Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis laid out in his 10-Point Plan his high-level approach to building a successful franchise. With the team carrying the league’s worst record and lacking in successful planning; it’s a convenient time to revisit the following tenets of the Plan:
4. Commit to building around the draft. Invest in scouting, development, and a system. Articulate that system and stay with it so that all players feel comfortable-- know the language-- know what is expected of them-- read the Oriole Way*. It worked and it is a great tutorial. Draft players that fit the system, not the best player. Draft the best player for the system. Don't deviate or get seduced by agents, media demands, or by just stats or hype. Envision how this player will slide into your system.
5. Be patient with young players-- throw them in the pool to see if they can swim. Believe in them. Show them loyalty. Re-sign the best young players to long term high priced deals. Show the players you are very loyal to them as compared to free agents who achieved highly for another team. Teach them. Celebrate their successes. Use failures as a way to teach and improve. Coaches must be tough but kind to build confidence.
Ted’s plan worked very well for the Washington Capitals, a franchise that was resurrected irrelevance and made into a perennial contender. The Capitals drafted well and built well upon an infrastructure of young talent.
Applying this strategy to professional basketball, it’s clear that Leonsis would ideally like to mirror the Oklahoma City Thunder model. This team has drafted remarkably well and made savvy acquisitions.
There are certain aspects of the Thunder’s construction, however, that cannot be overlooked.
- The Thunder selected franchise cornerstones in consecutive years with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbook; and
- After leaving Seattle, the team was welcomed by a ferocious, college sports-like city in Oklahoma City
In terms of team reception, the city of Washington, also, has turned its back on the Wizards. Perpetually behind the Redskins in terms of popularity, the Wizards have now have seen the Nationals surpass them based on their recent success and promise for the future.
Even with NHL locked out, the Wizards have failed to reel in morose Capitals fans simply because they’ve assembled an unwatchable product.
More importantly, in terms of talent selection over the last decade, Washington has secured the number one overall pick in the NBA draft lottery, despite consistently being lottery-eligible. When the Wizards were fortunate to pick number one overall, it selected John Wall, who has encountered setbacks in attempting to reach his potential.
The remainder of Washington’s first round picks has simply not panned out, including Oleksiy Pecherov (2006), an Ukranian prospect who never looked prepared for the NBA; Nick Young (2007), a gifted scorer, who lacked consistency and basketball I.Q.; and Javale McGee (2008), an exceptionally gifted big man, who often scarified developing his toolkit for highlight plays.
From this snapshot of Washington’s selections, none are currently with the team, and one is out of the NBA altogether.
But success in the draft is much more than stockpiling picks and hoping they’ll eventually learn to play together. Draft success in this era depends on advanced metrics, excellent scouting, and pre-draft personal evaluations.
Within the last two drafts, the Wizards have selected two players that play the same position and were not known for their outside shooting (Vesley and Singleton); a back-up point guard who’s been waived and re-signed since being drafted (Mack); and top prospect shooting guard who’s arguably shouldering too many expectations due to lack of surrounding talent (Beal).
The result has been clear. Vesley has been getting more minutes after becoming a city-wide punch line, but he still has no clear identity as a player. Singleton has fallen completely out of the rotation, despite the team’s starting small forward being sidelined with an injury. Mack is merely a plug-in.
So what’s the plan?
What’s the “system” that management should look to slide players into?
How likely is it that the system will be changed within the next year when the head coach is dismissed?
Is giving young players lots of minutes to “see if they can swim” an effective strategy when the team’s veteran leadership unskilled?
How effectively can we develop this system when our general manager has proven to be inept and also may be on his way out?
These are questions fans would like to see answered.