2020 NBA Draft: Washington Wizards’ Draft Needs And Potential Picks
Current Record: 24W-40L
Expiring Contracts: Ian Mahinmi, Davis Bertans, Shabazz Napier
1stNeed: Defensive presence in the frontcourt
The Wizards are not the worst teams in the league, but they are one of those organizations who does not appear to be headed in a single direction. Fortunately for them, their two stars have a strong sense of loyalty. Well, John Wall has no other choice but to be loyal to a team who has been incredibly patient in waiting for him to fully recover from his unfortunate consecutive injuries.
But the time is ticking for them to finally make Bradley Beal happier and more secured in terms of the team’s talent and direction moving forward. There hasn’t been a shortage of trade rumors surrounding Beal’s name as he himself reiterated a lot of times he is getting frustrated with all the losing that the team has sustained in the past couple of years. It’s safe to say that Beal is doing everything he can, garnering two All-Star appearances. He surprisingly and shockingly missed out on the All-Star game this season, but he is averaging a whopping stat line of 30.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists for the lowly Wizards.
During an appearance on ESPN analyst and insider Zach Lowe’s Lowe Post Podcast, Beal shed some light on why he ultimately decided to sign an extension with the Wizards last summer. Many people thought that he will be demanding a trade out of Washington, but he made a bold move to stay put because of two important reasons: to have more control of the ball club and to stay teamed up with Wall.
“Ultimately, I felt staying, the positives outweighed leaving. The reason being is because I had more control here. I have an organization who basically gave me the keys. ‘We’re gonna build around you, we’re gonna get guys around.’ If I go anywhere else, granted, it may be a good team, but I would be a piece. Who knows if my role would be the same? My role here, I love what it is.
We were close way before I even got into the league. Even now, he’s a big brother to me. He’s taken me under his wing since day one. We’re still like that to this day.”
But as expected by tons of important figures within the league, it won’t be long before Beal completely loses it and chases the coveted championship trophy outside of Washington. With Wall assuring everyone that he should be fully-healthy to come back next season, the Wizards front office just has one year to do everything right.
Of course, rebuilding will always be an option as they have every right to ship Wall and Beal. Beal is arguably their primary superstar at this point of his career, but trading away Wall to retool the team around Beal could force the latter to also want out. So the management does not have any choice but to build around both stars and find the right supporting cast to fit head coach Scott Brooks’ system.
With that said, they will finish as a lottery team this season. They have a 4.5% shot at the top pick in this year’s draft, and a 20.3% chance to barge into the Top 4. Missing out on those picks will still mean that the Wizards will have a surefire lottery player on their roster in their next campaign.
Tommy Sheppard, the team’s general manager, emphasized that social distancing has not hindered him and the scouting staff from doing their homework. Sheppard said that they are watching tons of highlights from this year’s draft prospects, as per Jackson Filyo of WashingtonWizards.com.
“This is actually a normal time for us. We're just taking more time on each player to find out who the best fits for the Wizards are. We’re digesting so much more video as a group collectively as a group, going over players in far more detail. This may end being the way we do the draft moving forward.
Workouts are important, but they’ve played all season…we’ve done our homework. We have a tremendous scouting staff that’s scoured the United States and the globe to find the very best talent. We have a database stuffed full of reports. We’ve done the preparation work. If we don’t have the opportunity to actually spend time physically with players, watch them work out and do interviews, we just pivot.”
As Sheppard pointed out to looking at the prospects who pose as the best fit for the team, they have one glaring weakness. With Beal and Wall shouldering the heavy lifting on offense, the Wizards need to inject more defensive presence on their frontcourt. Their two star backcourt players are not great defenders, but they aren’t bad either. Looking at their current roster right now, they don’t really have a single frontcourt player who stands out as a good defender. Rookie combo forward Rui Hachimura has the attitude and length to be potentially good in defense, as well as Troy Brown and Isaac Bonga.
Even Sheppard is aware of the team’s need for a defensive anchor. Veteran center Ian Mahinmi’s contract will expire after this season, leaving young budding big man Thomas Bryant as the Wizards’ man in the middle. But no matter how Bryant has improved since his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers, he is still an average rebounder and a similarly-average rim protector.
Aside from the center position, Washington should also inject a much-needed defensive minded combo forward who can put the clamps on other teams’ best perimeter players. The Wizards need every defensive help they can put their hands on, may it be through the draft or through free agency. In an exclusive interview with The Athletic’s Fred Katz, Sheppard did not hold out any words when he analysed the team’s lack of defenders.
“We’re not hiding any state secrets. We’re gonna improve defensively, and a lot of that is by repetition and continuity. We certainly look inside. Maybe we can get some more physicality there and get some more help out on the wings. There’s a lot of need that comes, but sometimes those needs get met by just staying patient (with your) players.
