The 2011 NBA Draft is terrible, according to pretty much everyone who follows this stuff. The Washington Wizards, returning to their traditional bad luck, dropped to the sixth pick in this supposed terrible draft. You never know what happens with draft prospects, but barring a trade-up or a trade down, the Wizards are in a really difficult position where they must decide between a handful of prospect that all bring some negatives to the table.
Ideally, the Wizards would go with Enes Kanter, the Kentucky big man who sat out all season, but provides the rebounding, post defense, size and prior connection to star John Wall that would make him a perfect fit. But with about one month to go before the draft, pretty much everyone believes Kanter will be one of the top four picks. That could change, of course, but we're going to go off that assumption. The Wizards also cannot take Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker because both play the same position as John Wall, and taking a second point guard that high is a complete non-starter for all the reasons stated here.
With Kanter out of the picture, the Wizards are likely choosing between a group that includes guys like Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Kawhi Leonard and possibly Jonas Valanciunas. All of those players have significant issues. Vesely has the most international experience, but he is a poor shooter, dribbler and one-on-one defender and is still mostly a potential guy. Biyombo is a complete unknown with just one translatable skill (shot-blocking), and we don't know how old he is. Leonard is this year's overrated workout warrior, a tweenter that lacks any perimeter skills offensively and is too poor a finisher to be an interior player. Valanciunas is incredibly raw at age 19 and is definitely a project.
Clearly, the options are slim. So here's a wild proposal that merits consideration. What about picking none of those players and instead nabbing Florida State's Chris Singleton?
Yes, I know: Singleton isn't projected as a top-10 pick yet. But he is rising on draft boards, and if the Wizards don't get him at 6, it looks like they probably won't get him with the No. 18 pick either. It would be a reach to pick him at No. 6, but not a tremendous reach considering the weakness of this draft.
So why Singleton over all those other guys? A few reasons:
The Wizards need defensive help
Jason Reid is right: the Wizards need to emphasize defense at the draft this year. The question, though, is how. There are lots of interesting defensive players in the draft pool, but being a good defensive player in college is much different than being a good defensive player in the NBA. The schemes are different, the responsibilities and size requirements for each position are different and the need to not be a self-check offensively is greater than in college. So it's not about getting defense: it's also about getting someone who projects as being a good NBA defender.
Of all the players in the 2011 NBA Draft, I don't think anyone projects better on defense than Singleton. Singleton was an absolute defensive demon at Florida State, guarding everyone from point guards to wings to inside players. This experience allowed him to pick up all the nuances of defending at an NBA level. He has the elite wingspan (7'1'') to be a lockdown defender against NBA small forwards, but he also understands how to position himself as a help defender. The experience of working with Leonard Hamilton, one of the best defensive teachers in college basketball and a guy who has a scheme that closely resembles an NBA one, means you can be sure his defense will translate.
This defensive versatility and understanding is something the Wizards need and don't have. As Draft Express notes in their scouting report:
[Singleton] is the type of player who would have no problem guarding multiple positions at the NBA level -be it face-up 4's, shot-creating wings, back-to-the-basket forwards, or even switching out onto quicker guards on the perimeter (if that's how his coach elects to defend the pick-and-roll). This type of versatility makes him extremely attractive in today's NBA.
His jump shot is improving
The thing that separates Singleton from Leonard is that Singleton has much more of a perimeter game. Leonard shot just 29 percent on three-pointers last season and operated mostly on the inside, a luxury he will not be able to have in the NBA. SIngleton, on the other hand, improved to a 36 percent three-point shooter last season, showing more signs that he can hit an NBA three.
Now, granted, Singleton's sample size isn't big, and he didn't shoot a particularly high percentage this season in general (though better than Leonard), but I think there are mitigating factors. Whereas Leonard played with other solid offensive players like D.J. Gay, Billy White and Malcolm Thomas, Singleton was really on his own at Florida State. That forced him to make far more plays off the dribble than he would like and dragged down his percentages. In the limited time he spent as a spot-up shooter, Singleton thrived, and there's much more reason to believe that he can transition into that role in the pros.
Keep in mind this as well: despite Singleton's lack of talent around him as compared to Leonard, he still used a significantly smaller share of his team's possessions. Last year, 23.8 percent of Florida State's possessions ended with Singleton shooting, turning it over or drawing a foul. For Leonard, that number was up at 27.5 percent, despite having better teammates. The Wizards already have plenty of guys who like to get shots up. They need someone who will be efficient in limited opportunities. Singleton is that guy.
He's fast fast fast
Did you think John Wall and Trevor Booker are fast? Absolutely. But what if I told you that Singleton posted a better 3/4 sprint time than both of them at this year's NBA Draft Combine? It's true. Whereas Wall ran the sprint in 3.14 seconds and Booker did it in 3.1 seconds, Singleton did it in 3.09 seconds. It's just one measure of speed, but it goes to show that Singleton will be able to run with these guys on the break.
The Wizards want to build an up-tempo team build around the speed of Wall. Who better to pick to do that than Singleton?
He is not a project
This is the big one for me. Sure, Singleton may never be a superstar, but you know he will be able to fit into a defined role right away and will make an impact from Day 1. With this team already having tons of raw projects to deal with, they cannot afford to throw away a lottery pick on another. There's a chance that Vesely, Biyombo and Valanciunas turn into stars, but it won't happen right away and it will require lots and lots of patience. Considering the Wizards' own murky track record with developing their projects, is it really wise to throw another one onto Flip Saunders' plate?
Or is it better to find a guy who will make an immediate impact and can be a key role player for a long time? I say the latter, though I do say it with some trepidation. But given the weakness of this draft, coming away with a rotation player really isn't the end of the world. I see little reason why Singleton won't at least become that.