2023 NBA Draft Lottery Team Preview: Washington Wizards
With the 2023 NBA Draft fast approaching, we're taking a look at what each lottery team needs to target with their draft selections, continuing today with the Washington Wizards.
Nick: The Washington Wizards found themselves in an unfortunately familiar position at the end of the 2022-23 NBA season. Despite having Bradley Beal on the court for more than half of their games, the Wizards finished with a 35-47 record and ended up in 12th place in the Eastern Conference—identical to their record and place in the standings from the year before.
There were certainly some positive takeaways from the play of the Wizards last season. Kyle Kuzma had a bit of a breakout season, and Kristaps Porzingis played 65 games and had arguably his best season since the end of his tenure with the New York Knicks.
While there were some positives, though, last season as a whole was still a disappointing one for the Wizards. They held onto Bradley Beal for another year, but they don’t appear to have figured out much in the long term around him. Last year’s lottery pick Johnny Davis had a frighteningly slow start, and he spent much of his season in the G League. The team struggled to find effective wings outside of Beal and Corey Kispert, struggled to find effective frontcourt partners for Porzingis, and struggled to keep the offense running without Beal on the court.
The Wizards are now less than two weeks away from having to make a difficult decision with the #8 overall pick. Given the pack of lead guard prospects who are likely to be available for Washington with the pick, they could opt to find their floor general of the future. Alternatively, they could look for some help on the wing and try to add a floor spacing threat to free up space for Kispert and Beal.
Paige, this is a team in flux and in a really difficult place—just outside of the play-in picture, but nowhere near as bad record-wise as the teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The Wizards could certainly use another superstar, but they also still need solid rotation players who can take some pressure off Beal offensively while also contributing on the defensive end. What are your thoughts on this Wizards squad, and what types of players do you think they should be targeting in the 2023 NBA Draft?
Paige: The Washington Wizards have talked in the past about wanting to build around their “Big 3” of Kyle Kuzma, Bradley Beal, and Kristaps Porzingis. Honestly, I was surprised at that statement when I first heard it, but with Kuzma and Porzingis really coming into their own over the past season, there could be something here to work with if you’re the Wizards. Kuzma averaged 20+ points per game for the first time in his career this season (21.2 to be exact) and also had his best season as a passer as well with 3.7 assists per game. Porzingis, as you stated earlier, played 65 games while averaging 23.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists while shooting nearly 56% on two-pointers this year (career-best) with the Wizards.
But, despite 2/3 of their core having breakout seasons, the Wizards still finished in the last half of the league in both Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating: they had a 114.4 ORtg (22nd of 30), and a 115.6 DRtg (21st of 30), with a Net Rtg of -1.2 overall (23rd of 30).
Now, I love Bradley Beal’s game—but I think we’re approaching a time where there is a “Beal-less” Wizards. Despite all the rumors and talks last year, there is so much in the air heading into free agency. A lot could happen around the league and it wouldn’t shock me if the Wizards bought into the fact of rebuilding without Beal on the roster. Beal was quietly productive this season averaging 23.2 points, 5.4 assists, and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 50.6 FG% and 55.2% on two-pointers. His best shooting percentages from the field and on twos in his career.
If that does happen, the Wizards should be a full go on Operation Point Guard—whether that be landing the best guard prospect in the draft, the biggest upside player, or finding another lead guard in free agency.
I also think the addition of a well-rounded two-way player, a playmaker with size, or a prospect that can come off the bench and get a bucket for the Wizards could be the key to their future success as a franchise. At the highest point, a prospect with unlimited upside and an extremely high ceiling could help take the Wizards to the next level that the organization and the community have been waiting for.
So, Nick—which 2023 NBA Draft prospects could help take the Wizards to that “next level?” Is there any guy(s) in mind who checks all the boxes and is worth the Wizards putting all their eggs in one basket for them?
Nick: I think that the Wizards might be in a position where they should be a full go on Operation Point Guard regardless of whether Beal is on the roster or not. Much though I’m a big fan of Monte Morris, I think he’s much better suited to being one of the best backup point guards in the league, rather than being tasked with running the show as the starter.
There is a chance that they do buy into Morris as their starter, at least in the short term; if they do, that might lead to them being more likely to try to go for a playmaker with size or a well-rounded two-way player.
With all of this in mind, there is one player in particular who stands out to me as the best fit for the Wizards. I actually selected him for the Wizards on the recent mock draft I did with Tyler Rucker on the No Ceilings NBA Podcast. It might be a bit of a reach in some people’s minds, but I have to start out here with Cason Wallace.
Wallace might not be the sexiest name here, but he feels a few areas of need for the Wizards. He is one of the best point-of-attack defenders in this draft class, and his penchant for neutralizing opponents and generating steals will be a huge boost to Washington’s defense. Wallace is a solid finisher around the basket who also looked much more solid from three-point range than some had anticipated, knocking down 34.6% from deep on 4.0 3PA per game.
In a similar vein, Anthony Black could be a target here for the Wizards. He doesn’t offer the same defensive presence at the point of attack as Wallace and his shot is a bit further behind, but Black’s playmaking and ability to pressure the rim at 6’7” might be a draw for the Wizards as a potential Beal complement.
If they decide to go a different route than just looking purely at point guards, then Ausar Thompson might be the choice here. Thompson has shown that he can be a solid secondary playmaker, and his athletic tools and burgeoning off-the-bounce game will give the Wizards another scoring punch while also bringing the potential to be a two-way force down the line.
