NBA Playoffs or Draft Lottery? Best result for Wizards involves neither

A recently Tweet from our @NBCSWizards account was met with outrage and forgotten, and here’s all it said: “Wizards hope to fight for the playoffs without Bradley Beal.”

It seemed pretty harmless and kinda to be expected that the players on the list would think like that. But many Wizards fans on Twitter made it clear that at least a vocal fraction of them would prefer the team to bottom out and tank for a better draft pick.

Whether that’s really possible can be a separate debate. With only a third of the season left, the Wizards have the easiest remaining schedule. They play three times against the NBA’s worst Detroit Pistons. Washington currently has the 11th best lottery odds and is seven games ahead of the top five. Conversely, they are just one game away from last place in the play-in tournament.

But when it comes to that simple decision of whether it would be better if the Wizards made it through the postseason or won more ping-pong balls on lottery night instead, one could argue that the most important outcome for the organization doesn’t directly affect either. They’ve already hit a number of first-round picks in recent years and already have a group of young players developing in their system. And tangible progress by these players over the course of this season could have huge benefits for the team’s roster-building prospects.

Those players would be Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert, Daniel Gafford and Thomas Bryant. The top three were selected in the first round of the 2019-2021 draft. The other two were acquired by other teams. Hachimura, Avdija, Kispert and Gafford are all signed this season.

If a aggregation of these players can develop, the casters have more options to either build on it or trade in for more established players. Maybe you can do that while losing enough to increase your odds. To make it through the postseason, these guys would probably need to play well. But arguably the worst-case scenario would be for the same players to both lose and experience a plateau or relapse.

Player development is vital for any team, especially one like the Wizards. While they hope to one day find more success in freehand and have used the trade market to make upgrades, drafting can be the foundation of anything.

Rising young players help build a winning culture that free agents may want to be a part of. When they do well on rookie contracts, they also help provide financial flexibility by offsetting higher salaries. Of course, financial flexibility is key to signing free agents.

When young players show potential, other teams looking to rebuild will trade opportunities on them. If the Wizards want to get another star player to pair up with Bradley Beal, that may involve trading young players. This only works if they have commercial value.

The Wizards are now in Year 3 with Tommy Sheppard at the helm of their front office and their journey to date has reminded us of the importance of good drafting. They’ve traded and signed many veterans over the past two-plus years, but their advantage still seems largely dependent on how their recent draft picks fare.

Part of the equation is time. Avdija, for example, continues to show promise, but he’s only 21 years old. It may be five years away from peaking.

Perhaps Advija and the other youngsters at the Wizards can benefit from that with more minutes and bigger roles. With two months left in the season, their performance during this phase will help determine what the front office can accomplish in what is an organization-critical off-season.







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