Historically, draft day as a Wizards fan has been tough to get excited about. Last year and the fortune of falling into the #1 pick and selecting the consensus top player in John Wall was exciting yet anti-climatic. While it could have been seen as a signal of a reversal of fortune, the harbinger of a new era, it still left the team with little to think about and therefore little room for error. This year though, with #6 and #18 in the first round, the Wiz had to do some real thinking, and for what it’s worth, it looks like they did pretty well for themselves.
I’ll start by saying that I was under the assumption that the Wiz would fall into Kawhi Leonard at #6, but would have still needed to score a more projectable small forward at #18 as that seems their biggest deficiency and as Leonard looked to be much more of a defensive minded 4 than the 3 that some saw him to be. Jordan Hamilton would have been a thought there, and looked to still be around at #18 (and was).
In the days leading up to the draft though I found myself enamored with a few mocks that had Enes Kanter falling to the Wiz at #6, which still left Hamilton in play at #18. The other interesting and late developing draft stories were the interests of draft savvy clubs like the Lakers and Spurs trying to get into the late lottery, presumably seeing some talent that others were likely to sleep on. After the George Hill trade it appears that Leonard might have been that slept on talent, surely at #15 he’ll make more than a couple of teams sorry they passed on him.
As for the Wizards’ actual 6th pick, Jan Vesely, all I can say is that he’s young, well regarded by scouts and that his highlight tape was impressive. Lots of guys though have impressive highlight tapes. You have to like what you saw on his though, and any guy who answers a question about being called the Euro Blake Griffin by calling Griffin the American Jan Vesely doesn’t seem to be lacking the confidence he’ll need to try a similar aerial act at the game’s highest level.
Euros are always a gamble as are all draft picks, but if ever there were a draft where picking European players became prudent, 2011 was probably it. It seems a relatively safe bet that the NBA’s own labor fight is set to get far more contentious than the ugliness we’ve been seeing from the NFL, and there seems to be a very real possibility that the 2011-12 NBA season will at least be abbreviated and very likely canceled altogether. If that happens, and clubs are no longer allowed to contact players, having guys continue to play in Europe and stay active, while also being able to keep tabs on them through game films could be considered making the best of a bad situation at least.
On the opposite side of that spectrum, you won’t likely be seeing Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams taking their talents to Europe in the meantime. In Irving’s case in particular, while talented no doubt, there’s a very real possibility that if the NBA season starts in February or even October of 2012, the Cavs will have a point guard who has played exactly 11 games since high school in 2010 trying to live up to the status and contract of the top pick overall.
Having drafted Vesely at #6, Hamilton at #18 would have been a bit redundant a bit. It would have been interesting to see what Washington might have had to give up to get into that #15 and get Leonard too. With that said, Chris Singleton makes for a nice consolation prize there. He has an NBA body, probably slipped because of his inactivity much of last season and was regarded by many as the best defender in the draft. He along with Trevor Booker look like a stout second unit frontcourt, and his upside could certainly go beyond that given his competition (or lack thereof) on the roster.
Shelvin Mack at #34 seems impossible to pass up. He’s got lots of strength and experience, both at the college level and internationally. Five years from now he could be seen as the 3rd or 4th best guard produced by this draft. For now, he could be Eric Maynor like relief for John Wall. While such a young platoon at the point is less than ideal, Mack could remain somewhat mysterious based on the playing time that Wall will command. As a result the Wiz may be able to flip him a la George Hill or Darren Collison down the line for real value.
While the group that Washington will add those parts to is still young and frustrating, they’re not without upside. If left out of the offense and deployed only to play defense and collect rebounds and put backs, I for one (and apparently only one) still think JaVale McGee could have big and legitimate upside. In comparison to what they have at the 5 right now, I’d have to think the Heat or Celtics could put McGee to immediate and effective use. If the Wizards don’t see it or believe it, it won’t be hard to find a GM with interest.
While Andray Blatche needs even more work than McGee on the defensive end, he proved to be Wall’s best pick and roll partner when healthy and as a tandem they were one of the league’s most efficient despite the lack of other options to distract opposing defenses. Jordan Crawford looks like he could beat out Nick Young for the starting 2-spot and Young could certainly serve as the best scoring option on the second unit and a hot hand you can play with down the stretch a la Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford. Kevin Seraphin is too young to be discouraged with yet and may bring this team the bonus upside they desperately need in a frontcourt with lots of parity all of a sudden.
Most encouraging of all, is that whenever they do get back to playing basketball, the Wiz will continue to be on the build just long enough perhaps to get another juicy lottery pick and come away with a Harrison Barnes or Terrance Jones like talent. They’re young and on the build, and just one Kevin Durant away from being the next Oklahoma City Thunder.