Wall to Mureșan: An all-time Wizards/Bullets first round

Following up on my Redskins and Capitals all-time first round picks, the Wizards/Bullets version will be the last. Since the Nationals have only been around for about 15 years, they only have a handful of first round picks in the team’s history, and there are many draft slots that they have never occupied. It would be a pretty barren list, so I will skip the Nationals.

The Wizards/Bullets franchise has a fair share of gaps as well, at least when it comes to their history in Washington. With first-round draft picks often being dealt away in trades, it’s not rare for a team to not have any first-round picks for a stretch of time. The Wizards did not have a first-round draft pick in 2014, 2016 or 2017, for example.

It’s also common for a team to immediately trade their drafted player in the same night. For example, in 2015, the team traded their first-round pick Jerian Grant on draft night. (Though they did end up netting Kelly Oubre Jr., another 2015 first-rounder. Plus, these trades are usually agreed upon beforehand.)

These gaps and trades will be compensated by including the team’s selections from when it was in Baltimore. While I have normally excluded Baltimore players from these types of lists, an exception seems necessary this time around. Those Baltimore picks will be indicated with an asterisk.

Like always, some of the players on this list were not first-round picks in their respective draft classes, but the list is based only on their overall selection spot.

1- John Wall (PG – 2010)

Wizards fans were ecstatic when the team earned the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Draft Lottery, and with Wall, the explosive point guard out of Kentucky, coming to DC, the team would get a franchise player to build around and move past the repercussions of the Gilbert Arenas locker room incident. Wall developed into a perennial All-Star that has led the team on multiple playoff runs in his career, but never past the second round.

He remains the only 2010 draft pick still with the team that drafted him, and after sitting out the past 18 months due to an Achilles injury, he is expected to make his return for the 2020-21 season.

Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy (C – 1961) was drafted by the Chicago Zephyrs first overall in 1961, and moved with the team to Baltimore in 1963, but he only played just over four seasons with the franchise.

2- Wes Unseld* (C – 1968)

Unseld, who died recently on June 2, was a Baltimore pick, but remained with the franchise for the entirety of his career, which included eight seasons in Washington. The Hall of Fame center was a star player from his very first season, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP in 1968-69, his first season. He also won the only championship in franchise history in 1978.

Earl Monroe (PG/SG – 1967) was picked in the same slot a year prior, but spent just over four years in Baltimore before spending the next nine seasons with the New York Knicks.

3- Bradley Beal (SG – 2012)

Beal was drafted just two years after Wall to help aid the team into playoff contention. The two-time All-Star has been playing at an All-NBA level in Wall’s absence, but the lack of team success has led to recent snubs.

Beal has also been the subject of potential trade talks to contending teams, but Beal himself has expressed he wants to finish his career in DC. Hopefully he can experience some real postseason success before he retires.

4- Greg Ballard (SF – 1977)

Ballard was a rookie during the Bullets’ championship season, but didn’t become a starter until his third season, where an uptick in minutes led to dramatically better stats. His best statistical season came in 1981-82 when he averaged a team-leading 18.8 points plus 8.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists (both third-most on the team).

His playoff success was behind him, but Ballard remained a key player on the team through the early 1980s.

5- Juwan Howard (PF/C – 1994)

The former Michigan “Fab Five” member (and current head basketball coach) played 19 seasons in the NBA, but the first six-and-a-half were in Washington. He was named to his only All-Star team and All-NBA team in 1995-96, when he averaged 22.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists as a second-year pro.

Besides his rookie season (17.0 PPG) and sixth year (14.9 PPG), he never averaged fewer than 18 points per game while in Washington. Michael Jordan traded Howard to the Dallas Mavericks during the 2001 trade deadline, which led to Howard journeying around the league for the rest of his career. His final three years as a veteran bench player with the LeBron James & Dwyane Wade-led Miami Heat earned him two championships.

6- Calbert Cheaney (SG – 1993)

The Indiana Hoosiers legend spent close to half of his 13-year NBA career in Washington. He never led the team in scoring, but he averaged double-digits in his first five seasons, before his minutes and production dropped off in the following years.

7- Rip Hamilton (SG/SF – 1999)

Before he made three All-Star teams and won the 2004 NBA Finals with the Detroit Pistons, Hamilton was a rising star with the Wizards, spending his first three professional seasons in DC. He finished as the second-highest scorer in his second and third seasons before getting traded to Detroit entering the 2002-03 season. He’s the only seventh pick in team history.

8- N/A

The only eighth pick in franchise history was from when the team was in Chicago, so while it doesn’t technically count for this list, it’s worth mentioning.

Terry Dischinger (SF – 1962), like Hamilton, spent the majority of his career with Detroit. He was drafted to the Zephyrs, where he was named an All-Star and Rookie of the Year after averaging a career-high 25.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in his first season.