These three would be my primary targets for the Wizards at #8, but they will be in an interesting position in the draft where they might be able to pick up someone who fell out of the top grouping of the draft. Cam Whitmore or Jarace Walker would both be huge additions for Washington if they fell to the eighth pick. I could also see them opting for more of a combo guard/potential bench scoring option as you mentioned, and Keyonte George could be a good fit for that role. What about you, Paige? Which players would you be targeting if you were making the pick here for the Wizards?
Paige: Well, Nick, you already talked about my personal top three choices for the Washington Wizards. How dare you! Kidding, of course. It’s draft season, y’all! But Cason Wallace, Anthony Black, and Ausar Thompson all fill a gap in the roster for the Wizards that is much needed when thinking about the organization’s future.
As you mentioned earlier, Wallace offers elite-level defensive tools while still having some offensive juice waiting to be unlocked. Per Synergy, Wallace shot 64.2% at the rim, scoring 1.28 points per possession, which as a smaller guard by NBA standards is definitely something to note for Wizards fans. Over the course of the season, there were times when Wallace looked a little hesitant in initiating the offense or looking for his shot, but as the season went on, boy did he come into his own. Not only did he knock Sahvir Wheeler out of the lineup but he also took on a leadership role as a freshman for an unsteady Kentucky Wildcats team this season. Despite Kentucky’s up-and-down, Wallace was able to showcase his all-around game and then some. On defense, Wallace has some of the greatest instincts in this class, fast and timely hands, and outstanding footwork especially when guarding the point of attack. One of the games that stands out the most to me when looking at how disruptive Wallace is as a defender, is when Kentucky played Michigan State (my alma mater) in the Champions Classic. The dude had EIGHT steals, while still posting 14 points, five rebounds, and five assists. What a statement game and Wallace continued to build off that momentum, which is even more impressive as we are less than two weeks away from the 2023 NBA Draft.
Could Cason Wallace be one of the “safest” picks in the draft if there is such a thing? I mean, there’s just something about Kentucky guards…
Both Anthony Black and Ausar Thompson offer that jumbo size at roughly 6’7” that would give the Wizards an advantage at the point guard/combo guard position. Black averaged 3.9 assists per game while Ausar put up 6.1 APG. Having that size helps Black and Thompson not only see over defenses but this can be used to make more plays for their teammates and let plays develop more rather than if they didn’t have that size advantage. Whether Beal leaves or doesn’t, any advantage the Wizards can capitalize on is a win in my book.
Black and Thompson also offer two-way versatility while having the challenge of developing a consistent jump shot. Both have looked to be making shooting a main point of emphasis in the offseason and in pre-draft workouts which is encouraging, but there is still a lot up in the air of course if the shot will ever come around. Black shot 30.1 3PT% while Thompson shot 29.8% from three-point range, which is a better mark than his twin brother Amen (25.0 3PT%). But the demeanor of Black, as Rucker touched on in his Anthony Black-centered “Theatre of Pain” article, is a huge sell when looking at him as an overall prospect. That’s the same with Ausar as well.
On my own personal big board, I have Ausar Thompson at #8 and Anthony Black at #9. They both have that “IT” factor about them that makes you buy into them and want to buy more stock, which is something I think the Wizards will be drawn to as well.
Nick, you brought up Keyonte George here at #8 to the Washington Wizards — and I absolutely could see it. Keyonte was “Born To Get Buckets” as our own Corey Tulaba wrote about earlier this draft cycle, and he could fill in that energizer/microwave role for the Wizards that could continue to push them into the right direction offensively. Per RealGM, the bench for the Wizards only scored 34.3 points per game, which was right about at league average. When Keyonte gets hot, he gets HOT. He’s a tough shot maker regardless of what some of the numbers indicate, and has real touch at all three levels. Baylor was loaded at the guard position this season which meant a lot of the playmaking duties were spread around through Keyonte, Adam Flagler, and LJ Cryer most of the time which caused George to grow more when playing off-ball. Playing off-ball and making an impact without the ball in your hands is essential when playing in the NBA as a combo guard, let alone a “smaller” ball handler. I think Keyonte has real star upside given the skillset he already possesses, but I also think fit is super important to his growth as well. As the Wizards go through a rebuilding phase, Keyonte has one of the best chances in my opinion to shine here and who knows —he could be way higher in 2023 NBA re-drafts five years from now.
The twitch, fluidity, shot-making, and self-creation ability that George holds could be more than enough when looking at if the Wizards will bite on George with the #8 pick.
Nick: Well, sorry for stealing your personal top three for the Wizards (not sorry), but it will be interesting to see if the Wizards view their potential choices here the same way that we do. Anthony Black and Ausar Thompson seem to be pretty firmly in the Top 10 mix, but one or both of them might even be gone by the eighth pick.
Cason Wallace and Keyonte George are both likely to be available options, and they would shore up different weaknesses for the Wizards. It would be fascinating to see how George in particular would work with Bradley Beal, as Beal could be an exceptional mentor for him as a young combo guard.
The Washington Wizards are in an interesting position in this draft, as they appear to once again be at a crossroads as a franchise. The next playoff squad in Washington appears to be a few years down the line, and both team and player seem to be unsure about whether or not Bradley Beal will be a part of that next playoff team. Getting the right piece of the puzzle at #8 would be a step in the right direction—either as a complement to Bradley Beal or as the next man up to be the face of the franchise.