Tommy Sheppard isn’t afraid of a logjam.
Since taking over the Washington Wizards in 2019, the general manager’s three first-round picks have been Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert — wings who, more or less, play the same position. The executive also re-signed Davis Bertans to a five-year, $80 million deal and then dealt for Kyle Kuzma. More forwards.
So naturally, for his fourth draft, Sheppard didn’t rule out taking another forward when the Wizards are on the clock Thursday with the 10th overall pick. Logjams, he says, often take care of themselves: The best talent always wins out.
“You can say logjam, but what’s the most coveted position in the NBA right now?” Sheppard said. “So why not keep looking and see if there’s something you can improve upon?”
Sheppard has a point. After missing the playoffs last season, the Wizards likely aren’t in a position in which they afford to pass on the best player available — even if it causes there to be some overlap on the roster. This year’s draft features a bevy of versatile wings who should still be on the board at No. 10, and Washington could use the help.
Left unsaid, as much as the Wizards have invested in their frontcourt over the last few seasons, Sheppard and his staff have yet to draft a true difference-maker on the wing to pair with guard Bradley Beal. Hachimura, Avdija and Kispert have all shown potential, but none of the three look on the cusp of stardom.
The Wizards have hit on their role players. But at some point, they’ll need to find another star.
“Where do stars come from? You’d like to say, well usually you have to have one of the top three picks, but I don’t know, Giannis [Antetokounmpo] has something to say to tell you about that, [Nikola] Jokic,” Sheppard said, referring to the last two MVPs. “They didn’t come from even in the lottery.
“Sometimes you have to be patient. … At the 1oth pick, I think there’s going to be a talent there that can help us, for sure. Is it going to help right away? I don’t know, but this time last year, I didn’t think Kispert was going to help us and he did.”
Sheppard said he and his staff have narrowed their list to five players who they think will be available and who they’d feel comfortable taking at No. 10. Over the last few weeks, Washington has hosted a variety of prospects — including Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis, the G-League’s Dyson Daniels and Baylor’s Jeremy Sochan.
All three are likely lottery-bound selections who can slot in on the wing and play multiple positions. Sochan, in particular, is a 6-foot-9 forward who shares positional overlap with Avdija and Hachimura, but his defensive upside would be a huge plus for a team that ranked 25th on defense last year.
“Defensively, I can play on the ball, off the ball,” said Sochan, the England native who says he enjoys being “cheeky” on the court.
In three seasons under Sheppard, the Wizards have finished no better than eighth and no worse than 12th in the Eastern Conference. Washington’s inability to make a leap out of the middle, however, is not for a lack of trying.
During the executive’s tenure, Sheppard has shown a willingness to swing big — whether that was by trading for former MVP Russell Westbrook or dealing him to the Lakers a year later. Acquiring big man Kristaps Porzingis at the trade deadline was also a bold move.
Sheppard’s history makes it fair to wonder how aggressive he’ll be this year. Is it possible, perhaps, that the Wizards ultimately trade the 10th pick for a battle-tested veteran?
The Athletic reported this week that Washington has expressed interest in Indiana Pacers point guard — and former U.Va. standout — Malcolm Brogdon. The former rookie of the year would fill a major need as the Wizards desperately could use a new backcourt partner next to Beal. Last year’s acquisition of point guard Spencer Dinwiddie badly failed to pan out, with the Wizards trading the 28-year-old months into a three-year contract.
Sheppard, though, seems to take pride in making moves that aren’t leaked to the media ahead of time. The trade for Porzingis took many by surprise, as did the decision to trade Westbrook to the Lakers.
The latter took place on draft night last summer. Talks of the deal, Sheppard said, didn’t materialize until the day of the event. “We’ve always been pretty good at getting deals done,” Sheppard said, “if people are willing.”