Wizards

Howell taking charge for No. 20 Wolfpack

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Howell taking charge for No. 20 Wolfpack

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Richard Howell doesn't mind all the attention going to his more heralded North Carolina State teammates. The senior is focused on ensuring his team meets its potential as an Atlantic Coast Conference contender.

The 6-foot-8 forward is providing interior toughness and relentless rebounding for the No. 20 Wolfpack. And heading into Saturday's home game against top-ranked Duke, Howell doesn't want N.C. State to squander any opportunity to claim the league title it was picked to win in the preseason.

``I just feel like it's my last year and I can't go out there with the same intensity I went out with last year,'' Howell said. ``I don't want to look back and say, `Damn, I could've played this game a little harder.' At the end of the game, I want to know that I did my best and went as hard as I could ever second I was on the floor.''

That attitude has been invaluable for the Wolfpack (13-2, 2-0). On a team with preseason ACC player of the year C.J. Leslie, preseason all-conference pick Lorenzo Brown and projected rookie of the year Rodney Purvis, Howell's presence inside has been critical.

He's started every game of the past two seasons for N.C. State, which has won nine straight and has the chance for its first 3-0 ACC start since the 1988-89 season.

Second-year coach Mark Gottfried motivated Howell to shed 20 pounds and get in better shape before last season, which Howell closed with a 16-rebound performance against Kansas in the NCAA round of 16. Now Howell has added a more vocal leadership role, including promising Gottfried after a 20-point loss to Oklahoma State in November that he would ``never let my team come out and play like that again.''

``He's just doing a lot more things,'' Gottfried said. ``And he's a senior. He steps up. I've always felt like seniors, they approach things a little differently when they're a senior. They start to realize that this is it, no matter what - this is their last year. Things start to matter a little more than sometimes they do when they're younger.''

Howell is averaging 12.7 points and 9.9 rebounds while shooting nearly 63 percent from the floor. He has eight double-doubles on the season and pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds against Norfolk State on Dec. 15.

``He just adds a dimension to our game,'' senior guard Scott Wood said. ``It makes it that much better, just being determined to go find the ball and having the knack to get a rebound when we need it is huge.''

Howell's presence alongside Leslie will give the Wolfpack the ability to counter Duke center Mason Plumlee, while the Blue Devils (15-0, 2-0) will be short-handed up front with 6-10 forward Ryan Kelly out indefinitely with a foot injury.

``We've got to box him out,'' Plumlee said. ``Sometimes his best shot is a missed shot because he just goes and gets it and gets closer to the basket. He's a tough player, plays physical and he's a high-motor guy inside and around the basket.''

Howell said he didn't start playing organized basketball until middle school because he was focused on playing football as a running back growing up. It explains some of his physical style, from muscling up shots in traffic to beating opponents to rebounds despite the fact he isn't a high flyer.

``I just think it's all about heart,'' Howell said. ``If I'm in the right position or even if I'm not in the right position, I feel if you just want the ball half the time and you have the desire to go get it, then you can get it. ... You've just got to go take it even if they're trying to block you.''

But Howell has also had to control that style to stay out of foul trouble, a frequent problem last season that often left him sitting for long stretches. Gottfried said the coaches have worked with Howell on understanding when to gamble for a steal or rebound and when to back off.

Howell fouled out in both of N.C. State's only losses this year to Oklahoma State and Michigan, and played 19 or fewer minutes in both games.

Howell said the tactics include assistant coach Rob Moxley shouting his name from across the practice court every time he starts to reach on defense. He laughed it off, but was quick to say he's more comfortable when everyone's not focusing on him.

``I'm not one that kind of likes all the attention,'' he said. ``I want to do good for my team. Whether it's me or someone on my team, I just want someone to get that credit.''

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Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

The Washington Wizards selected John Wall first overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Other lottery picks followed in subsequent years. None were point guards. Nobody bothered contemplating such a scenario.

That’s no longer the case.

There is Wall’s uncertain physical status for next season and beyond because of a ruptured Achilles.

