaVale McGee has shown he can be a game-changer at the rim defensively, though he has a very unpolished offensive game and a basketball IQ that may fall in the mentally retarded range.  The questions around Young and McGee make SG and C the positions in most need of an upgrade this offseason.  Additionally, while Thornton lacks the glaring holes of Young or McGee, he is not so entrenched that the team couldn’t benefit from an upgrade at small forward, as well, especially with some of the options in this year’s draft.

 

Among the potential free agents on the squad, Mike Miller seems to be one of the few players the team is interested in re-signing, but he is too old and will command too much money to expect he’d be part of a rebuilding project.  James Singleton and Quinton Ross are hardworking role players who could return cheap, but the front office has shown no indications of interest.  All three can be glue guys and play a valuable mentoring role on a young team, and I’d love to see them back, but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards.  The only player who can walk that seems to have a realistic chance of returning is Shaun Livingston, whose feel-good comeback story was one of the few bright spots for the Wiz in '09-'10.  While other teams have surely taken notice of his solid, heady play, Wizards management has indicated that retaining Livingston is a priority this offseason, and he should come at a reasonable price tag.

Assuming that the Wizards avoid re-signing any of their other free agents, the 2010 Draft will still offer plenty of chances to bolster their depth, and maybe even land another star with their first pick.  Here are the players that would be the best fit for the Wizards’ needs, in order:

 

1. NOT John Wall- With Ernie Grunfeld publicly announcing that there are no plans to get rid of Gilbert Arenas, even if the Wizards are fortunate enough to wind up in a position to draft him, he duplicates too much of Arenas to be the best fit- an explosive, score-first PG with headcase potential.  He’d be a better fit for the Wizards if he needed to take his time and develop, but I expect that, like Derrick Rose, he’ll be a stud PG from day one, creating chemistry problems as the question is raised of who should start at the 1.  The two-guard system Flip Saunders has developed in Washington could allow Wall and Arenas to co-exist a little more peacefully as far as getting their shots, and be a lot of fun to watch, but neither is enough of a distributor to ensure that the offense still flows as intended.  This pick would return the Wizards to what they were a couple of years ago, a sometimes-exciting offensive team that’s not really going anywhere.

 

2. Evan Turner- I will freely admit that I have a man-crush on Evan Turner.  He does everything but shoot from mid-range, and can certainly improve that.  His passing ability can help balance Gilbert’s shoot-first tendencies, and he can play the 2 or the 3, upgrading over Young or Thornton.  He could even spell Gilbert at PG on occasion.  He’s not an elite athlete, but he is still an amazing scoring force off of dribble penetration, and can finish from a variety of difficult angles.  Plus he can rebound, defend, make steals, and block a few shots.  I’m always a sucker for the do-it-all, stat-stuffing players like Andrei Kirilenko or Gerald Wallace- trade a little of their defense in for some extra offense, and you get the idea of what Evan Turner could be about in the NBA.

  

3. NOT DeMarcus Cousins- I will keep this one simple: there are too many motor and attitude questions surrounding this guy.  The Wizards are dying for a center, and Cousins is supremely talented, but not a supremely hard worker, and the histories of Arenas and Blatche suggest that there are already enough threats to good team chemistry on this roster.  Draft analysts like ESPN’s Chad Ford love to say that a draft prospect can turn out to be “Current NBA Player X, but with better range,” etc.  Allow me to take a page from that book- Demarcus Cousins projects to be Kwame Brown, but with a weight problem.

 

4. Cole Aldrich- I wrestled around on the idea of whether this is the spot for Aldrich, or Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson, but eventually decided that while Aldrich is less likely to be a star, he’s the better fit on account of how often JaVale McGee gets pushed around and caught out of position.  McGee has certainly earned significant time, but a stronger, more aware center is needed to eat up starter’s minutes, minimizing the amount of mistakes from McGee.  Cole Aldrich fits the description.  He’s smart, rebounds, and blocks shots.  Watching him as a freshman during Kansas’ national championship run, I would’ve sworn he was a senior because he already looked so polished, the opposite of the raw, explosive McGee.  Aldrich can also make some offensive contributions, both in the post and out to 15 feet- a plus because Andray Blatche likes to score inside and out, as well.  A center who can do both can maintain better spacing on the floor, going inside when Blatche is outside and vice-versa.  Aldrich currently only has one go-to post move- a right handed half-hook- but the Wizards shouldn’t need him to score in bulk as much as they need him to defend and rebound.

 

5. Wesley Johnson- The draft is always a matter of balancing the talent available on the board with the needs of your team, and should the Wizards pick at #5, Johnson will be the best player available, if he is even still available.  The presence of the capable Al Thornton means this isn’t a need pick, but it’d be hard to disagree with the drafting of Johnson, who has great size, athleticism, and shooting range.  Johnson has many similarities to the do-it-all style of Evan Turner.  Like Turner, Johnson can play the 2 or the 3 and is a stat-stuffer on both ends of the floor, a terrific rebounder who boasted almost two steals and two blocks per game for the Orange last season.  He passes well, too, though not as well as Turner, and can play and guard multiple positions.  He works hard in man-to-man defense, but the knock on him is that he lacks a killer instinct to take over games when needed.  This is probably why Johnson’s draft stock is lower than Turner’s, despite having a comparable skill set with even better shooting and athleticism.  As I’m writing this, I’m second-guessing my decision to place Aldrich ahead of him.  If the Wizards do go with Wesley Johnson, I promise I won’t complain one bit.

