“Scottie did a heck of a job adjusting each year to what was in front of him,” Sheppard said. “I think this year, in particular, it really felt like we had dang near three seasons’ worth of time. And all these young players this year got better in their own way. And I think next year we’ll see the benefits of all that."
Despite Washington’s 25-47 record, Sheppard lauded Brooks as the “connective tissue” in a disjointed season riddled with injuries to the team’s core players. The general manager, who has officially spent just over a year as the organization’s top basketball decision-maker, reiterated that everyone, himself included, should have a year of a fully healthy roster to be properly evaluated.
Sheppard — and Brooks, for that matter — have been zeroed in on next season for nearly two months now, since the Wizards traveled down to the NBA’s bubble in Kissimmee, Fla., with the goal of developing their younger players.
On Thursday, Washington takes another big step toward its future. The league is set to host its virtual draft lottery from Secaucus, N.J., at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN to determine which of the bottom 14 teams in the NBA will have the first pick in the draft Oct. 16.
Because this year’s lottery odds were based on teams’ records through March 11, the Wizards enter Thursday’s proceedings with the ninth-best odds — or a 4.5 percent chance — at the No. 1 pick despite having the eighth-worst record in the league after a 1-7 run in the bubble. They will have a roughly 20 percent chance at a potentially franchise-shifting pick inside the top four.
Teams voted on the adjusted draft lottery rule ahead of the league's restart.
Both Sheppard and Brooks, who spoke with reporters in a season exit interview of sorts Tuesday, are confident about their probable lower-end pick for two reasons: First, they are pleased with the solid season Rui Hachimura turned in after he was taken ninth last year, averaging 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Second, Sheppard said the Wizards have identified 15 different players in this year’s draft who can help them.
“Even if we don’t move up — look what happened to us last year: We actually moved down, and it landed us an impact player in Rui,” Brooks said. “ … It’d be nice to move up, but wherever we land we’re going to end up getting a really good player. I look at it different — we’re really getting two big-time players in this year’s draft: the pick and John Wall [when he returns from his Achilles’ injury]. You couldn’t ask for a better situation going into next season.”
Helping Washington out on that front is that the 2020 draft class is more balanced than those of years past — there are no clear golden goose picks like there were last year in Zion Williamson and Ja Morant.
Although the Wizards need depth at every position, they will be focused on a strong defensive player above all else.
“We need better rim protection, shot blocking, shot altering at the rim,” Brooks said. “And we have to do it within our group, and then there’s also the chance that we could pick up a free agent or another player in the draft — we will look at all areas of our team. I have a lot of trust in Tommy. One thing about Tommy, he’s not afraid to work.”
Sheppard has joked repeatedly that this year’s group will be the most scrutinized in history. Executives have had months to pore over scouting reports and film, even though scouts are working with less information than usual after major college conference championships and the NCAA tournament were canceled.
The pre-draft process, as with everything else, simply moved online when the sports world shut down. Sheppard conducted Zoom calls multiple times per week with the organization’s scouts even while he was in the Florida bubble. The biggest differences in this year’s pre-draft proceedings were the lack of a combine and the organization’s inability to host prospects in person.
Having a team’s general manager interview prospects is important, but so is getting a sense of how the prospect interacts with people along the way, from the person who picks him up at the airport on down.
“I expect people to be on their best behavior around the decision-makers, but how do they treat everybody else? Because how they treat everybody else is probably really who they are,” Sheppard said. “We like to see those things, and we don’t have that opportunity. So we do deep dives."
Sheppard’s work will continue well after the Wizards find out where they will draft Thursday evening. But he will be able to cross one more unknown off the list.
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