The Rui Hachimura trade is the Wizards’ Achilles heel: a bad draw

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Three and a half years ago, the Washington Wizards had a valuable opportunity to acquire a game-changing player. They had the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. With this pick, they selected Rui Hachimura in hopes of making at least one solid starter that they could stick around for a long time.

It won’t happen anymore. Washington traded Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday for guard Kendrick Nunn and three future second-round picks. The Wizards also picked up a $6.3 million trade exception in the process. While there is some upside to Nunn, his expiring contract, future picks and trade exceptions, their overall value pales in comparison to the value of the ninth overall pick in 2019.

To put it bluntly: The Wizards would have missed out on a first-round pick if their front office didn’t land Nunn, one or more second-round picks, or trade exceptions in a trade steal. along the line.

If the Wizards had been able to report at least one major draft success in recent years, Hahimura’s departure wouldn’t have been so outrageous. But the sad truth is that the team has had five top-15 picks since 2018, and none of the players the team has drafted have yet shown that they will be high-level starters in Washington.

The futility of the draft is the main reason the Wizards find themselves in a predicament in the midst of another mediocre season. High performing teams with durable rosters write well. The worst teams are consistently worse.

In 2018, the Wizards selected Troy Brown Jr. 15th overall. Instead, they could have selected guard Anfernee Simons.

In 2019, they chose Hachimura.

Cam Johnson left the board after two picks. Tyler Herro, the NBA’s sixth man for 2021-22, is ranked 13th. Grant Williams stretched to 22nd place. Golden State drafted Jordan Poole 28th overall, and Poole is on the verge of stardom. San Antonio took forward Keldon Johnson with the 29th pick.

Washington’s ninth overall pick in 2020, Deni Avdija, is a solid rotation player who has made an impact on defenses thanks to his effort, positional size and versatility. But while he showed promise as a playmaker, his offensive development stalled. The Wizards intend to be patient with Obadiah, who just turned 22.

Meanwhile, three-time draft pick Tyrese Haliburton became an All-Star quarterback after being traded from Sacramento to Indiana. Tyrese Maxey (21st draft) is a goaltender from Philadelphia. Desmond Bain, a late first-round pick, has helped Memphis become one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

Washington drafted Corey Kispert 15th overall in 2021, and Kispert has lived up to expectations as a long-range shooter and floor spacer. But he is not a future star. To be fair, few of the players selected after Kispert in this draft look like future stars, though Quentin Grimes, Bones Hyland and Herb Jones — all drafted Nos. 25 through 35 — have exceeded expectations, especially on the defensive end. .

Of course, it’s 100% easier to write in hindsight. I’m not saying that writing well is easy. I’m not saying I could have done better. Anyone can identify Haliburton as a future star as he averaged 20.2 points and 10.2 assists this season and led the Indiana Pacers to a playoff position. playoffs before injuring his elbow and knee on Jan. 11.

Wizards should not be held responsible for not hitting all about their final choices. Even the best teams don’t have a perfect track record. No team is perfect.

But over the past decade, Washington has been even more low-key in its drafting. Washington hasn’t been successful in a major draft since John Wall was selected first in 2010 and Bradley Beal was selected third in 2012.

Otto Porter Jr., the Wizards’ third overall pick in 2013, has proven to be a solid rotation player. But CJ McCollum is 10th and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is 15th.

High-profile shocks, including 2011 sixth-round pick Ian Vesely, who played just 162 NBA games before returning to Europe, are the biggest reason for the franchise’s modesty. The Wizards have tried to land quality free agents, but teams struggling in free agency will struggle to fill it through the draft.

Wizards are now at risk of another Veselý-level whiff. Johnny Davis, the No. 10 pick after being named the Big Ten Player of the Year as a sophomore at Wisconsin last summer, is not only winning NBA minutes but also putting up unimpressive numbers in the G League. Davis is only 20 years old, and scouts are correct that he had a lackluster freshman season in college before blossoming next year. Still, the early returns from Davis’ game are troubling.


Johnny Davis, the 10th pick in the 2022 NBA draft, has yet to wrestle as a pro. (Yukihito Taguchi/USA Today)

Hahimura promised. He has recorded four 30-point games as a pro, including Saturday, his final game with the Wizards.

Its development in Washington faced several significant obstacles. An injury cut short his rookie season. The pandemic then cut short his freshman season and pre-sophomore season. Last season, he missed Washington’s first 39 games due to a personal business absence after spending time with Japan at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Wizards officials could not have been more supportive during this difficult time. In retrospect, those missed matches stunted his growth.

It’s arguable that Hachimura would still be with the Wizards if the team didn’t acquire Kyle Kuzma as part of the massive deal that sent Russell Westbrook to the Lakers in 2021. Without Kuzma in the lineup, Hachimura would have more playing time and may not want to trade him.

But at the same time, it would be hard to say the Wizards have come close to developing Hachimura’s potential on the defensive end or convincing him to be a selfish player on offense.

It’s about Hahimura, but it’s also about wizards.

Team officials are right — they still have a chance to win the first round in 2019, even if Hachimura is gone now. Nunn’s expiring contract would allow the Wizards to re-sign Kuzma in July and build their roster without the luxury tax. One or more incoming second-round picks could provide water for trades or trades. The $6.3 million business is a valuable tool for building an exclusive list.

Wizards president and general manager Tommy Sheppard, who has led the franchise’s basketball operations since mid-2019, specializes in turning bad contracts or bad signings into positives.

He was able to trade John Wall’s untradeable salary and Houston’s future protected first-round pick for Russell Westbrook.

Indeed, the Wizards traded Brown, a 2018 first-round pick, to Chicago in a three-team deal that brought center Daniel Gafford to Washington.

The following season, Sheppard negated Westbrook’s huge salary in a creative and highly complex five-team trade that brought the Wizards a slew of rotation players on smaller contracts, including Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and allowed them to complete their signings. Trade for Spencer Dinwiddie.

When Dinwiddie’s acquisition fell through, Sheppard found a way to trade Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans for Kristaps Porzinish and a second-round pick in Dallas. Porziņģis has played close to an All-Star level this season.

So it wasn’t unusual for Sheppard to find a creative use for Nunn, Nunn’s expiring contract, an incoming second-round pick or a trade exception.

But despite Sheppard’s creative trade gymnastics, the Wizards will have to find ways to not operate from less-than-ideal positions, such as having the Wall contract on their books or Dinwiddie not performing up to expectations.

It wasn’t to be, as the Wizards went on to another mediocre season and stayed out of contention for the conference title.

They needed to write better, as Hachimura’s case showed once again.


Related reading

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Harper: Lakers, Wizards trade for Rui Hachimura: Ratings and reaction

Red: The $18.8 million cap hit would be huge for the Lakers in the Rui Hachimura trade

Sharania and Aldridge: Wizards trade Rui Hachimura to Lakers: Why does this deal make sense for him?

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(Featured photo of Rui Hachimura and Dorian Finney-Smith: Tommy Gilligan/USA Today)

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