He moved with the team to Baltimore where he made a second All-Star appearance. He was traded to Detroit after just two seasons in a deal that involved eight players. A member of the 1960 U.S. Men’s Basketball Olympic Team that won gold in Rome, Dischinger is in the Hall of Fame as a member of the team.

9- Tom Hammonds (PF – 1989)

Hammonds spent the first three seasons of his NBA career as a reserve forward for the Bullets. His best season came in 1991-92, where he averaged double-digit points for the first and only time in his career (11.9), and he also set career-highs in rebounds (5.0) and assists (1.0) per game.

If Rui Hachimura (PF – 2019) can continue to develop into a quality starter, he should be able to overtake Hammonds in a couple years.

10- Gus Johnson* (SF/PF – 1963)

The Hall of Fame forward was a walking double-double in the 1960s. The five-time All-Star averaged 17.1 points and 13.6 rebounds as a rookie, and continued to put up similar numbers through the first eight years of his career.

His 18.2 points and career-high 17.1 rebounds per game in 1970-71 helped lead the Bullets to their first NBA Finals appearance, where they were swept by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the Milwaukee Bucks. Johnson spent nearly his whole career in Baltimore, and his No. 25 is one of five numbers retired by the franchise.

Jeff Malone (SG – 1983) is also a 10th overall pick, and the two-time All-Star played a significant role with the Bullets for seven years.

11- Frank Johnson (PG – 1981)

Johnson had an up-and-down career in Washington, elevating to the starting point guard role and leading the team with 8.1 assists per game in his second season, then later playing a total 77 games across three seasons from 1984-87.

Johnson spent seven years with Washington before getting released in 1988. He went on to make brief stops in New Jersey, Orlando and Houston before spending three years in Europe, then wrapping up his career with Phoenix.

12- Harvey Grant (PF – 1988)

Grant spent seven total seasons in DC in two separate stints. The first lasted his first five NBA seasons, where he became one of the most productive players on the team. He averaged more than 18 points three years in a row from 1990-93, and he was consistently among the top three scorers and rebounders.

After a three year stop in Portland, Grant returned to Washington for two more seasons in 1996, yet in a smaller role than before. His brother, Horace Grant, won four NBA championships, including three with Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. He also has three basketball playing sons, including Jerian Grant, who as mentioned before was also a Washington draft pick.

13- Mitch Kupchak (C – 1976)

Kupchak’s impact was immediate for the Bullets, as he was voted to the All-Rookie Team in 1977, then helped the team win the championship in a larger role the following year. He was third on the team in both points (15.9) and rebounds (6.9) per game during that championship season.

He later played with the Showtime Lakers, but a bad knee injury in 1981 kept him out for most of the 1981-82 season and the entire ’82-83 season. He became an assistant GM for the Lakers upon his retirement in 1986, and succeeded Jerry West for main decision-making powers in 2000. After getting fired in 2017, he now serves as GM for the Charlotte Hornets.

14- Larry Wright (PG – 1976)

The Louisiana native Wright actually played for Western High School in Washington, D.C. before being drafted by the Bullets 14th overall in 1976. In four seasons with the Bullets, Wright never put up stats that popped off the page, but came off the bench for 18-20 minutes a night to pour in some points and dish out a few assists.

He helped the team win the championship in 1978 before going on to star in Italy for six years. He went back to coach at his alma mater, Grambling State, shortly after retiring. He spent three years as an assistant from 1990-92, then later earned the head job in 1999, a position he held until 2008.

15- Troy Brown Jr. (SF – 2018)

Brown is the only other 15th pick besides Neil Johnson (PF – 1966), who was sent to the New York Knicks less than a year after being drafted and didn’t play a single game in Baltimore.

Brown, meanwhile, was a raw prospect coming out of Oregon, and saw increased minutes in his second season due to the number of injuries on the roster. His production took a big step forward this season, and he will hopefully continue to progress as the team works its way into regular playoff contention.

16- Nick Young (SG – 2007)

“Swaggy P,” the only 16th pick in team history, spent four-and-a-half seasons in Washington, and before he reached a higher profile as a member of the Lakers in Kobe Bryant’s final seasons, or won a championship with the Golden State Warriors in 2018, Young was a solid role player for the Wizards.

Young did not elevate to a starting role until 2010-11, where he led the team with 17.4 points per game. He spent most of the 2011-12 season with the Wizards before he was traded to the LA Clippers in a three-team trade that netted the Wizards Nenê, Brian Cook and a 2015 second-round pick (Arturas Gudaitis eventually selected).

17- Juan Dixon (PG/SG – 2002)

The Maryland Terrapins legend spent his first three NBA seasons in Washington before returning in 2008-09 for a final year. He played a reserve role throughout his time in Washington, never starting more than 16 games in a given season.

