About two weeks ago “a friend” of mine from the 202 bumped into ESPN’s Zach Lowe at a bar outside his Harlem apartment. Inevitably, “my friend” ruined the mood by touching on the Washington Wizards, compelling Lowe to slump over. To say it was a vibe killer is an understatement. I will neither confirm nor deny that I am the anonymous Wizards stan, but that’s beside the point.
But if that’s what the mere mention of the Washington Wizards can do to a basketball junkie, just imagine how damaging it is for the psyche of an entire generation of the city’s inhabitants. It’s enough to fracture even the most stable psyche. This offseason the Wizards jettisoned the last vestiges of the Ernie Grunfeld executive tree by firing his former deputy, Tommy Sheppard.
The Wizards are bottoming out. Washington is bad this season. They’re playing at a breakneck pace with the most immature roster since Javaris Crittenton and Gilbert Arenas’ locker room high -oon showdown. Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma are firing at will, putting dents in the rim and playing sloppier defense. With one eye trained on Washington’s ghastly lineup, the eyes of one of the league’s most hopeless franchises is focused on the lower rungs of basketball.
Unfortunately, Washington is tanking for the wrong draft. Unlike 2023’s edition, the 2024 NBA Draft is devoid of a generational talent at the top. Shepherd could have traded Beal before the 2022 trade deadline, but chose to invest a long-term contract in Beal, then waited until he and Kristaps Porzingis had helped them win just enough games to end up in the mushy middle between missing the play-in AND avoided putting themselves in position to to win the draft lottery. A week after the draft, his successor traded Beal to Phoenix for assets which they flipped into Poole.
Three developments this week cast an even longer shadow over the Wizards longer than the Victor Wembanyama’s. One was the aforementioned Wembnayama scoring 38 on Phoenix, the other was Washington getting run off the floor by the Philadelphia 76ers. The 146-128 loss dropped the Wizards to 1-5, with their lone loss coming against the winless Memphis Grizzlies.
The last thing was ESPN’s chief draft analyst,Jonathan Govony dropping his top 25 ranking of 2024 prospects. Any one of the top 10 prospects could wind up being the best player in the class. However, that’s the last thing you want to hear if your’re a franchise with a cataclysmic draft history over the last decade.
Here’s a sampling of the clunkers Washington has drafted in the last decade:
Despite drafting in the lottery on several occasions, Washington’s top picks in that period include Tomáš Satoranský, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura, Deni Avidija, Corey Kispert, Johnny Davis and Bilal Coulibaly. Aside from Coulibaly, who is only six games into his professional career, the previous regime’s track record skips like damaged vinyl. Shepherd’s last lottery pick, Johnny Davis, resembles a two-way contract benchwarmer. The specter of drafting a stinker one year after opting out of the sweepstakes for the best two-way prospect in 40 years is very real.
The beauty of preseason rankings is that they have the potential to change. Prior to the 2018-19 college basketball season, nobody could have seen Ja Morant coming. Washington is in need of a similar draft riser who can separate themselves from the pack.
Givony’s top prospect, Ron Holland, isn’t even playing college basketball this season. Instead, he’ll be suiting up for the G League Ignite alongside Matas Buzelis. And as we are learning from Scott Henderson’s rough start, assessing NBA readiness against G League competition is a risky endeavor. USC point guard Isaiah Collier could be the first point guard taken, but he doesn’t even have the best name recognition of anyone on their roster. That would be Bronny James, who is more notable for his dad’s contributions to basketball than his own game.
Kentucky should field one of its most fun one-and-done rosters in a decade. Forward Justin Edwards, center Aaron Bradshaw, DJ Wagner and Rob Dillingham are all top 25 blue chippers. Edwards projects as the superior prospect, but he’ll be 20 in December and could also wind up smacking up against his ceiling as the second-coming of RJ Barrett.
Purdue’s Zach Edey is the top-returning player, but he’ll also be a 7-4, 22-year-old stiff next year, who projects as a second-round pick. The Player of the Year shortlist features a bevy of John Doe’s, while FAMU is more of college basketball’s inspirational Ted Lasso spinoff than an incubator for upper echelon individual talent. Alex Sarr could be the top big man in 2024, but he’s playing off-Broadway for Perth in the Australian NBL. I
t would be a shame to spend a year watching Poole lob backboard alley-oops in transition during double-digit losses only for the Wizards to whiff again. This franchise and its fanbase have experienced enough trauma.
Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex