Column: Can the Wizards cast a spell on their woes through the draft?

With another lottery pick, the Wizards hope to change their fortunes.

Column: Can the Wizards cast a spell on their woes through the draft?

The Washington Wizards will play in the bubble, an isolated zone at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, outside of Orlando, Florida, to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

The NBA playoffs are in full swing, but obviously, not every team is good enough to be a part of the games down in Florida. The Wizards (25-47) are one of these teams, as they failed to nab the 8th-seed during the eight-game regular-season stint that led up to the playoffs. Though Washington finished its disappointing season with an equally underwhelming performance in the bubble, the front office will benefit in the form of a first-round lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

For the second year in a row, the Wizards will select a player with the ninth pick in the draft. Last year, the Wizards used their pick to select Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura, in efforts to bolster the team’s disappointing frontcourt offense.

Not much has changed for the Wizards since Draft Day 2019. The team struggled throughout the season, as shooting guard Bradley Beal emerged as the only all-star-caliber player in the rotation (though Beal just barely missed the cut to make the All-Star Game). 

Their other star player, point guard John Wall, has been out for the past two seasons with a serious Achilles injury. Achilles injuries are notoriously difficult to bounce back from, so the coaching staff will have to keep a close eye on Wall’s health and productivity when he returns.

This complicates the draft process for the Wizards. With the ninth pick, the Wizards front office will have a range of quality players to select, but the talent pool is not limitless. Many of the consensus top prospects, such as center James Wiseman, as well as guards Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball, will undoubtedly be off the board. 

As with any drafting team, however, Washington will search for a prospect who fits well with their stars. The Wizards could consider selecting a number of players from a variety of positions in the upcoming draft.

With John Wall’s lengthy injury history at the age of 29, the Wizards could select a ball-handling lead guard to take the reins, especially if Wall doesn’t look ready to return to all-star form. If the Wizards feel set with Wall and Beal as their backcourt pairing, though, they could use a bigger forward or center to help protect the rim. Washington currently starts Thomas Bryant and Davis Bertans at the four and five spots and while the pair has been valuable on the offensive side of the floor, Washington could use a two-way talent in its frontcourt.

Now, the Wizards must do the actual hard part — drafting and developing talent. Due to the NCAA tournament’s cancellation in March, many of the players in the draft were unable to show off their abilities on a big stage. This not only hurts the prospects who could’ve used more national attention and high-level competition, but also makes it extremely difficult for fans of the league as well as NBA front offices to evaluate talent.

Even with these challenges, it seems unlikely that Washington would trade out of the draft. Should the Wizards select a big man with their pick, one of the best choices that may be available at their pick is USC forward Onyeka Okongwu. Standing at six feet, nine inches, with a monstrous seven feet, one inch wingspan, Okongwu has almost all the skills a big man needs in the modern NBA. While his shooting is nearly nonexistent, his interior game is superb, and his mobile defense is what the Wizards need.

If the Wizards instead go for a ball-handling point guard, the amount of choices they have increases exponentially. Basketball has been in a point guard renaissance for quite some time now and, like in many recent drafts, the 2020 draft has an abundance of guards. There are two choices that the Wizards should take a look at for point guard — Killian Hayes from France, and Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey. 

Hayes is the playmaker that the Wizards may be looking for in the point guard department, but he’s pretty raw in other aspects of the game. With a 29.4 percent three-point percentage on an encouraging 102 attempts, he has the potential to be a floor-spacer. Maxey, on the other hand, is not as good at playmaking, but he makes up for it in scoring and defense. He is an exceptional defender, both on- and off-the-ball, and in the age of the point guard, having an amazing defensive guard can be a difference-maker.

Alternatively, the Wizards could trade the pick. However, fans are mostly in the dark on that end, and trades are extremely hard to predict. Though with the depth of decent role players in this draft and the enviable spot the Wizards are in the lottery, they could make some noise in the trade market if they choose to go this route.

Whatever the Wizards decide to do though, likely won’t change their immediate fortunes.

“We’re not that far off, but we do have a long way to go,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard told NBC Sports Washington. “There’s no shortcuts to anywhere we’re going to.”

There is hope, however, that the Wizards front office will conjure something magical out of this draft.

lclarke@theeagleonline.com 

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