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One on one: Where do Wizards rank in Southeast division?

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One on one: Where do Wizards rank in Southeast division?

With the intense NBA offseason cooling down, there is time for reflection on what the Washington Wizards accomplished and a chance to look at the road ahead. For the next couple of weeks, CSNwashington.com Insider J. Michael and Wizards correspondent Ben Standig will examine various issues and answer questions as the Wizards move toward the 2015-16 campaign.

Division races are not a hot topic in the NBA, but remain important for now. Where do the Wizards rank among the Southeast teams?

J. Michael: One of the weaker divisions in the league has gotten significantly stronger. I don’t expect the Hawks to be the dominant team they were last season because their Achilles’ heel – rebounding because of the lack of size and relying heavily on Kyle Korver to execute their offense – was revealed long before they entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the East and a 60-win team. They’ll still be good enough to be reckoned with but won’t come close to that type of domination. 

The Miami Heat are a playoff team again, and just how big much of a leap they make will depend on how healthy Dwyane Wade can remain at 33, how quickly rookie Justice Winslow adapts and how Hassan Whiteside performs over an 82-game season. The latter is important because Whiteside had a strong run at the end of last year, but the center has yet to secure himself long-term in the NBA because of questionable behavior and decision-making throughout his career. Also, Chris Bosh is coming off life-threatening blood clots in his lungs. These are a lot of ifs and usually most of them don’t come to fruition at once. 

I’m picking the Charlotte Hornets to return to the postseason and they’re traditionally a difficult matchup for the Wizards. I really like the addition of Nicolas Batum, one of the NBA’s more underrated two-way players, and the subtraction of Lance Stephenson is an addition all unto itself. Their interior defense remains a weakness and if rookie Frank Kaminsky can have any sort of impact the Hornets will make this  division extremely competitive. 

I still rank the Wizards above all three because they don’t have the same question marks. At worse, a No. 2 seed.

Ben Standig: Let's do some super early rankings, in reverse order...

5. Magic - Every year I love their young talent. This year is no exception. Maybe the addition of a tough-minded coach like Scott Skiles pushes them to another level. Of course, even in the East a jump of multiple levels is required for Orlando to reach the postseason. Very curious to see what the group of Victor Oladipo, Mario Hezonja, Nik Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Elfrid Payton can do this season.

4. Hornets - Are they better on paper, yes. Adding a two-way threat like Nicolas Batum and subtracting a nusance like Lance Stephenson is all good. Are they good enough to make real noise in the East? Eh. Al Jefferson rules when healthy, but their point guard play still doesn't excite me. Head coach steve Clifford does. Hey, at least they can't suffer injuries at an insane rate again, right?

3. Hawks - From winning the East regular season title to third in the Southeast division is quite a fall, though pegging three teams from these group to finish among the top six in the conference. Everything went perfect for Atlanta last season, at least before the playoffs started. Though the pass-heavy system on coach Mike Budenholzer worked perfectly for this NBA era, I just can't see such perfection again. Losing Demarre Carroll hurts and adding Tim Hardaway Jr. doesn't help much.

2. Wizards - Jared Dudley seems super positive on Twitter following back surgery. Bradley Beal didn't hurt his leg in Africa. John Wall is smiling. Good enough to contend for the division title and  top-4 seed in the East. Let's move on.

1. Heat - The wild card team in the entire Eastern Conference. Does anybody have a better starting lineup than Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside? Even if Whiteside can't duplicate last season's highs, Miami can go with Amar'e Stoudamire and Josh McRoberts for size or Gerald Green or rookie Justise Winslow for wing help. Of course, we must note that half of those players are notable injury risks and Bosh is returning from a blood clot. All these factors together put the Heat's range anywhere from No. 2 in the East to thinking about lottery balls. Then again, there is NO WAY Pat Riley allows this team to miss the playoffs for a second straight season.

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Little information out there about Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon

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Little information out there about Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon

Wizards fans will know a lot more about 2018 second round pick Issuf Sanon once he takes the floor next month in the Las Vegas Summer League, but for now the 18-year-old point guard remains a bit of a mystery.

There are limited highlights on YouTube and stats available to evaluate him. Most who have an opinion on the player are operating on little information. 

For now, what we have are some video compilations and quotes from the team. Team president Ernie Grunfeld described Sanon on Thursday night and says he's a player who could someday play both guard positions at the NBA level.

"[He’s a] very talented point guard, combo guard who is very athletic and he has real good upside," Grunfeld said. "Very athletic [and] very talented. [He] makes plays, he has a nice shot and he’s playing very tough competition.”

Grunfeld mentioned Sanon's athleticism many times. The Wizards saw Sanon at the NBA's international combine and love his combination of size and speed. He is 6-foot-4 and 1/2 and noticeably faster than those he competes against in the Premier A Slovenian League. 

Grunfeld likened Sanon's size and speed to Tomas Satoransky, a point guard currently on the Wizards' roster.

"He's a good ball-hander, very competitive and a lot like Tomas. We drafted Tomas at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA.”," Grunfeld said.

The highlights available of Sanon show a guy who clearly stands out above his competition. He has a knack for getting to the rim and can finish in a variety of ways. There are also many clips of him blocking shots, sometimes in the post and often from behind on the fastbreak.

NBA.com has an interesting breakdown of Sanon's most recent season in the Slovenian league from an advanced stats perspective. They applauded his defense and the numbers suggest he puts that unique athleticism to use on the defensive end of the floor.

Had a remarkable year defensively for his age. Gets in a stance and competes to help make up for his lack of experience. Pressures the ball with quick hands, but lacks a degree of anticipation to stay in front of elite athletes. Still figuring out how to handle ball screens without overthinking things, but held his own anyways for the most part. Allowed only 0.471 points per Isolation possession [92nd percentile]. A bit foul prone, but forces turnovers at an impressive rate. Has a good work ethic defensively which should serve him well as he gains experience.

Sports Illustrated raved about Sanon's motor on the court and his hard-nosed approach, two things that would seem to bode well combined with his explosive athleticism:

Rangy, athletic combo guard who plays both ends of the floor. Puts pressure on the rim. Likes to get downhill and attack the basket. Shows flashes in transition. Lots of natural talent.

Sanon spoke with Wizards reporters soon after he was drafted on Thursday night and said Russell Westbrook is a guy he models his game after. He plays at a much lower level of professional basketball, but there are similarities with Westbrook in Sanon's size and knack for scoring at the rim.

The stats only tell so much of the story, as he was going up against lower competition. It is worth noting, however, that his shooting percentage was low pretty much across the board. In 22 games during the 2017-18 season, Sanon shot 29.3 percent from three and 40 percent from the free throw line.

The Wizards have realistic expectations for Sanon, knowing it could take years before he even plays in the NBA. Many second round picks never make it at all.

Grunfeld pointed to Satoransky's career path as a possible timeline for Sanon, meaning the Wizards may not bring him over until he's in his 20s. He won't be able to help at backup point guard right away, but someday perhaps he can put his athleticism to use and actually help the Wizards.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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