On Monday afternoon, Wizards president and general manager Tommy Sheppard spoke with the media ahead of Thursday night’s NBA Draft, the official starting point for the league’s short-burst season of significant roster movement. Free agency will begin just days after the dust settles on Thursday’s draft action. Sheppard spoke about the team’s preparation for the coming weeks, what Washington is looking for in incoming rookies, his expectations for trade activity on draft night and much more.
Monday’s media availability took place just after the Wizards’ final pre-draft workout, held on the game court at Capital One Arena, wrapping up three weeks of in-person drills and meetings with potential prospects. Sheppard spoke on that process and what is most important to him during those visits.
SHEPPARD: I don’t put a lot of stock in the workout itself. You can be an excellent shooter, come in here and miss every shot and we’ll still know you’re an excellent shooter. You can be maybe not so good, have the workout of your life and that’s not going to change a lot either. We’re bringing them in for the interview. We’re breaking them down and making them accountable for decisions, film work, off-the-court things. You can’t get it over Zoom or over the phone. You want to be eye-to-eye.
Also in attendance for pre-draft workouts this offseason has been head coach Wes Unseld Jr., who was present for last year’s draft, but had not yet been hired when the team conducted most of its scouting work throughout the summer.
SHEPPARD: It’s been excellent (having Unseld Jr.) as part of the process. We want everyone to be collaborative…Everybody thinks “we can get the talent and you just make it work, coach.” That’s not how this works. You have to come at it with everybody understanding the pressures of that job, the day-to-day that comes with putting players out on the court that you trust and what it takes…Scouting is only part of what we do. You have to take all that information, acquire those players, put them in a situation and hopefully the team comes together.
Sheppard shed light on what the Wizards are looking for from a draft prospect. With what he described as a need for depth at each position on the floor, he and rest of the team’s decision makers look intently for separating factors in each prospect, often the intangibles that may not show up on tape.
SHEPPARD: They have to compete. They have to have a demonstrated ability to go out and compete. They have to know the game. You have to know these guys are 18 or 19 years old, so you’re not looking for the super-high, NBA-basketball wisdom. They haven’t acquired that yet. But you have to know how to play the right way. We put these guys through quite a bit through the interview process, but your resume is why you’re here…I like aggressive, assertive, relentless. Those kind of attitudes are our non-negotiables. Those are the things you’re looking for. We like to think we can develop the players talent once they’re in the system and they understand what you’re asking them to do.
SHEPPARD: The ability to forecast where a player will be in a few years and where the game is going. I don’t think you want somebody that can’t shoot. I don’t think you want somebody that only has one skill that can be their superpower…There’s not one thing that we look at and say, “OK, that’s who we’re going to draft at #10.” There are teams that think similarly. You kind of know other franchises that value things that we value too…You can almost predict certain teams and what they’re going to do and there are some wild card teams. I think of us as a wild card team. You don’t really guess who we’re going to draft. It’s not intentional, we just try to see who has the best skill attributes, project them forward and see if we can develop them into what we think is going to be a solid rotation player for a long time.
SHEPPARD: To say our season is going to come down to who we draft at #10 – we probably wouldn’t want to ever do that to that poor kid coming in the door. That would be really shortsighted. Every draft has really good talent if you are patient enough with it. To find those players, the immediate gratification of getting someone who can go out and make the All-Rookie team and do those things – hey, that’s great, but can they sustain it and be in the league a long time?
Once the scouting wraps and the big board is set, maximizing the value of the team’s draft-night assets becomes priority number one. For Sheppard and the Wizards’ front office, keeping options open and dialogue flowing with other teams is paramount in the final days before the draft.
SHEPPARD: You talk to every team ahead of you, but what is the cost and what are they looking for?...I think this draft has some really good options where we are at. I think you can move back and still get something similar. Moving up is always an indicator that there’s a talent you don’t feel is going to be there when you draft at 10. What’s the cost to give that up? Is it going to cost a starter? A young player? A future pick? If those are the things, we’re willing to do whatever it takes, but you have to be willing to go all-in. But you have to have a dance partner that is willing to do that to.
SHEPPARD: For us, there’s not a position where we don’t need depth, but I don’t think we’re going to do anything but take the best player available at 10. This time of week, as you head into draft week, it’s a really good idea to not pay attention to any noise that’s out there. We can move up, we can move out, we can move down. There are all types of options that are there…We’re going to analyze what’s best for our future.