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2019 NBA Draft Big Board: What if lottery doesn’t score Wizards Zion Williamson or Ja Morant?

2019 NBA Draft Big Board: What if lottery doesn’t score Wizards Zion Williamson or Ja Morant?

The Washington Wizards are no exception when it comes to dreaming for Zion Williamson.

Odds suggest jumping up the lottery board to the No. 1 overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft for the rights to select one of the most exciting prospects over the last two decades won’t happen. Moving into the 2-4 pick range or even remaining with their current sixth slot requires true luck as well. Possible, yes. Likely, eh.

Without that boost, the Wizards would surely miss out on Williamson and Murray State point guard Ja Morant. Duke leading scorer R.J. Barrett is no less than the consensus third overall prospect. The board lacks definition after that talented trio.

The Wizards have a nine percent chance of owning the first selection and a 37.2 percent chance of landing in the top four.  They could ultimately pick 1-4 or 6-10 based on the draft lottery mechanics. As long as the Wizards’ pick does not fall below eight, they are guaranteed to land one of the following players: Texas Tech wing Jarrett Culver, Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter, Duke forward Cam Reddish or North Carolina guard Coby White.

This tier, while a significant step below Williamson/Morant and Barrett, includes interesting options for a Wizards roster lacking anything solid beyond two-time All-Star Bradley Beal for next season. There is no need vs. best player available debate this year. The Wizards must add talent regardless of position.

Once we get past the top eight, it becomes eye-of-the-beholder territory as the risk rises while the reward may lack significant upside. Players in this range include Oregon’s Bol Bol, Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke, and Kentucky’s P.J. Washington.

This week’s NBA Combine effectively starts the league-wide, pre-draft evaluation process with team and individual workouts to follow. Those interviews and on-court observations will alter big board’s ahead of the June 20 NBA Draft. For the Wizards, there’s also the input from the yet-to-be-named new general manager.

For now, here’s a ranking of those five players behind Williamson, Morant, Barrett with the Wizards in mind.

De’Andre Hunter – Whatever the 6-foot-7, 225-pound small forward supposedly lacks in upside, he makes up for with defensive prowess, versatility, and team culture. Hunter blossomed into a bona fide college star in his sophomore campaign at Virginia, which he capped with 27 points in the national championship game.

The Wizards don’t have a true forward currently on the 2019-20 so Hunter could slide into a starter’s role. If the front office is focused more on setting a tone than hoping on potential, this 3-and-D option is the easy call.

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Jarrett Culver – The 6-foot-6 wing went from off-the-lottery-radar to top 10 prospects after leading the Red Raiders to the national title game. Culver demonstrated a smooth shooting stroke and showed growth with getting to the basket during the regular season. He didn’t make a strong final impression by shooting 8 of 36 from the field in two Final Four games while displaying suspect decision-making.

The Wizards have Beal and 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown at two-guard, but that alone should not prevent them from strongly considering Culver.

Cam Reddish – All-Star talent or underachiever? That’s one of the bigger questions for NBA scouts ahead of June’s Draft. It’s wild that Reddish could slip beyond the top 3-4 picks and perhaps significantly considering the conversation surrounding the small forward throughout the regular season. The thing is Reddish delivered an uneven final few weeks of the season, struggled shooting from deep and mysteriously missed Duke’s Sweet 16 game against Virginia Tech.

The 6-foot-8 forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan could become the Wizards’ small forward after the team traded Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre during the regular season. Some draft evaluators still believe his overall skill set including on the defensive end offers major potential. There’s also a legitimate downside to consider.

Coby White – There must be an NBA source not in love with the 6-foot-5 guard sporting big hair and a large scoring arsenal. I’ve yet to chat with the individual. White, the all-time leading scorer among high school players in North Carolina history, can fly in the open court, spot up from beyond the arc and get buckets.