The continuity — Coach will tell you, it’s hard to roll out a new lineup every night and think you’re gonna be able to get a consistent effort defensively. Offensively, we’ve always been able to score. It’s almost interchangeable. … But defensively, it’s hard to keep rolling in new guys all the time. I think we need a rim protector,” he said. “I think that helps a lot defensively to keep people out of the paint.”
Upon first look at the draft prospects board, there’s no really great big man defender out there. Memphis’ James Wiseman has the tools and physique to be good, but it’s expected that he will be selected in the Top 5. Dayton’s power forward Obi Toppin is also more valued for his offensive arsenal, and the Wizards might have a shot at selecting him if they climb two or three spots higher. Yet, Toppin has had red flags on his effort on the defensive end and he still needs to develop good instincts on that facet of his game.
Aside from Wiseman and Toppin, USC’s Onyeka Okongwu is among the best big men in the draft. The 6-foot-9 combo big is arguably the best shot blocker in his class, and he has the lateral quickness to switch on quicker guards and stay in front of them. He could be a Bam Adebayo type of player on the defensive end, although he also has many limitations on offense. He doesn’t have a three-point shot just yet, making it difficult for the Wizards to pair him with Bryant on the frontcourt. It will be a year or two before he extends his range, but he can definitely contribute to the Wizards off the bench.
Although the young combo big is pegged to fall outside the Top 5 in most mock drafts, CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone placed Okongwu in his Top 4. Boone emphasized that Okongwu has the potential to expand his offensive arsenal.
"Okongwu has been the top-rated big man on our board for awhile, and he moves up one spot to No. 4 in my top five here. I'm just a huge believer in the tools and what it will look like in a few years. He'll be able to step out onto the perimeter and switch on defense early, and he's already one of the most natural shot-blockers in this draft class. There is always a spot for a big with those specific skills in the NBA.Offensively, while he rarely took 3-pointers at USC (a whopping four), his long-term outlook makes me believe there's no reason to think he can't extend his range.”
If the Wizards try to look for a defender in the wing position, there’s Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa, and Auburn’s Isaac Okoro. Combo guards Tyrese Maxey of Kentucky and Tyrese Haliburton of Iowa State are also smart defenders, although the Wizards might prioritize a player who can play both forward positions.
2ndNeed: Three-point shooters
While the Wizards’ primary weakness lies on their defensive performance, it does not mean that their offense has no holes. Veteran playmaker Ish Smith has been a trustworthy court general, and he should back up Wall in the point guard position. Brooks could stagger his two stars’ minutes, so shot creating and ball-handling shouldn’t pose problems for the team. But today’s game is built on spacing, and the Wizards don’t have much three-point shooters to space out the floor.
Davis Bertans, their best long-range gunner, will be an unrestricted free agent. Washington has to prioritize re-signing him and his stellar 42% clip from beyond the arc. Other than Bertans and Beal, Brown and Jerome Robinson are still polishing their long-range weapons. It makes sense for the Wizards to pursue another shooter in the draft, although this class doesn’t offer much on that criteria.
However, there are two frontrunners for the shooting need that the Wizards are in dire need for. Those names would be Devin Vassell of Florida State and Saddiq Bey of Villanova. Vassell is a 6-foot-7 swingman who shot a spectacular 42% clip from the three-point line this season, while Bey is a 6-foot-8 small forward who normed 45% when shooting the three ball during his sophomore year.
Vassell and Bey may be two effective shooters, but they are different in their physical tools. Bey is more athletic than Vassell, although the latter possesses more fundamentals in terms of his footwork and overall understanding of the game. More importantly, Bey can also play the power forward position and also has the inside game to go with it. Bleacher Report’s Martin Fenn predicts that he can be a stretch-four who also has the defensive upside.
But Fenn also says that Vassell is the better ball-handler between the two. Washington could also use another ball-handler, and they won’t go wrong if they decide to select Vassell instead.
“Vassell does not have the same physical size as Bey, but he makes up for it by having terrific footwork and defensive instincts. Vassell averaged 1.4 steals per game for the Seminoles lin 2019-20, and he saw a big uptick in scoring and volume while being even more efficient. The sophomore averaged 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting nearly 42 percent from beyond the arc on 3.5 attempts per game.
Bey might be the better shooter in terms of both volume and efficiency, but Vassell still knocks down treys at a high clip and is probably a more rangy wing defender capable of playing the passing lanes. He also can get to the rim and handle the ball, which should make him that much more attractive as an "upside" wing prospect.”
If the Wizards miss out on Okongwu or Okoro, then targeting either Vassell or Bey should be their Plan B. While Okoro is arguably the best perimeter defender in this year’s draft, Vassell and Bey are more consistent shooters and they are not bad defenders, either.
Prospects Priority List:
1. Isaac Okoro
2. Onyeka Okongwu
3. Saddiq Bey
4. Devin Vassell
5. Precious Achiuwa
6. Tyrese Haliburton
7. Tyrese Maxey