The only other notable 17th pick in franchise history is Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson (SF – 1962), who spent one season with the Chicago Zephyrs before playing with the Lakers for two seasons, then the Boston Celtics for the final 11 years of his career.

18- Kevin Grevey (SG/SF – 1975)

Of the first 30 draft slots, the Wizards/Bullets have selected 18th overall the most (seven times). Grevey is yet another 1978 championship team member to make this list. The Kentucky Wildcats legend spent eight seasons in Washington and consistently finished among the team’s top scorers.

19- LaBradford Smith (SG – 1991)

Smith played just over two seasons with the Bullets in the early 1990s, and his biggest claim to fame was scoring 37 points on Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1993, where Jordan alleged Smith said, “Nice game, Mike,” as they were walking off the floor. The teams played each other the following night, where Jordan dropped 36 in the first half. Nearly 20 years later, during the 10-part ESPN documentary ‘The Last Dance,’ Jordan revealed Smith actually never said anything, and that he made it up for self-motivation.

Besides those 15 seconds of fame, Smith was just a typical reserve player; he averaged just 9.3 points that season. Smith later spent time in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and in Europe before his career came to a close.

20- Malkin Strong* (PF/C – 1967)

The Seattle University Hall of Famer was selected 20th overall to the Bullets, but never played a single game in the NBA.

York Larese (SG – 1961) is the only other 20th pick, but he was selected when the team was still in Chicago. He played just 59 career games, all in the 1961-62 season, and just eight with the Packers. The other 51 were with the Philadelphia Warriors.

21- Anthony Jones (SG – 1986)

Jones played just 16 games in Washington before he was waived after averaging 2.3 points in 7.1 minutes per game. The DC native played with three other teams in three NBA seasons, primarily with the Dallas Mavericks.

The other 21st picks were Joe Newton (C – 1965), who didn’t play in the NBA, and Don Kojis (SF – 1961), who was drafted by Chicago and played one season in Baltimore.

22- Truck Robinson (PF – 1974)

Robinson spent his first two-and-a-half seasons in Washington, not taking a jump in production until his third year, when he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks. He was averaging 16.0 points and 8.9 rebounds before the trade. He just missed out on the 1978 championship, but he did make his first All-Star team and First Team All-NBA after leading the league in minutes played and rebounds while with the New Orleans Jazz. Robinson was an All-Star again in 1981 with the Phoenix Suns.

23- N/A

Jeff Cohen (PF – 1961) is the only 23rd pick in franchise history, but he was selected when the team was still in Chicago. He never played in the NBA, opting for the American Basketball League (ABL) instead.

24- N/A

Not a single player, whether the team was in Chicago, Baltimore or Washington, has been taken 24th overall.

25- Bryan Warrick (PG – 1982)

Warrick played four seasons in the NBA, the first two coming in Washington, as a reserve guard. He played in 43 games as a rookie, starting 20 of them, where he averaged 4.0 points and 2.9 assists in 16.9 minutes per game. He had a smaller role in his second season, playing just 32 games with no starts, only averaging about eight minutes per game. His other NBA stints included the Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers.

The only other 25th pick was Tom Patterson (SF/PF – 1972), who the Bullets selected with the pick received by the Phoenix Suns in the Gus Johnson trade. Patterson spent two seasons with the Bullets before he was waived.

26- Ron Nelson* (SG – 1968)

Nelson is the only 26th overall pick in franchise history, but he never played a game with the Bullets, opting to sign with The Floridians in the American Basketball Association (ABA). He averaged 3.2 points and 0.8 assists in 8.3 minutes per game in his only ABA season (1970-71).

27- N/A

Like the 24th slot, no player has been selected 27th overall in franchise history.

28- Nolen Ellison* (PG – 1963)/Pete Spoden* (PF/C – 1964)

Ellison and Spoden share this honor because there’s no real way to differentiate them on the NBA level; neither played a single NBA game. Drafted in back-to-back years by Baltimore, neither ever signed with the team.

29- Willie Scott* (F – 1969)

Scott, the only 29th pick in franchise history, never played in the NBA, instead playing just eight games in the ABA with the Dallas Chaparrals. He totaled 13 points, four rebounds, two assists, eight turnovers and 16 personal fouls across 51 minutes of ABA play.

30- Gheorghe Mureșan (C – 1993)

Mureșan played the first four of his six NBA seasons in Washington. At 7’7″, he was the tallest NBA player ever. His best season came in 1995-96 when he started 76 games, led the league in field goal percentage (.584), and put up career-highs in points (14.5), rebounds (9.6) and blocks (2.3) per game. Those efforts earned him the Most Improved Player award.

He improved his field goal percentage to .604 the following year, leading the league for the second year in a row.

(Cover Photo Credit: Brandon Wade/AP; The Romania Journal)

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