The Washington Wizards have a lot of holes to address this offseason. How they fare in the draft will determine how they fill them.
Last offseason, Tommy Sheppard could do no wrong as the interim general manager for the Washington Wizards. He had two things working in his favor:
- He was not Ernie Grunfeld
- Grunfeld had left the team so handcuffed there was little room to do anything, good or bad
Yet, somehow, Sheppard turned the summer of 2019 into a surprisingly successful offseason. Maybe we could have done without the Isaiah Thomas signing (although it gave us the infamous frosty incident). And the C.J. Miles signing didn’t turn out great, either, but there’s no way Sheppard could have predicted a season-ending injury.
Other than those missteps, Sheppard swooped in and got Davis Bertans, Isaac Bonga, and Moritz Wagner for next to nothing. He made a solid (and surprising) selection at number nine and took Rui Hachimura. And he corrected the IT debacle and took a flier on Jerome Robinson at the deadline.
With little wiggle room, Sheppard made some value-minded moves that made the Wizards younger, better, and more asset-rich last season. Yet, they finished 25-47.
Now, it’s time to complete the bounce back and turn the roster into one that can truly contend in the East. And it’s going to take more than John Wall’s return.
The Wizards aren’t simply one player away. Their biggest weaknesses that need addressing this offseason are:
- Defense/Rim Protection: Finished with 30th ranked Defensive Rating
- Rebounding: Finished 28th in Team Rebounding
- Wing depth: Who is this team’s small forward?
If the Wizards are going to make any real noise next season, they have to start making noise this offseason. As the list above suggests, the need a little bit of help all over the place.
Can they get it in the draft? Sure. But what need their future draft pick will address is still unclear.
In this year’s draft, there’s little consensus outside of the top three prospects: LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman. Beyond that, it’s seemingly wide open. Of course, the draft-pick picture will come into focus as we approach draft night, but the uncertainty means the Wizards could end up with one of any number of players at nine.
Say the top eight teams like big men and Wiseman and Onyeka Okongwu are both off the board. The Wizards might be best suited going with a defensive-minded wing, like Isaac Okoro, or a shooter, like Devin Vassel. If the wings are off the board, maybe the draft is the place to find John Wall’s replacement. Then Tyrese Haliburton, Kilian Hayes, or Kira Lewis Jr. may be the answer at nine.
If they’re looking to go ‘best player available’ at nine (as they should considering their number of needs), they’ll have options regardless of how picks one through eight unfold.
One thing is for sure, though. Whoever the Wizards end up taking on draft night needs to be another hit for Tommy Sheppard. If the Wizards want to be competitive next year, they can’t afford to screw up a lottery pick.
Hachimura proved in his rookie season just how impactful a lottery pick can be. He finished his rookie campaign second in minutes played, second in rebounds per game, and third in points per game for the Wizards. The Wizards need another contributor, not a project.
Once the Wizards have draft day settled, then the real work begins. Re-signing Davis Bertans will be priority number one. After that, it’s time to address any and all needs the draft didn’t.
Bertans is due for a big payday and if the Wizards are able to keep him, they won’t have a ton of money leftover. But they will have the mid-level exception at their disposal. Plus all the young assets Sheppard’s acquired will be worth something in the trade market.
Whatever the Wizards’ lottery pick can’t help with, the Wizards need to find via free agency or a trade. They might not have the most money to blow this offseason, but the Wizards can’t afford to be spectators. They need to be active.
For Sheppard, the honeymoon period is over. With John Wall returning next season, there are once again real expectations to live up to in Washington. In order for the Wizards to be the playoff team they’ve said they’ll be in 2021, Sheppard’s got work to do. And it all starts on an uncertain draft night. How things play out there will determine the direction of a crucial offseason for a franchise at a competitive crossroads.
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