Photo by Ben Standig for The Sports Capitol

NBA Draft notebook: Why Zhaire Smith at 15 (and why not robert williams)

BY BEN STANDIG | JUNE 15, 2018

In the updated 2018 NBA mock draft published Thursday night I revealed Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith as the selection for the Washington Wizards with the 15th overall pick. Now we get into the explanation along with other sourced information about the Wizards and NBA Draft buzz on Trae Young, Mitchell Robinson, the Duke big men and more.

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Every team outside of Phoenix with the No. 1 overall selection is part of some trade up or down rumor. The Wizards are no exception, though, at least with my sources, only about dropping back. The compelling aspects involve the possibility of shedding salary or adding additional talent. The trick is Washington really doesn’t have much wiggle with moving down if it wants to remain on the same talent tier.

The general sense, including from those familiar with the Wizards’ thinking, views the draft class as top 17-18 prospects with that group broken into two halves. There’s a top 7-8 depending on how one grades Oklahoma guard Trae Young, and then the next 9-10.

While it’s always conceivable a team makes Washington an offer it can’t refuse, the best assessment has the Wizards staying pat and making their first first-round selection since 2015.

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There is no need-vs.-best-available debate. Washington’s roster requires an infusion of youth. That can happen at any position. Yes, even point guard as long as the player has the skill set needed — shooting — to play alongside John Wall. Besides, if Scott Brooks doesn’t view Tomas Satoransky as a point guard — the ease in which he removes Satoransky from those duties suggests he doesn’t — then the Wizards need one of those.

One league source told The Sports Capitol that when it comes to the prospects, the Wizards are all about shooting. Washington made its 3-pointers last season — fourth with 37.5 percent. It just didn’t try enough. Washington ranked 23rd in attempts (26.5) and tied for last in the playoffs with Minnesota at 21.5. Neither of their centers has range. Mike Scott provided 3-pointers in bunches, but the upcoming free agent might do that for another team next season. Jodie Meeks finished strong from distance — 42.6 percent post-All-Star break. He will open next season finishing off the remaining 19 games of his league suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.

For some a perfect world has Washington using 15 to acquire a mobile, rim-protecting power forward or center with range either with the pick itself or as part of a larger salary-shedding trade. The draft options are just scarce. Think a wing should be the top consideration especially with Meeks set to miss nearly a quarter of the regular season because of the suspension? No arguments. Meeks wasn’t good enough overall last season so adding another guard option behind Bradley Beal works regardless. Again, basically, everything should be in play.

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Before diving into specific Zhaire Smith thoughts, here are Washington’s first-round picks since 2008 under president Ernie Grunfeld: JaVale McGee, John Wall, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr. Here’s what stands out:

  • Just ONE pick in the first since 2013.
  • Grunfeld loves the raw athlete. That’s the singular trait above all especially with picks outside the top-3 with. McGee’s impressive mobility, length and goofiness were on display in the NBA Finals. Vesely is the type of rim-running four-man the roster needs now, but he never did develop confidence in his offensive game. Oubre’s length, agility and hops make for an impressive physical package. His underdeveloped basketball instincts have hindered the process. Booker had more polish in his game, but don’t forget he had the fastest three-quarter court time at the 2010 Combine which also included Wall.

The raw athlete in this year’s lottery range is Smith, who blasted off for a 41-inch vertical leap at last month’s Combine. Multiple sources tell The Sports Capitol the Wizards really like his game. Smith impressed at Tuesday’s workout in Washington with his competitiveness and energy, according to a source. The Wizards need more of that. 

The only higher climb from the 6-foot-5 Smith came during his freshman season. He entered Texas Tech not ranked among the top 100 prospects per ESPN. One year later he might land in the draft lottery.

Smith averaged 11.3 points, shot 55.6 percent from the field and 45.0 percent on 3-pointers. Both of those percentages are deceptive. The overall number received a bump from numerous dunks and plays around the rim. From distance, Smith only had 40 attempts from beyond the arc in 37 games.

Of course, running the court with Wall will lead to more dunk chances and open looks from deep. That is current offensive game lacks a strong or even decent baseline brings some of those previous draft missteps into play. He also only turned 19 on June 4. That means expectations for a year one impact should be tempered — and the runway for growth is long. That energy, however, can help from the jump.