Thursday’s mind-blowing performance from Murray State point guard Ja Morant put such contemplation into overdrive.

For many NBA-only fans, the 12th seeded Racers' 83-64 thrashing over no. 5 Marquette in its West Region first-round game marked the initial opportunity to watch the buzz-worthy Morant. He did not disappoint.

Morant, who only trailed Duke phenom Zion Williamson for jaw-dropping highlights this season, dazzled with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists. His next chance to wow comes Saturday against fourth-seeded Florida State.

Imagine the Wizards receive some lottery luck ahead of June’s NBA Draft. Not the overflowing pot of gold kind that means grabbing Williamson first overall, but jumping up above the average options to the second or third selection. Washington (30-43) has a 26.3 percent chance of landing a top 4 selection, according to the draft website Tankathon.

Williamson might be the only player selected ahead of Morant in June in what one NBA executive deems a two-player draft. “Zion makes it feel better than it is. After Zion and Ja, just an average draft,” the executive said.

You’re on the clock. Duke’s RJ Barrett is another top 3 candidate, but Morant gained ground on the wing guard and others all season by averaging 24.0 points, 10.0 assists and multiple viral video moments a game. By June, Morant might be the clear-cut second-best player.

Wall’s recovery timeline keeps the five-time All-Star sideline for the majority if not all of the 2019-20 season. He will eventually return, however. That factor cannot be ignored especially with his 4-year, $170 million supermax contract starting next season. Ideally, the selection compliments Bradley Beal and Wall in the starting lineup.

Wall also turns 29 in July and recovery from such a devastating injury presents significant unknowns.

Tomas Satoransky, Wall's primary backup and the current starter, is a restricted free agent this summer. The Wizards would like him back, but the marketplace might have other ideas.

Time’s up. Turn the selection card in. Take Morant or not?

“Hell, yes!” multiple college basketball sources responded via text.

Others went with a standard roster-building approach.

“I take the best player available and figure it out,” an NBA scout texted.

In other words, hell yeah on Morant.

Another NBA scout received his first extended look at wispy yet athletically super-charged Morant last summer at Chris Paul’s basketball camp. “I thought he was ordinary because he played more off the ball,” the scout said of the 6-foot-3, 174-pound Morant. “But now he’s really, really good. Can pass with either hand.”

The scout offered an NBA comparison: John Wall. “Not as fast as John, but he’s got the same explosive athleticism at the rim.”

The counter-argument, a mild one at that, looks beyond next season.

Playing time ranked high among the reasons why the Wizards sought low-cost backup point guards over the years for Wall. Combo guards aside, if Wall goes 35-38 minutes nightly, why invest significant assets into a 10-13 minute-a-game player.

There’s some debate over whether Morant could play off the ball next to Wall. The sophomore is shooting 33.6 percent on 4.8 three-point attempts per game this season.

Based on the initial reaction from the various sources, nobody cares. Take the talent and figure out the rest. It's unclear what the Wizards have in Wall going forward. Maybe trade one of them down the line. The Wizards only have three healthy players under contract for next season. The 2019 first-round pick could immediately become a high-rotation player.

Such expectations rise if the Wizards jump up in the lottery. Historically there’s no chance they consider a point guard in the lottery with Wall on the roster. Times are different especially if there’s a chance to grab a hell yeah talent like Morant.

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Troy Brown found out he was starting against the Nuggets through Twitter

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Troy Brown found out he was starting against the Nuggets through Twitter

The Wizards' 113-108 loss to the Nuggets Thursday marked Troy Brown's first NBA start. And the Wizards' rookie guard impressed, scoring a career-high 13 points and snagging five rebounds.

How did Brown find out he was starting, you may ask? Through Twitter, of course!

Head coach Scott Brooks told reporters Brown was taking the injured Trevor Ariza's place in the starting five before notifying Brown himself, and like every 19-year old kid, Brown gets his news on Twitter.

And Thursday night, Brown's Twitter timeline brought him some of the biggest news of his basketball career. 

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