Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

When it came time for the Washington Wizards to make the second selection in the NBA draft Wednesday night, they went with the expected choice and opted for 19-year-old Frenchman Alex Sarr, the versatile, 7-foot big man with the highest developmental ceiling in this year’s class of prospects.

But the Wizards already had made clear they wouldn’t be sitting back and settling in for a routine night. Shortly before the draft began, they agreed to trade forward Deni Avdija to the Portland Trail Blazers for guard Malcolm Brogdon, the 14th pick Wednesday and a first-round pick in the 2029 draft, according to two people with knowledge of the transaction. They selected Baltimore native Bub Carrington, an 18-year-old guard who spent his freshman year at Pittsburgh, at No. 14, then cemented their status as the most active team of the first round by swapping picks with the New York Knicks.

Washington traded up from No. 26 to select forward Kyshawn George out of Miami with the No. 24 pick. The Wizards also sent the 51st pick, their only selection in Thursday’s second round, to New York.

ESPN was first to report the Avdija trade, which is in line with the Wizards’ big-picture goals as they enter the second year of a rebuild: look to gather trade capital and set themselves up to acquire high lottery picks in coming drafts. There is plenty of talent in the 2024 draft class, but no one as tantalizing as Cooper Flagg, next year’s projected No. 1 pick who is slated to attend Duke for the upcoming college season.

In the meantime, Sarr — the second Frenchman taken in Wednesday’s first round after Atlanta took Zaccharie Risacher first and the second Frenchman the Wizards have added in as many years after 2023 first-round pick Bilal Coulibaly — is an excellent fit who is eager to play in D.C. A fluid big man with an all-around game, he is a talented shot-blocker with the ability to shoot from the perimeter and a maturity that comes from playing in Australia’s National Basketball League. He averaged 9.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 17.2 minutes per game for Perth, which had the NBL’s second-best record.

Sarr will benefit not only from that experience but also from knowledge passed down through his family. His father, Massar, played professionally in France, and his older brother, Olivier, has spent the past three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was in the Thunder’s gym, working out with his brother, where Sarr met Wizards General Manager Will Dawkins, who came to Washington from Oklahoma City last summer.

Between the Wizards’ need for a center after trading Daniel Gafford this past season and Sarr’s relationship with Dawkins, Washington looked like a golden opportunity. Sarr said on a conference call Wednesday that the Wizards were the only team he worked out for ahead of the draft. He spent the other two months of his preparation working out in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“I think it’s a really interesting team,” Sarr said. “They’re really young right now, they’re rebuilding, they’re really trending in the right direction, and I think it’s exciting for any player to be a part of this.”

The Wizards loaded up on offense with their other two picks. Carrington boasts an impressive midrange jumper and a creative playmaking eye. The teenager — who attended Baltimore’s St. Frances Academy, which also produced WNBA rookie star Angel Reese — averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists during his lone season at Pittsburgh. George, 20, is another 6-7 wing who shot 40.8 percent from three-point range during his freshman year at Miami.

The new Wizards bring down the average age of the roster so much that Washington’s locker room might start feeling more like a sophomore-year seminar, exactly as the front office wants. Youth means one thing — flexibility. Especially for Sarr, whose versatility and sky-high potential set him apart, which should provide the Wizards options far down the line. If he develops into a star, Sarr could shine in Washington for the long term. Or he could eventually help Washington acquire a championship-caliber superstar.

The impending arrivals of Sarr, Carrington and George could help soothe the sting of Avdija’s departure.

The Israel native had as close to a breakout season as one could have while playing for the second-worst team in the NBA, and he endeared himself to Wizards fans in the four years since the organization drafted him ninth overall in 2020.

He averaged a career-high 14.7 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 50.6 percent from the field as the Wizards finished with a 15-67 record. And while still only 23, he became a locker room linchpin with his earnestness and sense of humor.

In Brogdon, the Wizards take on a 31-year-old guard entering the final year of a contract in which he is owed $22.5 million. A former standout at Virginia taken in the second round of the 2016 draft, Brogdon averaged 15.7 points while shooting 44 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from beyond the arc in 28.7 minutes across 39 games for the Trail Blazers.

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