- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard should be sick of this draft class by now.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, he and the rest of his counterparts around the league have had five extra months to dissect, breakdown and scrutinize each prospect when the draft was pushed back to November.

But now that the draft is finally near — it starts Wednesday at 7 p.m. — Sheppard said he isn’t experiencing “draft fatigue.” Rather, he says there’s an “anticipation” that he and his fellow general managers have now that picks will be soon be made.

“If you’re doing the job that I’m doing, and the job that all of our scouts are doing, we truly love this business, we love this time of year,” Sheppard said. “This is our Super Bowl.”

The Wizards won’t have to wait that long to make their first selection as they hold the ninth pick. They could even pick sooner than that if the Wizards decide to trade up — a possibility that Sheppard said he would welcome. “Depending on the cost, we’re certainly looking to move up,” he said.

Sheppard and the Wizards find themselves looking to add talent in what’s regarded to be a weaker-than-normal draft class. Insiders and mock draft experts tend to agree that there’s no Zion Williamson, Luka Doncic or even a Jayson Tatum-level talent among this group of prospects.

The overall class has often been compared to 2013, when No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett proved to be a huge bust and players like Giannis Antetokounmpo (No. 15) and Rudy Gobert (No. 27) surprisingly ended up as the top selections.

While star power may be lacking, Bryan Kalbrosky, an NBA draft expert for HoopsHype, said the prospect depth may be “a little underrated” overall.

“There’s a lot of guys like that who I think are going to be consistent professionals and really good role players and potentially crack an All-Star team depending on the systems they’re placed in and how they improve over time,” Kalbrosky said. “But the way I see it, there’s some guys who are being criminally underlooked that I think, just because they’re not top five on a mock draft, or because the top five might not be particularly persuasive, doesn’t mean the class as a whole is poor.”

For the Wizards, it’s especially important that they nail this year’s pick. With a now-healthy John Wall reunited with Bradley Beal in the backcourt, Washington is eyeing a playoff berth this upcoming season. Sheppard, though, has repeatedly said his goal is to build the Wizards into a “perennial contender” — making the eighth seed not good enough. Washington must have promising young talent that can help Beal and Wall take another step.

If the Wizards don’t appear on a path to improve dramatically, trade speculation involving the two stars will only get louder. Sheppard has consistently maintained that Beal, who has at least two years left on his contract and a player option for the third, is unavailable. But that hasn’t stopped teams from trying to pry the All-Star loose.

“Bradley’s not going anywhere,” Sheppard said. “He’s a cornerstone. He’s a person that we’re building this franchise around.”

Wall, though, may well be up for grabs.

The Athletic reported Tuesday that Washington and the Houston Rockets have discussed swapping Wall for the disgruntled Russell Westbrook — a deal that makes some sense, given the two backloaded contracts involved.

The Minnesota Timberwolves hold the first overall pick Wednesday — though it’s still not immediately clear who they plan on taking. Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, a 6-foot-4 versatile scoring wing, has generated buzz to be the selection, though guard LaMelo Ball and center James Wiseman are also reportedly in consideration.

For the Wizards at No. 9, Washington appears to be in the market to add a rim protector or another guard that can handle the ball when Wall or Beal is off the floor. USC’s Oneyka Okongwu is a 6-foot-9 center with tremendous defensive versatility that has been commonly linked to Washington. France’s Killian Hayes could be an option if Washington looks to draft a point guard.

Sheppard said he’s kept in close contact with Wall and Beal to discuss Washington’s plans.

After the draft, teams have a short turnaround before free agency begins Friday.

“We’re not going to short sell our future,” Sheppard said. “This is not just a panic thing to get that eighth spot and hope that makes everybody happy.”

Andy Kostka contributed to this report.


• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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