Washington Wizards have young players but a bleak future
Instead of rejoicing in a win that ended the slump, there should be more concern for the future of the team.
The Wizards (12-20) need help to reestablish their foundation, and traditionally such drastic help for them only comes from winning by losing big. Washington could use a lottery pick, someone who will disrupt the franchise like No. 1 pick John Wall or No. 3 pick Bradley Beal did. Notice those numbers; we are talking about high lottery picks here. Although the Wizards have selected near the bottom or just out of the draft lottery for five straight years, they remain mired in mediocrity with their current cast of young players.
It’s been more than a decade since the Wizards last clinched draft gold with Wall and then Beal. They haven’t extended one of their own first-round picks beyond their rookie contract. from Otto Porter Jr. (the No. 3 pick in 2013). The conveyor belt of first-rounders, whether selected by the Wizards or acquired by them on draft night, has kept moving. But no gold. Not even cubic zirconia.
In the summer of 2019, Tommy Sheppard took over as general manager; the has since been promoted to the team president. But under Sheppard, no first-rounder has stood out. the magicians changed to Troy Brown Jr. (the No. 15 pick in 2018) during his third season. Them failed to reach an agreement for a rookie extension with Rui Hachimura (the ninth pick in 2019), making him a restricted free agent after this season. And while Deni Avdija (No. 9 in 2020) and Corey Kispert (No. 15 in 2021) have broken the rotation, albeit for a struggling team fighting for an entry spot, rookie Johnny Davis (10th overall) has spent the season in the no man’s land of DNP and G League assignments.
The mystery of the missing draft pick is no longer just a question plaguing the Washington metropolitan area. (Why did the Wizards take Johnny Davis at 10 if they’re never going to play him? And why, again, am I rooting for the number 10 seed?) The question recently came to NBA analyst Zach Lowe, who made a comically damning observation about the Wizards’ latest first round run.
“Can you confirm that Johnny Davis is a real person?” Lowe said on his podcast. “They just got into the watch and didn’t know who to pick? … He Is he a movie character and you just thought it would be fun to recruit a fictional person? I could walk in front of my house right now and say, ‘Hey Zach, I’m Johnny Davis from the Wizards. He was just in your neighborhood. I would have no idea who it was.”
Lowe clearly never saw that. taco bell commercial. He also hasn’t seen the ads for the local injury law firm featuring Davis. Thanks to those TV spots, at least Wizards fans get to see Davis among a throng of business extras and lawyers. But among the top 20 selections of the 2022 draftonly Chet Holmgren (Oklahoma City’s second pick to suffered a season-ending injury in the summer) and Mark Williams (Charlotte’s No. 15 pick) have appeared in fewer games than Davis.
On Monday, the night before the Wizards snapped their 10-game losing streak by defeating the Phoenix Suns, Davis showed up at the NBA G League Showcase Cup in Las Vegas. Much like his time in that city in the Summer League in July, he was disappointed: 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting with three assists and five turnovers in 30 minutes.
It may only have been a few months into Davis’ pro career, but it’s not too early to question whether Sheppard and the Wizards misjudged the pick, especially when looking at rookies like Walker Kessler (No. 22 Memphis) and Andrew Nembhard ( Indiana, No. .31) Rotation Minute Record.
If we’re going to continue the comparison game, it doesn’t get any prettier by evaluating Hachimura and Avdija against their peers. They are players in their fourth and third seasons, respectively, who should be mature enough to make the expected leaps in their careers. Last month, Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr., speaking generally about developing draft picks, explained why the jump happens in the third or fourth year.
“The game slows down. It probably takes a year for the guys to figure out the flow and physicality of the game. It will probably take another year or so before they really become a full player,” Unseld said. “It is a natural maturation process. … It’s likely to be within that three to four window, two to four years for a lot of players before there’s a comfort level.”
But Hachimura has been unavailable for much of the past two seasons. One year ago, Hachimura spent time away from basketball, he missed the first 39 games of the season, and this year a bruised bone injury has sidelined him for the past month. Although his offensive production isn’t too far off his draft position, he ranks 11th. among his peers in points per game (12.9) — it’s hard not to look with envy at the players drafted under Hachimura. Namely 2022 sixth man of the year Tyler Herro, Jordan Poole, Cam Johnson, Grant Williams or even Brandon Clarke, Hachimura’s Gonzaga teammate who was selected late in the first round but has the third VORP (value over replacement player) highest in the draft class of 2019.
Often given the toughest defensive assignments, Avdija has the fourth most game appearances among your class of 2020 but ranks 40th in VORP. And on Tuesday, just as the Wizards were about to wipe out the Suns, Avdija unknowingly provided a teachable moment.
Late in the game, with the Wizards leading by five, Avdija defended the lead by jumping to a three-point shot, a curious decision but one made by a young player and trainee. Though the foul ultimately didn’t hurt the Wizards and his chances, cameras on NBC Sports Washington caught assistant coach Pat Delany grabbing Avdija’s attention on the bench, animatedly using his hands while talking to him.
The Wizards are certainly teaching their young players. You are being patient with them. When necessary, the franchise even protects them. Still, that patience has this team in a familiar place: hanging between containment and rebuilding, with four straight first-round picks failing to move Washington any closer to relevance.
Losing 10 straight games may sting now, but some longer losing streaks — and a franchise-altering high lottery pick — might be preferable to another push for the 10th seed.