 

6. Quincy Pondexter- At this point, the discussion turns to guys who may be available at the 30th or 34th pick.  Any player still on the board at this point will probably have some glaring holes in their game, so teams are merely hoping to find a player who will be able to impact a game in any area at all. Washington’s Quincy Pondexter has seen his stock fluctuate wildly this past season, and with some time to go until the draft, he may still have an upswing that puts him out of the Wizards’ range.  If not, though, Pondexter’s size (6’7”, with a 7-foot wingspan), elite athleticism, and demonstrated commitment on the defensive end would make him a steal at 30th.  It’s rare that a player this athletic could be described as “scrappy”- guys who can hang their hat on their athleticism usually don’t show much commitment to mixing it up and getting dirty- but that’s exactly the word for Pondexter.  Consider how well he can slash to the basket as a nice throw-in.  His shooting is something of a question mark, as is his ball-handling, but again, no one is looking for the total package this late in the draft, just players who can actually have an impact.  Quincy Pondexter can definitely have an impact.

 

7. Jerome Jordan- While I’d love to land Solomon Alabi, I’m restricting my focus to players who may actually be available in the range where the Wizards will be picking, based on current draft projections.  Jerome Jordan is a player who looks to be available in the second round because he is extremely raw- in fact, he only began playing basketball at age 17.  As one would expect with a raw, inexperienced player, Jordan gets by on great athleticism- he can block shots and run the floor with the best of them- but he also possesses a good midrange jumper and go-to moves in the post going right or left.  He regularly saw double- and triple-teams his senior year at Tulsa, and has developed good passing skills because of it.  To shine as a pro, Jordan needs to add strength to his thin frame, and experience to his short resume.

 

8. Jarvis Varnado- Because somebody needs to back up Andray Blatche.  Jarvis Varnado may be limited offensively, but anyone who has followed college basketball recently knows about his game-changing defense as the nation’s leading shot-blocker and a fantastic rebounder.  Varnado is JaVale McGee in a power forward’s body: explosive hops which translate into dominant shot-blocking, but painfully raw on offense and painfully thin.  Varnado has a leg up on McGee, however, in that he has much better awareness and will rarely be caught out of position defensively.  Though JaVale is a bigger, more explosive version of Varnado, the difference in positioning and awareness means that Varnado is actually much less of a liability on the floor. 

 

9. Willie Warren- I know I didn’t say PG was a position that needed addressing badly, but if you want to talk about a steal this late in the draft, some projections at the start of last season had Warren as a Top 5 pick.  So why’d he fall so far?  Injuries, attitude problems, lack of commitment on defense, and a marked dip in production from the previous season.  Of course, there are good reasons he was once viewed so highly: great court vision, great size for a point (6’4”), 3-point range, explosive athleticism, and a knack for finishing after contact inside.  Before anyone refers to my write-off of DeMarcus Cousins and charges me with hypocrisy, keep in mind that taking a risky player with a pick in the 30s is very different than taking them with a Top 5 pick.  As a rookie taken late in the draft, if Warren does turn out to be a headcase, he’ll be the best kind of headcase: the kind that has no clout in the locker room.

 

 

10. Darington Hobson- Darington Hobson has been called a “poor man’s Evan Turner” by ESPN.  He’s 6’7”.  He can play the 1, 2, or 3.  He possesses great court vision, passing, and ballhandling.  He has a suspect jumper and gets most of his points off of dribble penetration.  He can put up big numbers in points, rebounds, and assists, all with a less-than-elite level of athleticism.  Sound familiar?  Where Hobson separates himself (and not in a good way) is that he fails to capitalize on all of his attacking the basket- he only shot 65% from the free throw line last year.  There are also big questions about how effective he can be defensively given his lack of strength and lateral quickness.  His versatility, however, makes him worth a flier at 34th.

 

11. Da’Sean Butler- Consider this an honorable mention, as Da’Sean Butler is unlikely to actually be drafted, or even to be ready to play at the start of next season, in the wake of a horrific knee injury during the NCAA Tournament.  When he is ready to play, however, Washington would be well-served to give him a shot as an undrafted free agent.  Butler would never wow scouts during combine tests this summer even if he could participate, but he is extremely tough, perfectly sized for a SF at 6’7”, 225 lbs, and he possesses a wealth of intangibles: leadership, good character, clutch shooting, and a high basketball IQ.  Admittedly, it will be tough for Butler to carve out a niche for himself in the NBA even if he has a complete recovery, but he has made a habit of overcoming long odds, and would be a no-risk proposition as an undrafted free agent.

 

12. Greivis Vasquez- Honorable mention 1-A, another guy unlikely to get drafted.  He carries many similarities to Butler in that he is an underwhelming athlete (I can actually outdo him in several areas they test at the combine, including vertical leap) and a less-than-ideal shooter who has excelled due to good size and lots of intangibles.  He is versatile, projecting to play some 1 and 2 in the NBA (if he can make it), has a great basketball IQ, and is as fiery a competitor as you’ll find anywhere.  Guys with that kind of make-up scrap their way into the NBA as key role-players all the time- think Bruce Bowen or Raja Bell- albeit usually through long and indirect routes.  Don’t be surprised if Vasquez were to surface in the NBA after bouncing around the globe for a few years.  An invite to their summer league team would give the Wizards first dibs.

 

So there you have it.  We’ll leave the discussion of what to do in free agency for a follow-up article- and don't worry, Wizards fans, LeBron won't even be considered.  In the meantime, let me know what you think.

 

 

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