Sports

Picking Splinters: Go for the Gusto

Thursday the Washington Wizards begin their long climb back to respectability by selecting John Wall with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. But they’ll take a few more steps up the rocky path later in the night as well.

The Wiz own the 30th and 35th picks as well and should really reap the benefits of a truly deep draft class. Since there is no question as to what the team will do with pick No. 1, the intrigue really begins at the end of the first round.

So what should Washington do? The team has several options, but to me the option is clear. Go for the gusto.

Given the depth of the draft class, there figure to be plenty of potential steals when the Wiz make their second and third selections. Get a load of these names: Lance Stephenson, Trevor Booker, Keith Gallon, Stanley Robinson, Jordan Crawford, Daniel Orton, Devin Ebanks, Quincy Pondexter. I’ll be you’ve heard of most, if not all of them. Heck, at one point as a college recruit, Stephenson was held in higher regard higher than Wall. The street-tough Stephenson even earned the handle “Born Ready” while ballin’ at New York’s famed Rucker Park.

So why’s a stud like that slipping out of Round 1? Well, turns out Born Ready was more hype than reality and since NBA GMs weren’t born yesterday, they won’t ignore his rather pedestrian year at Cincinnati (12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game). His shot selection is questionable, particularly when he jacks it up from deep, where he connects at just about 22 percent.

That may not be much to get excited about, but NBA types can also see the makings of a big, physical guard who can finish at the rim and has the potential to be a big contributor in the League. Stephenson isn’t alone. Everyone in that aforementioned grouping is flying at least one red flag. Robinson is inconsistent. Gallon is a big body that had little impact at Oklahoma. Orton has had injury problems and limited playing time in his one year at Kentucky. Ebanks has never capitalized on the potential scouts see in his prototypical build.

Still, there are two things to keep in mind here. First, usually at this point in the draft the prospects have much larger holes in their game. There might not be the same star-potential throughout this draft, but the sheer number of players who declared (thanks to fear of a work stoppage in 2011) has beefed up the caliber of the “average” draft candidate – those found in the middle of the 60 picks. So, no, it’s unlikely that there will be a LeBron James found at this stage of the draft, but there could be another Gilbert Arenas. Maybe even one that doesn’t confuse his locker room for the local NRA lodge.

The second point to consider is that the NBA is a star-driven league. Think of the teams that have played in the finals lately – the Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Cavaliers and Spurs. All of them flaunt serious star power. Simply put, you need multiple stars to compete for an NBA title.

By all accounts, John Wall could reach the level of greatness. But if you somehow sneak two such players onto a roster in the same draft, well, now you have the makings of something truly special. But how do you find that hidden gem?

There was a recent post in ESPN’s NHL draft blog where the writer studied what physical attributes most draft steals shared. He found that oftentimes those sleepers were shorter than average picks and played outside the spotlight (in this case, Europe). Given the NBA’s bias for height making right, I feel something similar could apply in this draft. So I’m advocating the selection of a shorter shooting guard that spent last season out of the spotlight: Dominique Jones of South Florida.

This guy can flat out get to the rim. He’s built like a tank and at 6-5 he’s not exactly small, even if he’d be below average at the 2. He may be under-the-radar since he played at USF, but I watched him straight up take it to Georgetown twice this year. In fact, in back-to-back games he put up 37 points against Pitt and 29 on the road vs. the Hoyas, two of the best defensive teams in the Big East.

Jones isn’t perfect, but he could make for a huge steal if he slips to the Wizards at either pick 30 or 35. If he’s there, the Wizards would do well to bag a prospect with the potential to shoulder a big portion of the load on the long slog back to the playoffs.