The 2017 NBA Summer League concluded on Monday with the Los Angeles Lakers defeating the Portland Trail Blazers. The Washington Wizards had a dismal showing, losing all five of their games and finishing as the only winless team in the tournament. While Summer League wins do not correspond to actual wins during the NBA season, the tournament allows teams to showcase their young talent and provides a forum for player development. Unfortunately, the win-now Wizards have limited youthful talent and few players that seem likely to reach an NBA roster.
Of the players on the Wizards’ Summer League squad, only Shelden Mac looked ready for NBA action. Mac was a step ahead of other players and scored comfortably, averaging 13 points a game on 56% shooting. But, at best Mac will play sporadic minutes off the bench next season. Daniel Ochefu shot 68% from the field for the tournament but was physically overmatched by bigger, faster players. Michael Young and Devin Robinson, the Wizards’ two-way players next season, displayed glimpses of potential but shot 33% and 18% respectively. Marcus Keene, a former Division I scoring leader from Central Michigan provided excitement and displayed his scoring potential, but is unlikely to factor in the NBA given his 5’9” size, despite the comparisons to Isaiah Thomas.
The Wizards lack of youth would be more troubling if not for the fact that the Wizards are in win now mode. Their stars are in their prime and their payroll is maxed out, as the Wizards will pay the luxury tax for the first time this year. After resigning Otto Porter earlier this month, the Wizards now have three max contract players – Porter, Bradley Beal, and John Wall. These three, all drafted among the first three picks of the NBA draft by the Wizards, are 24, 24, and 26 years old. In other words, they are in their primes, years removed from contributing in summer league.
The Wizards’ efforts to win now are also evidenced by their draft strategy over the last two seasons. The Wizards have not made a single draft pick, first or second round, since 2015; trading all of their picks for established players. The Wizards traded their first round pick in 2016 to the Phoenix Suns for Markieff Morris and their second round pick to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the previous years’ draft day deal for Kelly Oubre Jr. In 2017, the Wizards traded their first round pick for a half-season rental of Bojan Bogdanovic and their second round pick for New Orleans Pelicans’ backup point guard Tim Frazier.
Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. are productive players and Tim Frazier should be a solid backup this season. However, trading draft picks for established players has two significant drawbacks – it restricts the pool of young talent on the team and is expensive. The picks that the Wizards traded eventually went towards the selections of Georgios Papagiannis, Isaia Cordinier, Jarrett Allen, and Edmond Sumner. While it is unlikely that any of these players develop into all-stars, all have the potential to serve as useful rotation pieces. Additionally, young players, by virtue of the rookie contract scale are significantly cheaper than non-rookie scale players. As a result, teams can find real bargains by selecting NBA ready players late in the first round as the team controls the rights to the player for four seasons at a low price tag. A cash-strapped team like the Wizards needs cheap, productive players to surround their expensive core.
The Wizards lack the young talent of the teams that excelled at the summer league. For example, after the Wizards lost their fourth game of the tournament to the Miami Heat, the Phoenix Suns took the floor with three potential stars under the age of 21 in Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and Kansas rookie Josh Jackson. The Wizards don’t possess any first or second-year players with this kind of talent, but the Wizards are in a very different position than an emerging team like the Suns. The Wizards’ lack of Summer League success is the product of a concerted effort to forego young talent in an effort to win big now. Hopefully, the Wizards can trade Summer League victories for postseason success.