Jan Vesely probably isn’t the (only) answer.
For three straight years, they drafted high in the lottery, nabbing a trio of coveted players: A sure-fire star who’d dazzled college basketball in his one season as a freshman. Next, a terrific athlete with great energy and defensive presence. Finally, a scorer who made the game look easy.
Of course, there was no guarantee that these lottery tickets would pay off.
But that team—the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder franchise—somehow hit the jackpot on all three.
The Washington Wizards, with their own collection of youngsters … haven’t.
Major Culprit: No Success with Player Development
It may not be fair to compare the Wizards to the Thunder. No one has Oklahoma City’s track record on player development.
But to be the best, you have to at least compete with the best. And it’s staggering that the Wizards seem to keep washing out, while the Thunder—picking at similarly high positions—keep maxing out on their players’ potential.
- Most fans forget that Russell Westbrook (the Thunder’s #4 pick in 2008) was seen as a draft reach by many analysts. He’s now a perennial All-Star.
- James Harden (the #3 pick in 2009) was projected as a “solid” player by ESPN’s John Hollinger—a compliment, to be sure, but Hollinger said the same thing about fellow 2009 draftees Austin Daye (3.6 ppg this year) and Jonny Flynn (now playing in Australia), while Harden’s developed into a star who averages 25.8 ppg, albeit for the Houston Rockets.
- Outside of the lottery, Serge Ibaka (the #24 pick in 2008) struck Sports Illustrated as a “long-term project who might not play in the NBA for several years”; Ibaka led the league in blocks last season.
That list ignores the Thunder’s leader, Kevin Durant (the #2 pick in 2007), whom nearly every analyst correctly pegged as a future superstar. But Durant’s patchy rookie season—a PER of 15.8, playing on a team that went 20-62—wasn’t so different from the debut of the Wizards’ John Wall (the #1 pick in 2010), who had a PER of 15.8 on a team that went 26-56. And Wall, too, was highly touted entering the league.
“Think Derrick Rose meets Jason Kidd,” ESPN’s Chad Ford wrote in March 2010. Wall “has the chance to be an NBA superstar.”
But that possibility appears to be increasingly slim. Wall showed little progress in his second season, and the knee damage that will sideline him for at least a few more games is a foreboding injury for a player whose star is hooked to his athleticism.
Meanwhile, Wall’s would-be running mates have turned out like a bizarro version of the Thunder’s young talent.
- Jan Vesely (the #6 pick in 2011) is averaging 2.4 ppg, arguably the worst free-throw shooter in the league, and at times “is just running around out there,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said earlier this year.
- Drafted for his scoring ability, Bradley Beal (the #3 pick this season) is shooting 36% from the field and 28% from three; Wittman benched him at the end of Wednesday night’s loss to the Cavaliers.
- And Kevin Seraphin (the #17 pick in 2010), a pleasant surprise in the spring, has painfully regressed; his PER of 10.5 is well down from the 15.8 he posted last season. Chris Singleton (the #18 pick in 2011) appears to have fallen out of the rotation.
Cracks Beginning to Show
Forget the positive pixels. With a 3-23 record, the knives are coming out.
Earlier this week, NBA.com’s David Aldridge took a snapshot of the team’s “dreadful” season, speaking to a few players off the record about the Wizards’ constant struggles. One player warned Aldridge that it was “like there’s a cancer” in the locker room and another telling the columnist that he ”see[s] division, and no vision.”
Once again, young players are not developing. Once again, the men in charge of trying to develop those young players are venting that they may think too much about themselves instead of the team as a whole.
But the problems don’t end with the Wizards’ young players.
The problem is the team’s lack of ability. The problem is the late-game execution.
The problem is that there are too many problems.
Take your pick.
It’s sad to pen yet another post about the Wizards’ ongoing struggles. But until the team figures out a way to demonstrate progress, the story will be about the team’s inability to win, and whether there’s something rotten at the core.
Because it’s the only story left to write about a team that’s lost 23 of its 26 games this year, and is on the way to yet another horrifying season.