It’s time the Wizards go for a high-upside lottery pick like Bilal Coulibaly

(Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images) /

One of the main reasons the Washington Wizards have been stuck in mediocrity in recent years is their failure in the NBA draft. It is hard to argue that the Wizards have nailed a draft pick since they selected Bradley Beal with the 3rd overall pick in 2012. Despite selecting in the top half of the draft each of the last five years, the Wizards weren’t able to land any franchise cornerstones.

A big factor in this failure is the Wizards’ tendency to draft NBA-ready, high-floor, low-ceiling type of players. This strategy helped the Wizards get production from Kispert, Hachimura, and Avdija immediately in their rookie years. However, it also limited the overall upside of the team. Considering that a rebuild is in the works, it is time the Wizards prioritized potential over readiness to contribute.

Coulibaly’s athleticism, physical tools, and defensive potential are intriguing

If going for a high-upside player is the goal, there aren’t many better options than Bilal Coulibaly. Bursting onto the scene recently with his play in the French professional league playoffs, Coulibaly has one of the fastest rising stocks in the draft. His teammate with Metropolitans 92, Victor Wembanyama just endorsed Coulibaly, saying he “deserves to be top 5 in the draft.”

Coulibaly is certainly a very intriguing player. Still only 18 years old, Coulibaly’s potential is through the roof. He has great physical tools with a 6’7 frame and a 7’3 wingspan, but he is much more than his physique. He is a fantastic athlete who easily passes the eye test with his quickness, relentless attacking, and high motor. He is a very smooth player for his age, seemingly gliding on the court, going coast to coast in transition, euro-stepping in traffic, and taking his defender off the dribble. His feel for the game is also impressive as he seems to be in the right place at the right time, getting easy buckets of his off-ball cuts. He is already a wonderful lob threat with his slashing on the baseline or weak side.

One weakness in Coulibaly’s game is his shot. The defenses don’t respect his 3-pointer just yet, as he only took 1.1 three-pointers during the regular season and 2.3 per game in the playoffs. Despite shooting 45 percent in the regular season, this number dropped to 25% in the playoffs. The sample size is small but considering his below-average free-throw shooting (59.5% in the regular season), and his slow release, it might take him a while to become a credible threat from outside. Yet, his ability to hit wide-open threes and his smooth athleticism suggest he might be able to add some versatility and speed to his shot.

On the defensive end, he is a disruptive force with active hands. He averaged 1.7 steals a game in 7 playoff games. He can guard one-on-one but also likes to get involved in help defense to poke the ball away. As he puts on more muscle and strength, he projects to be a very good defender in the NBA.

Coulibaly’s surge and playing style resemble a mini-Giannis Antetokounmpo

The building blocks with Coulibaly are very solid. It doesn’t take one a very long time after watching him to realize how special of a player he can be. The way he burst onto the scene is very reminiscent of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s rise in the 2013 Draft. It’s obviously unfair to compare any 18-year-old prospect to the two-time MVP Giannis, but there is a resemblance in their games as well. The lanky and long body, athleticism, motor, constant attacking, and defensive potential give a mini-Giannis vibe.

Another potential benefit in drafting Coulibaly for the Wizards is the possibility of trading down to get him. Coulibaly is currently projected to be picked in the late lottery. If the Wizards know that Coulibaly is their guy, they can trade down, receive more assets or draft picks and still draft him.

Drafting can be as unpredictable as spinning the roulette wheel. Surefire star players are very difficult to find and impossible to project outside the very top of the draft. That’s why it makes sense to take your chances with a high-upside prospect and hope he fulfills his potential. Coulibaly is as good of a candidate to do that as anybody in this draft.