A case for why the Washington Wizards should trade out of the 2011 NBA Draft

With only a few hours remaining before the 2011 NBA Draft, which will be in Newark, New Jersey instead of its decade long home at Madison Square Garden, and the forecast for the Wizards is as murky as the night they dropped to sixth in the selection order.

If you’re Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, you are now on the clock for the next 6-7 years to build a competitive team around franchise corner stone John Wall. Do you risk your teams’ next most significant move on such a lukewarm draft crop? Considering that Derrick Williams or Enes Kanter falling to the sixth pick is a long shot and the fact that the Wizards have openly refused to part ways with current veterans in order to move up to get one of those guys, it seems that staying put is the game plan.

So then what is the team’s best alternative?

San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard has been mentioned as a possibility because he’s a rangy small forward who would certainly contribute to a position of need. At 6’7”, 227 pounds Leonard stands out in terms of his measurables but his inability to excel in any individual category has critiques questioning whether or not he would deserve such a high selection.

The other name that’s been tied to the Wizards is Czech’s Jan Vesely. The 6’11” 21 year-old combo forward displays impressive athleticism that allows him to finish around the basketball at an impressive pace. According to DraftExpress.com, Vesely converts 74% of his attempts around the rim, ranking him number one among all forwards in this year’s draft. Vesely also ranks as one of the most effective finishers off cuts (3rd), offensive rebounds (2nd), post-ups (3rd) and in transition (6th).

The issue with Vesely is that he has a painfully inconsistent jump shot and he hasn’t shown the ability to finish around the rim when he isn’t in transition. His dismal sub .500 free throw percentage is also very discouraging considering that he won’t get nearly as many uncontested looks at the basket in the NBA. He’s also been criticized for his shaky hands and ball handling, not that he’d be asked to do much of that anyways but it’s still concerning when you think about his age.

Vesely’s shooting troubles have been described as “in his head” but the lack of progress over the last three seasons with his club team, Partizan Belgrade, has given zero indication that he will ever be a good shooter.

It wouldn’t garner a ton of support on draft day, but it may be in the Wizards best interest to explore a trade for young-veteran who is already somewhat of a proven commodity in the NBA. A name that most casual fans may not recognize but who is regarded as a rising star across the league is the Portland Trail Blazers’ Nicolas Batum.

At only 22, Batum is just a year and a half older than Vesely despite having played in the NBA for three seasons. He has started 168 of 196 games since entering the league and has improved in every statistical category each year.  Batums’ freakish 7’4” wing span has helped him make a name for himself on both ends of the court with his ability to block or alter shots as well as finish around the rim at almost a 70% rate. Though his three point shooting took a dip this past season from 40.9% to 34.5%, his improvements in this area are notable considering he more than doubled his attempts from a year ago.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been mentioned as a team who are actively attempting to trade into the top ten in order to select UCONN Point Guard Kemba Walker.  The Sacramento Kings, who pick one spot after the Wizards, have mentioned as a logical landing spot for the 2011 NCAA Tournament Champion. If Walker falls past the Toronto Raptors at five, the Wizards could put the pressure on Portland to give up Batum, their first rounder this year (21st overall) as well as first rounder in 2012, where the draft crop is expected to be much more talented.

Washington could stay put at 18 and 21, where they could select role players to fill out depth or an international player with upside (thinks of Ole Pecherov and shivers). They could also bundle the two picks this year and maybe get back into the bottom of the lottery where a Chris Singleton or a Tristan Thompson may still be available.

Looking ahead to next season, the Wizards are widely expected to improve over last seasons’ record, if for no reason other than John Wall’s individual will, which means they won’t have the same shot at a high lottery selection. Multiple picks in the first round could help any potential trades to go after a highly regarded target like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger or UNC’s Harrison Barnes.

It’s a long shot but this move could improve the team in both the short and long run. Batum does not have the potential upside that Vesely does at this point, but he is a proven commodity who will be able to step into the starting small forward position next year and contribute. The extra draft picks will give the Wizards brass flexibility to make other trades or fill out there very thin roster.


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