So, why rank him behind a more polarizing prospect like Reddish on this Wizards-centric list? Largely because the forwards would offer the Wizards’ coaching staff to maximize minutes playing alongside Beal and John Wall whenever the injured point guard returns from Achilles surgery. White does have point guard skills and the size to play behind Beal. Consider all of this a minor point and perhaps a positional tiebreaker. Come June, we may learn the Wizards love White like everyone else.

Darius Garland – Sidelined with a major knee injury since late November, Garland remains a tantalizing prospect. ESPN ranks the 6-foot-3 guard with impressive shooting skills fourth among all 2019 NBA Draft prospects. There is, however, the obvious risk that comes with the physical recovery and lack of experience against high-major competition.

While the Wizards selecting Morant at 2 or 3  is considered a no-brainer despite the positional overlap with Wall, the same shouldn’t automatically be said of a rookie point guard entering the league coming off a knee injury. That is unless Washington determines it simply cannot pass on Garland’s talent.

As for potential targets beyond this group, the highly efficient Clarke would offer some of the similar winning-culture intangibles like Hunter. Another Gonzaga forward, Rui Hachimura, is a more well-rounded option at the four. Selecting Texas center Jaxson Hayes might indicate whether the Wizards think they can retain restricted free agents Thomas Bryant and Bobby Portis.

2019 NBA Draft Big Board

1. Zion Williamson, PF, Duke

2. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State

3. RJ Barrett, SG, Duke

4. De'Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia

5. Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech

6. Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt

7. Coby White, SG, UNC

8. Cam Reddish, SF, Duke

9. Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

10. Sekou Doumbouya, PF, International

11. PJ Washington, PF, Kentucky

12. Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga

13. Bol Bol, PF, Oregon

14. Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC

15. Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga

16. Nassir Little, SF, UNC

17. Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky

18.  Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Va. Tech

19. Goga Bitadze, C, International

20. Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana

21. Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee

22.  Cameron Johnson, PF, UNC

23. Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky

24. KZ Okpala, SG. Stanford

25. Ty Jerome, SG, Virginia

26. Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland

27. Daniel Gafford, C, Arkansas

28. Eric Paschall, PF, Villanova

29. Carsen Edwards, SG/PG, Purdue

30. Luguentz Dort, SG, Arizona State

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Ja Morant reminds Wizards head coach Scott Brooks of Russell Westbrook

Ja Morant reminds Wizards head coach Scott Brooks of Russell Westbrook

WASHINGTON -- Wizards head coach Scott Brooks coached Russell Westbrook for seven seasons in Oklahoma City, as Westbrook developed into one of the best and most electric players in the league. He knows just how good Westbrook is and does not throw around comparisons to him lightly.

But when Brooks watches Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant, whom the Wizards will see for the first time on Saturday when they play at the Grizzlies, he can't help but be reminded of the eight-time All-Star and 2016-17 MVP who now plays for the Houston Rockets.

"He's as dynamic and explosive as any player that has come in [the NBA] in a long time. You see a lot of Westbrook in him where he attacks and is fearless. He plays hard, he puts so much pressure on the defense," Brooks said.

The No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, Morant is technically ahead of schedule with the Westbrook comparison. He's only 20 yet as a rookie he's averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Westbrook wasn't scoring that much until his third season, at Age 22.

Certainly, Morant still has a long way to go to reach Westbrook's level as a perennial All-NBA player who is the first to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson. But Brooks is already surprised by several things Morant is doing that make him wonder just how good he can someday be.

"It's pretty remarkable to come in and do what he's doing. He won a game defensively by blocking a shot. He attacks the rim. He makes plays, he can pass with either hand. He sees the floor. A lot of times, it takes two or three years to get all of those reads down and he seems to be able to have his checkpoints off pretty quick. He finds the next read if [the first one] is not open," Brooks said.

Brooks also remarked how he didn't think Morant would shoot threes this early in his career as well as he has so far. Morant is knocking down 42.2 percent from long range, much higher than Westbrook's 30.5 percent career average, for comparison.

