After a season chock full of the unexpected, Thursday’s NBA draft lottery came with no surprises for the Washington Wizards. The team drew the No. 9 pick in the Oct. 16 draft.
The Wizards are well acquainted with the slot, which is where they picked forward Rui Hachimura in the 2019 draft. The odds also pointed to Washington picking ninth — the Wizards had more than a 50 percent chance of picking No. 9 despite having the eighth-worst winning percentage in the league.
The lottery odds were based on team records as of March 11, the day the league shut down because of the novel coronavirus.
The Minnesota Timberwolves will pick first, with the Golden State Warriors picking second. The Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Wizards, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and Boston Celtics (with a pick acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies) will follow, in order.
Washington also holds the 37th pick in October’s draft.
Now that the Wizards know where they’re picking, General Manager Tommy Sheppard will hit the phones. The organization’s top basketball decision-maker said in a news conference after the lottery that all options are on the table for Washington. He mentioned packaging the team’s two picks to trade for a higher overall pick or possibly acquiring more second-round picks.
“I’ve got eight calls to make tomorrow and, over the course of next week, talk to all the teams ahead of us and see what their needs are. And then talk to the teams behind us and see what their needs are,” Sheppard said. “... I can’t say this enough: Everything’s on the table for us to get better as a franchise. If we can take two picks and move up, if somebody wants to do that, we’ll entertain that.”
Sheppard has been clear on next season’s goal: The Wizards want to be in position to win. They expect a healthy John Wall and Bradley Beal back with the team, and they need a player ready to help right away. They are not looking for a project.
The team’s most dire needs are on the defensive end. The Wizards finished next to last in defensive efficiency and will be looking to improve shot blocking and rim protection — anything that could help them back up what should be a high-powered offense.
But when speaking to reporters ahead of the lottery Wednesday, Sheppard said he hedges more toward taking the best available talent in the draft over selecting a player for need. What the executive took away from the bubble after Washington faced second units from the likes of the Lakers, Clippers, Bucks and Celtics — and watching a Brooklyn team without its biggest stars push Portland to the brink — is that depth is crucial.
“Need is always something that you have to focus on certainly, but through the draft, if there’s a player there, you just say, ‘Hey, the talent is too good, too great to pass on.’ Then you still have free agency to address that need. And you can still trade. You can still do other things,” Sheppard said. “… We have to add depth at every position. So I don’t feel we can go wrong either way. [When] you’re adding a good player, that adds to your depth.”
That said, the Wizards may not have much wiggle room during the offseason. Re-signing sharpshooter Davis Bertans remains a top priority, and the Latvian’s likely lucrative contract would leave Sheppard with little salary cap space to add major pieces.
Should Washington want to draft for need, there is a fair chance that solid, defensive-minded players such as Southern California center Onyeka Okongwu and Memphis forward Precious Achiuwa will be available to the Wizards at No. 9.
Sheppard said Wednesday the organization has identified 15 players who could help the Wizards sooner rather than later.
“The lottery is what it is; my goal is never to be there,” Sheppard said. “Next year, we don’t want to rely on the draft lottery to get better. We want to see our young players get better. This year, I’m grateful we’ll have an opportunity to add a couple quality pieces.”
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