The Wizards choose third in tonight’s NBA draft, giving them a top six pick for the third straight year. That kind of track record means that Washington hasn’t gotten any better despite adding a pair of early draft selections the past two seasons.
So there’s no reason to expect that whoever the No. 3 overall choice is from among prime candidates Bradley Beal of Florida, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of Kentucky and Harrison Barnes of North Carolina that he will suddenly take the franchise to the next level.
No. 1 overall pick John Wall didn’t do that in 2010-11 and No. 6 selection Jan Vesely made little impact in 2011-12. In fact, other than 1967-68 when rookie guard Earl Monroe led the-then Baltimore Bullets to a 16-victory improvement and 1968-69 when Wes Unseld won Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in turning the Bullets from a 36-46 also-ran into a 57-25 juggernaut, the franchise’s biggest jumps have come without much help from rookies.
Washington rose from 47 victories in 1973-74 to 60 the next season although top draft pick Len Elmore had signed with Indiana of the ABA and second-rounder Truck Robinson was a backup. The Bullets jumped from 21 victories in 1994-95 to 39 in 1995-96 even though top draft pick Rasheed Wallace wasn’t a a focal point.
No. 1 overall selection Kwame Brown was a backup as the Wizards improved from 19 victories in 2000-01 to 37 in 2001-02. And 2004 first-rounder draft picks Devin Harris, the fifth overall choice, never played for Washington before being included in the trade that brought standout forward Antawn Jamison from Dallas, a deal that helped the Wizards soar from 25 victories in 2003-04 to 45 in 2004-05.
As for tonight’s draft, I believed that Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson, a hard-working District native with a heartwarming back story, was the right man for Washington. That is until last week’s trade that sent mega-expensive and aging forward Rashard Lewis to New Orleans for big man Emeka Okafor and forward Trevor Ariza, a fellow defensive-minded player.
Although streaky shooter Jordan Crawford has shown flashes during his season and a half playing next to Wall, the additions of Okafor and Ariza up front now make a reliable wing scorer Washington’s most pressing need. Hence, the choice between Beal, Kidd-Gilchrist and Barnes after, as is likely, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis goes No. 1 overall to New Orleans and Robinson follows to Charlotte.
Beal, like Kidd-Gilchrist is still just 18 and played just one year of college hoops. However, he’s a true guard while Kidd-Gilchrist and Barnes are small forwards.
Maurice Evans, who’ll be 34 in November and was little-used last season, is Washington’s only backup shooting guard under contract. Shelvin Mack, who didn’t play much as a rookie in 2011-12, is the only reserve point guard.
In contrast, Vesely, fellow 2011-12 rookie Chris Singleton and 2010-11 draft picks Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin are all available off the bench up front behind projected starters Nene, Okafor and Ariza (assuming general manager Ernie Grunfeld finally cuts ties with the long-maddening Andray Blatche).
While the Wizards could change that frontcourt-backcourt imbalance during the free agent signing period which starts next week, the 6-foot-5, 202-pound Beal, the draft’s best jump-shooter as well as a physical rebounder, seems the correct choice tonight.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin