Sheppard talks preparation, strategy ahead of NBA Draft

On Wednesday afternoon, Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard spoke to the media ahead of Thursday night’s NBA Draft, discussing the preparation process leading up to this year’s draft, the team’s approach with the 15th overall pick and more.

Sheppard opened the press conference by shouting out the Wizards’ scouting staff, whose jobs changed drastically over the last year due to pandemic restrictions. Rather than traveling across the country and globe, attending games and gathering intel on prospects, scouts and other members of the front office staff were forced to conduct a lot of their work remotely.

SHEPPARD: I can’t say enough about the fantastic staff that we have. Our college group, our international people…You think about the beginning of this season, the college season, international games. People are prohibited from attending games so we watched a ton of games on film…putting that all together takes an extreme amount of effort and I can’t say enough about our staff.

The Wizards are set to pick 15th overall in Thursday night’s draft, right in the middle of the 30-team draft order, leaving plenty of options in terms of upward and downward mobility – and a wide array of options if the team chooses stay put. Sheppard spoke on keeping their options open and the landscape at pick number 15.

SHEPPARD: In terms of moving up, moving back, there are a lot of options on the table. We’re going to do the best one for the Wizards, but we’re definitely going to take our time. You don’t want to commit to anything today and then something better comes along tomorrow. I like where we’re at. I think 15 is a good pick for us.

SHEPPARD: There is a difference between picks nine (Washington’s pick in 2020 and 2019) and 15. I think at 15, we’re a little bit more creative. There could be somebody where you say, this guy, we can probably get him into the rotation in a year, might be a little bit older, so maybe his upside’s not quite as high. So maybe there’s a project there that’s going to take three or four years. We have the vehicle to be able to do that with the Capital City Go-Go. We’ve got a little bit better depth. We’ll just continue to weigh those things. We’re not close to making a decision right now. We still have a lot of different things that we’re looking at. That’s the way it always works. You prepare for the draft for a year and you still get down to the last day. We owe it to the franchise to run out every single possibility and there’s still quite a few of them out there.

Sheppard explained how the events of the last year, including restrictions on preparation for the 2020 NBA Draft, made for an even deeper 2021 draft class.

SHEPPARD: We actually looked at a couple different scenarios comparing them to previous years. I think at the top, it’s a little more top heavy then maybe the last few drafts. If you go 1-25 or 1-30, I think you see a lot of older players that are included in that group and that’s not normal. There are a lot of players that have had multiple years in college…I think last year a lot of players that would have normally gone pro decided to go back to college because they weren’t able to work out for teams. If they didn’t work out for teams, that would probably have them trapped in the second round. It feels deeper because there are a lot more players that were in this draft because they didn’t age out. There are a lot of international players that have a lot of intrigue. I’m not sure how many end up in the first round, but there will be a couple – at least three or four maybe. Certainly in the second round, there will be a little bit of influence there as well.

With such a deep class and normal scouting procedures limited, Sheppard and the rest of the Wizards’ front office have continued to lean on data throughout their evaluation process.

SHEPPARD: I think everything that we’ve done in the last two years trying to become a lot more data-driven, high-character-driven that we’ve always mentioned. Now when you add more layers of data, a lot more information, it kind of drives the map a little bit more efficiently. You still have a lot of voices in the room. You still have a lot of eyes, ears and numbers kind of colliding sometimes. There are some kids in this draft that were in a 15-game bubble in Orlando. How do you factor that in versus the kid that played college at the same age in his games? A lot of college kids didn’t play 18 games, 20 games. It’s an interesting way to look at numbers, but you have to be careful of the dreaded phrase “small sample size.” That kind of applies this year. You really have to have done your homework…You really have to have a great feel for projecting a player forward where they’re going to be in two years, three years.

Sheppard added that he and newly named head coach Wes Unseld Jr. have been involved in conversations about the team’s roster dating back to the interview process and that both are aligned on the team’s strategy and direction.

SHEPPARD: Wes is aware of everybody that we are looking at. We’re going to spend some time going over it…I know from the interview time that we’ve had, the time that we spent on the phone every night discussing where we want to see our roster post-free agency. He has a very similar idea that I do. We just want to continue to be a lot more athletic, a lot more versatile. I think the opportunities to do that are there either through the draft or trade or free agency. I think we’re always going to be aligned in terms of the way we look at what our roster needs are and where we want to go.

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