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The Washington Wizards have picks in the 2024 NBA Draft

CHICAGO — Stone-faced and nearly motionless in his seat, Washington Wizards general manager Will Dawkins looked around ping-pong balls in a lottery machine and listened as an NBA executive pulled them out one by one. The first ball came out after 20 seconds, the next three at 10 second intervals. The director called out the corresponding numbers.

Seven.

Six.

A.

Five.

“Washington!” announced another competition director in a clear, stern voice.

Dawkins remained motionless. No emotion flashed across his face. Then, NBA president Byron Spruell said, “The second pick in the 2024 NBA Draft will be taken by Washington.”

At that moment, Dawkins’ deadpan expression belied a larger truth: The Wizards had been almost as lucky in the lottery this year as they had hoped. Even though the Atlanta Hawks won the lottery, Washington’s front office will at least control its own destiny afterward.

“I think anytime you can get high in a draft, no matter what the draft is, you’re excited,” Dawkins said after emerging from the secluded salon and the lottery results were announced to the public. “You would like to have (No.) 1 in every version. But there’s a really good spot in two places, and I think we’ll have a lot of options there and we’ll be able to do what we need to do.

Many mock drafts released immediately after the lottery projected the Hawks to select 7-foot-1 big man Alex Sarr at the top. Dawkins declined to specify who he and his fellow Wizards executives would favor at this time, but he added that up to 10 prospects attending the upcoming NBA Draft Combine could be considered.

“I would say there’s a lot of choice at the top of the draft, and there’s probably not the same level of instant gratification that you see in year one with some of these rookies,” Dawkins said. “But if you really dig into it, have some patience and have some foresight, these players will be pretty good players in the NBA in a few years.”

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In addition to Sarr (if he’s still available), Washington at No. 2 could potentially include G League Ignite wing/forward Matas Buzelis, Connecticut wing Stephon Castle, Connecticut center Donovan Clingan, Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham, Tennessee wing Dalton Knecht, Frenchman are. wing Zaccharie Risacher, Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard and Serbian point guard Nikola Topić.

Last year’s draft offered clues as to how the Wizards might approach this year. Washington traded up one spot, selecting 6-foot-1 Bilal Coulibaly seventh overall. Choosing Coulibaly showed that Dawkins and his fellow managers prioritize positional length, high basketball IQs and a strong work ethic. In June this year, Buzelis, Clingan, Risacher, Sarr and Topić would meet the size requirements.

“Risacher, he has a lot of talent, a lot of talent,” Coulibaly said on Sunday afternoon. “I played against him twice last year. A great shot maker. He can create his own shot. Yes, a very good player.”

Washington, which went 15-67 during the 2023-24 regular season, is still in the early stages of rebuilding, but that gives the franchise some clear developmental advantages over some of its rival lottery teams. The Wizards undoubtedly hope to compete for top lottery odds in 2025 and again in 2026. Accordingly, they can afford to spend significant playing time next season on whoever they draft with the second and 26th picks. The Wizards can also be extra patient with their young players.

It takes an entire organization to develop a young player, but the biggest responsibility, aside from the player himself, typically falls on the head coach. The Wizards have not yet made that hire, although officials from several rival teams expect the Wizards to select Brian Keefe, who served as the Wizards’ top assistant coach last season and later as interim coach.

Asked about the coaching search, Dawkins said: “I will tell you it has started and we are working through it.”

The Wizards will almost certainly hire their coaching before the draft, which will take place over two nights on June 26-27.

In 2022, Dawkins took part in selecting a player second overall when the Oklahoma City Thunder selected big man Chet Holmgren. Dawkins was the Thunder’s vice president of basketball operations at the time. That decision turned out quite well. After missing the entire 2022-2023 season due to injury, Holmgren finished second to Victor Wembanyama of the San Antonio Spurs as Rookie of the Year.

There is no one in this draft who is expected to have as big of an impact in the long term as some of the most talented players expected to be available in the next two classes. But in the grand scheme of things, Washington still needs to make the most of its opportunities this year.

And having the second overall pick is a good starting point.

Much work remains for Dawkins, Monumental Basketball president Michael Winger and their staff. They are scheduled to conduct draft combine interviews and host prospects in DC for extended introductory sessions in the coming days. Dawkins believes the team’s evaluators have a good head start.

“Our scouts work very, very hard,” Dawkins said. “They travel all over the world. They’ve seen every player in this draft multiple times. So we feel confident. We do not see international players as a bigger challenge. We see (them) more as an advantage because we’re trying to make sure we see everyone.

(Photo by Will Dawkins: Kenny Giarla/NBAE via Getty Images)