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2019 NBA Draft: Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter’s versatility could fill needed role for the Wizards

2019 NBA Draft: Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter’s versatility could fill needed role for the Wizards

Here’s what is key with the Washington Wizards and their first-round selection in the 2019 NBA Draft: There’s need at every position.

The Wizards, barring the unforeseen, may only have three healthy players under contract for the 2019-20 season -- Bradley Beal, Troy Brown Jr., Ian Mahinmi -- by the time we reach draft day on June 20:

John Wall’s ruptured Achilles will keep the point guard out for the majority of the season. Should Dwight Howard opt into his $5.6 million player option the trio becomes a quartet – but only if the center is physically capable after missing nearly the entire 2018-19 season with back issues.

Regardless of the exact roster makeup, some holes will remain which is why adding a versatile talent like Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter makes plenty of sense.

Free agency tips off July 1. The draft comes first. The latter event should not have much barring on the former. Free agency planning isn’t exact science. Neither is draft prospect evaluation. Do the homework and make a call. With so much roster uncertainty, the Wizards are unshackled from any need vs. best available debate.

“Take the best talent,” one NBA front office executive said to NBC Sports Washington.

Based on the Wizards’ likely draft slot scenario –think 6-9 barring lottery luck -- that might mean Hunter, even if he lacks 'wow' upside.

The first-team All-ACC performer leads the South region’s top seed into Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup with against no. 12 Oregon. It’s another opportunity for scouts to study the 6-foot-7 sophomore even if single games in the Tournament are rarely defining.

Hunter was selected ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors for his role in the nation’s stingiest defense. Virginia led Division I teams in points allowed (54.6) and field goal percentage defense (37.4).

Offensively the Philadelphia native averages 15.2 points. He sinks 44.6 percent of 3-point attempts while showing the ability to generate production in isolation sets. Hunter scored 23 points in Virginia’s first-round win over Gardner-Webb.

“[De’Andre] might be the most versatile guy in the tournament,” Virginia point guard Ty Jerome said before the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament opener last week. “[He] can guard one through five almost, can get a bucket when you need one, isolation, offensive rebound, knock down catch-and-shoot shots.”

For all those positive attributes, there’s little in Hunter’s arsenal that is particularly jaw-dropping.

“He’s a perfect as a role player in the NBA,” NBC Sports college basketball insider Rob Dauster said.

That’s not exactly what teams – or fans – are clamoring for with a top 5-10 selection. The dream involves a franchise-altering talent.

This is where context matters.

Not all drafts are created equal. The top seven picks from the 2018 class likely all slot ahead of whoever is the second pick in 2019 beyond Zion Williamson if eligible this season. No doubt, some from the 2019 crop emerge as starters, if not stars. Projecting those players now is the trouble. Sometimes they don’t exist.

“The desire to have a franchise-level player with say the fifth pick. Great idea if there is that level of talent in the draft,” another NBA executive told NBC Sports Washington. “Some years, yes. Most years, no.”

Hunter’s talent is tangible immediately. It’s why ESPN ranks the lengthy forward fifth overall on its 2019 draft big board.

It’s why Hunter makes for an intriguing candidate for the Wizards (31-45), who would currently hold the eighth overall pick based on record. They own a 23.1 percent chance of jumping into the top 4 and a 5.2 percent shot at landing the coveted no. 1 overall selection. Hello, Zion.

Hope doesn’t just rise if lottery luck means landing the power-packed Williamson. It explodes through the Capital One Arena roof, under which Williamson and Duke play this weekend. That’s the dream. The likelihood has the Wizards remaining in the middle of the lottery where they ideally find a helpful piece.

There is nothing wrong with a steady building block to go with a two-time All-Star in Beal and Brown, last season’s first-round selection. If we do factor in the depth chart, the Wizards would have obvious holes at forward even if they bring back the majority of the current roster.

Hunter addresses all these areas. For a team trying to re-emerge after a trying campaign that included internal squabbles, don’t sleep on the impact of the right role player.

“(De’Andre) does everything, a guy you want on your team,” Jerome said. “Pretty cool guy off the court too.”

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Drew Gooden, Justin Kutcher to highlight NBC Sports Washington Wizards broadcast team

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Drew Gooden, Justin Kutcher to highlight NBC Sports Washington Wizards broadcast team

Drew Gooden was nearing the end of his second 10-day contract with the Wizards in the 2014 season when he went off for 21 points against Brooklyn. 

It was a game that changed his career, led to being signed to the team for the remainder of that season and ending his career as a Washington Wizard two years later. “My career was totally reborn as a veteran leader on the Washington Wizards,” he said. “And that’s something I never would have thought would come full circle.”

And now? Gooden will serve as the game analyst on NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards broadcast this season. NBC Sports Washington announced on Wednesday he will join new play-by-play announcer Justin Kutcher as part of the Wizards' game broadcast team. Chris Miller will return in his role as sideline reporter.

“It’s a dream and I never thought in a million years I would have retired a Wizard and that out of all my teams that I played for, that Wizards would be the favorite organization that I played for, never thought I would be a color analyst for NBC Sports Washington,” Gooden said. “All of this is a dream.”