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Additional notes on potential options at 15, the Wizards and the overall draft

  • I’ll put up a big board top 50 Monday. Based on feedback from team and league sources:
    * Collin Sexton, Zhaire Smith, Jerome Robinson moved up
    * Trae Young, Elie Okobo, Bruce Brown moved down. 
    *  The top 5: Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley
  • Odds have Oklahoma’s Trae Young as the first point guard selected, but the opinion is not universal despite his “from anywhere in the gym” shooting range. Concerns over his size and defense could have Thursday turn “volatile” for Young. 
  • Duke power forward Marvin Bagley Jr. may end up the No. 2 overall selection. However, at least three times during this draft cycle including as recently as Thursday a league source told The Sports Capitol directly or at hinted that they preferred his college teammate, center Wendell Carter. “Bagley will be a very good player, but people sleep on Carter,” per one team source.
  • Why not Robert Williams at 15? The Wizards certainly need youth in the middle and the 6-foot-10, 240-pound center has high-end potential. Yet the term “inconsistent” is one often heard when the draft topic turns toward the Texas A&M center. Williams checks off plenty of boxes, but on the pro and con list. The Clippers with picks at 12 and 13 make for a logical landing spot considering uncertainty with DeAndre Jordan’s future. Washington would have a tough call if Williams slips to 15, but the current sense is the board would have to fall wrong for him to be the best remaining player on it.
  • Miami guard Lonnie Walker did not quite meet his recruiting hype during his lone season with the Hurricanes. He also led the third-best team in the ACC in scoring, flashed his athleticism and two-way potential. One source stated his upside as Jimmy Butler. Range is 9-15.
  • One team source tells The Sports Capitol that the Wizards are interested center Mitchell Robinson.  The 7-footer with impressive athleticism and shot-blocking skills sat out last season after enrolling at Western Kentucky. That makes for a difficult evaluation and extra emphasis on his pre-draft workouts and High School film. Washington, at least not publicly has not yet worked out Robinson at Capital One Arena this pre-draft cycle. ESPN ranked Robinson No. 11 overall recruit in the 2017 freshman class. When it comes to risk Robinson might top the list of 2018 prospects. If there’s a trade down into the early to-mid 20’s he might be the call.
  • 6-foot-7 swingman Troy Brown Jr. enters the league more guard than forward, but he has enough size to cause problems on both ends. The Oregon product is considered more of a blend guy than a take-charge talent. Intangibles, ball handling, defense and maturity put Brown in play. In many ways, he’s the anti-Kelly Oubre Jr.
  • Michigan State forward Miles Bridges would be very hard to pass on if available. The combo forward goes 12th to the Clippers in this mock. He might not become an All-Star, according to one source, but his supreme athleticism, strength, and work on the glass will make him an asset. Washington needs more of those attributes in the frontcourt.
  • Multiple teams pushed Boston College point guard Jerome Robinson into range just below if not into the back of the lottery while stating hype on French point guard Elie Okobo is moving a bit fast.
  • Maryland guard Kevin Huerter’s draft stock is not slipping for now despite having surgery to repair torn ligaments on his right hand. The Sports Capitol previously reported the wing guard, who garnered major hype at the NBA Combine, is not expected to get past the Jazz at 21.
  • Keita Bates-Diop isn’t the tallest at 6-foot-7, but the 235-pound forward and reigning Big 10 Player of the Year has the game — and wingspan — for the modern NBA. He averaged 19.8 points and shot 36 percent on 3-pointers while pulling down 8.7 rebounds and blocking 1.6 shots. He worked out for Washington Thursday.
  • In the mock draft I gave Washington Kansas point guard Devonte Graham at 44.  Insert your five-point-guards joke here. In the second round, the Wizards should be focused on need. Part of this season’s issue involved lack of roster flexibility.Those last 3-5 spots on the 15-man roster for any NBA team should be about players who can do specific tasks. That is what Washington ideally aims for over pure upside. This is especially true during an offseason in which the Wizards have no salary cap space. Maybe Devin Robinson graduates from the G-League to the real roster and provides Brooks and Wall with an athletic 4-man. That would still leave other needs. Someone who can defend wings. A big man with 3-point range who isn’t Jason Smith; The Sports Capitol reported that Washington brought in Michigan stretch-4 Moritz Wagner for a second and private workout Tuesday. A guard who can get to the rim on the bounce and perhaps run the offense.
  • After receiving no mention as a top 100 prospect, there is some momentum for former Georgetown forward Marcus Derrickson.

Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.

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