The Wizards will have their hands full when they face Morant and the Grizzlies with no ideal option to guard him. Perhaps Brooks can tap back into his OKC days to come up with an answer.

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Chauncey Billups knows from experience that John Wall will have a dominant return from his Achilles injury

Chauncey Billups knows from experience that John Wall will have a dominant return from his Achilles injury

WASHINGTON -- Turns out there is a familiar refrain when you ask NBA players who recovered from torn Achilles injuries about the rehab process and its biggest challenges. Spurs forward Rudy Gay brought it up, and so did Clippers broadcaster and 17-year NBA veteran Chauncey Billups.

They say it is not just the process of coming back physically. There is a mental hurdle, a very specific one, they had to overcome, and they believe Wizards guard John Wall will have the same experience once he returns to NBA action.

"There's a mental component to it that's really necessary when you're coming back from something like that. You're going to be in that position in which you hurt it 50 to 60 to 70 times in one night. You have to get over that," Billups told NBC Sports Washington.

"You think about it. You think about it all the time. You have to just trust in the work you put in, you have to trust in the science and just know you can't continue to think about it because if you do, you're not going to play your game. It's easier said than done, it really is."

It makes sense. Most injuries in basketball are suffered while running, cutting or jumping. Though Wall technically tore his Achilles while falling in his house, the tendon is going to be tested over and over by every move he makes on the basketball court.

Billups said getting over that can take a long time. He suffered his Achilles tear in 2012 and was back playing in an NBA game 296 days later.

But it took much longer than that to truly get to 100 percent.

"One thing I noticed is that when I came back, I came back at [10 1/2] months. But it took me probably another 10 or 11 months to really feel like myself. I don't think that will happen with John [because] he's a lot younger and his body probably heals a lot quicker than mine did," Billups said.

Billups said his lateral movement and jumping ability were affected the most. Lateral movement is particularly important on defense, especially for a point guard who has to stay in front of some of the quickest athletes on the planet.

As for jumping ability, Wall may have an advantage as he tore his left Achilles and has always been a much better leaper off his right leg. It's why most of his dunks are thrown down using his left hand.

Given Wall was seven years younger than Billups when they suffered their injuries, Billups believes Wall is likely to get most, if not all, of his athleticism back. But he also sees a way Wall can change his game to remain effective even if he never regains his trademark speed.

"I think that John could be a very good post-up type of point guard [because] he's such a good passer and facilitator," Billups said.

"A point guard being down there and being able to pass out of the post, it's tough. Teams don't work on that. I think that's a weapon he can add, especially as he gets older. Naturally, he will slow down and his athleticism will diminish as he gets a lot older, but he can be just as effective if he can develop that," he added.

Just like Wall, Billups tore his Achilles in February. He was back playing in games by late November, so Wall has already taken longer than he did to return. The Wizards have even indicated Wall could miss all of this season due to the injury. And if he returned next year, he would end up taking about 20 months to recover.

Having been through the process himself, Billups can speak to how difficult that could end up being for Wall, to just sit out and wait patiently even if he at some point knows he can play.

"That's tough to do when you're a competitor," Billups said. "You miss the game that you love so much. It's my first love. You have an opportunity to feel like you're back after all the work that you put in, man. To feel like I can get out here and help my guys who are struggling? They're doubling Bradley Beal and they've got a young guy [in Rui Hachimura] showing some promise, it's tough to just kind of sit that out and wait and say 'when's the right time?'"

The Wizards appear intent on giving Wall extra time to heal and, it should be noted, they have a major financial investment in his future. This is the first season of his four-year, $170 million supermax contract. It might be worth punting on the first year if it ensures they get something out of the final three.

Whenever he does return, Billups has high hopes for the five-time All-Star.

"I have no doubt that John Wall is going to come back and be dominant," Billups said.

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