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STEVE DeSHAZO: Even at No. 3, Wizards find pickings slim in NBA draft
THE WASHINGTON Wizards have done a lot of missing lately. They ranked 22nd in the 30-team NBA this past season in field-goal percentage (.441) and 26th in 3-point shooting (.320) and free-throw accuracy (.727).
Their errant ways have gone well beyond bricks and air balls, though.
Flip Saunders, accustomed to coaching veterans in Minnesota and Detroit, was a poor choice to lead a young, rebuilding franchise. And team president Ernie Grunfeld was far too tolerant for too long with talented but immature players like Gilbert Arenas, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
Most of those knuckleheads are gone, as is Saunders, and Blatche is likely out the door soon, too. The Wizards have taken a necessary first step by eliminating their excess baggage.
To accelerate their ascent, though, they can’t afford to miss with their No. 3 pick in the June 25 draft.
Wizards fans would feel a lot more confident if the Ping–Pong balls had given their team the first overall pick for the second time in the past three years. Instead, the New Orleans Hornets won the right to choose Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. (Advice from Jim Rome: Share your conspiracy theories with David Stern at your own risk.)
Davis, a late-blooming 6-foot-10 shot-blocking machine, looks like the only sure thing (if that) in a draft devoid of superstars. He’s often compared to Marcus Camby, who’s had a long and productive pro career but never became a consistent NBA scorer.
Beyond Davis, it’s hard to find a consensus on the draft’s pecking order. That’s because most of the other top prospects come with question marks.
Davis’ former Kentucky teammate Michael Kidd–Gilchrist is talented but inexperienced. Kansas’ Thomas Robinson (a D.C. native) may be a tad undersized to play power forward in the NBA. Florida guard Bradley Beal was an erratic shooter until late in his only college season. And North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes struggles to create his own shot.
The most dangerous siren song comes from 7-footer Andre Drummond, who underachieved in his one season at Connecticut (10 points, 7.6 rebounds, 29.5 percent foul shooting). Drummond instantly evokes painful memories of sluggish D.C. big men from Blatche and McGee to Kevin Duckworth, “Dinner Bell” Mel Turpin and John “Hot Plate” Williams and should be avoided at all costs.
The woeful Charlotte Bobcats (picking second) and the Wizards (third) and other lottery teams are in the process of hosting the top prospects, trying to see who suits them best. It won’t be easy.
To their credit, the Wizards finally have talented, hardworking building blocks under contract at basketball’s two most important positions: center (Nene) and point guard (John Wall). In Randy Wittman, they also have a coach who has his players’ respect.
Now, they need more talent—lots more.
Wall has been a good soldier so far, but he won nearly as many games in one season at Kentucky (35) as he has in his two pro seasons (a combined 43). If the Wizards don’t show signs of progress soon, expect him to seriously consider taking his talents elsewhere.
(Which brings up the advice of outspoken basketball guru John Feinstein, who told a D.C. radio station he would like to see the Wizards trade Wall and draft former UNC point guard Kendall Marshall, whom he compares to Jason Kidd. I think Marshall will be a great pro, but trading away the anointed face of the franchise is a risky move that could alienate impatient fans and set back the rebuilding process.)
There are “safe” picks like Robinson or former UNC center Tyler Zeller, but the Wizards have played it safe for a long time. And neither of those players will turn Washington into a playoff team.
The athletic Kidd–Gilchrist looks like the best option—but the Bobcats may snap him up at No. 2.
Beal could give the Wizards the 3-point threat they’ve lacked since Arenas’ pre-gun-and-knee-surgery days. Or he could be another streaky Nick Young clone.
There are no easy answers. But a franchise whose recent history is rife with mediocrity can’t afford to make another wrong call.
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443