And while Kutcher may not have the same playing resume that Gooden does, he promises to bring the same passion Gooden does to broadcasts.

During the early days of his career, Kutcher wasn’t just the voice of (and practice player for) the Boston University women’s basketball team. He was such a passionate fan that he was the one making the most noise on the team bus after a big win or a big loss. Now, after decades in the business, he’s not sure he’ll go to that extreme – but Wizards fans can expect him to be “a fan who’s calling the game,” he said. “I say that about myself all of the time. I think of myself as just this incredibly lucky person that gets to call a sport that I love. When I have a reaction, it’s a genuine reaction. So, I’ll keep everything professional, but I’ll get excited.”

Kutcher has 17 years of experience as a play-by-play announcer, having spent the last seven years at Fox Sports where he led national coverage of NCAA basketball and football, the NFL and MLB. Prior to FOX Sports, Kutcher served as a play-by-play announcer for ESPN for four years. During that time, he led live coverage for a variety of sports, including basketball, football, baseball, softball, volleyball and hockey, across professional, college and high school leagues and conferences. He also appeared on studio shows during his tenure with ESPN. In addition to FOX Sports and ESPN, he has also called collegiate events for CSTV, now CBS Sports Network, for two years, as well as BTN, and contributed to MLB.com digital programming.

“I have known Justin since he was a runner for us at FOX Sports,” said Joe Buck. “He’s gone from working hard behind the scenes to one of the best, young voices in sports. Wizards fans are getting a great broadcaster and a better person .”

Here’s five more fun facts about Kutcher and Gooden.

1.    Kutcher’s worked the past five Westminster Dog Shows. “I get more ticket requests for that than any other event I go to,” he said. But, at first he wasn’t sure he was going to stick with it. The first year, he said, was a little tough. “I called my dad after it airs and he said that it was my mom’s favorite thing that I’ve done.” But, he stuck with it. And now? “I love it,” he said. 
2.    His favorite thing in DC is … the breakfast at Ted’s Bulletin. “They have a breakfast burrito that I get, I eat two of them at a time and people can’t believe it,” he said. Oh, and also his family. His family in the area includes a 3-year-old nephew, who when asked for real estate recommendations in the area, declared “you can live at our house!”
3.    Meanwhile, you can find Gooden at his favorite crab shack. “Quarterdeck in Arlington is my favorite, favorite restaurant,” he said. In the two years he’s known about the crab spot, he’s eaten there, he estimates, “800” times. 
4.    Good news for Wizards fans: He thinks the Wizards will be a team everyone sleeps on – and that’s great for them. “They’re going to have the opportunity to surprise a lot of people early,” he predicted. 
5.    Kutcher expects Rui Hachimura to … “be one of the steals of the draft.” Kutcher covered the new Wizard as a play-by-play announcer during Hachimura’s college career. “I would not be surprised if you see Rui average 15-18 points per game and close to 8 rebounds per game. I think he’s that type of player, he’s a really good kid, when I saw the Wizards drafted him I said that’s a great, great pick,” he said.
 

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Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Wizards' 2019 top prospects rankings: Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. lead the way

Though the maturation of the G-League has brought the NBA closer in line with MLB and its minor league farm system, there has been one noticeable element missing for those of us who follow the two sports closely. In baseball, multiple media outlets publish top prospect lists both league-wide and team-specific, yet the equivalents are nowhere to be found in basketball.

Prospect rankings are a great window into the future and they are fun to revisit years later to see who was right and who was wrong. But, so far, they haven’t become widespread in basketball.

The reason why may be rooted in semantics. Generally, basketball players are considered prospects before they are drafted. After they join teams, they just become regular players.

Part of that perception is simply because NBA players can impact their teams at a much younger age. While it is very rare to see a 19-year-old in the majors, it is commonplace in the NBA.

The Wizards, though, may be the perfect team to get this started with. They have a collection of players that are now out of college but have yet to establish themselves in the professional ranks. They are essentially prospects by baseball's definition.

So, in the interest of doing something new here, let's rank them...

1. Rui Hachimura, F

Age: 21
Strengths: midrange shooting, offensive versatility
Areas to improve: three-point shooting, passing

The ninth overall pick this past June, Hachimura is the highest draft pick the Wizards have selected since Otto Porter Jr. in 2013. He is 21, but young in basketball years because he didn't pick up the sport until Age 13. Yet, with three years of college under his belt, he comes in with the experience to likely make a difference right away. And with the Wizards' current roster state, he should have a big opportunity for minutes and shot attempts as a rookie.

Hachimura appears to have several NBA-ready skills, particularly on offense. He makes smart decisions with the ball in his hand and can score at all three levels. His outside shooting needs to be more consistent, but he can knock it down enough to be a threat. Defensively is where he will need to grow the most, but the potential seems to be there for him to develop until a versatile player on that end of the floor. 

Passing is another area he can improve. He didn't record many assists at all in college or in the Summer League. 

2. Troy Brown Jr., G/F

Age: 19
Strengths: rebounding, passing
Areas to improve: outside shooting, turnovers

Though Brown was drafted one year before Hachimura, he is still a year-and-a-half younger. He also didn't crack the Wizards' rotation until late in his rookie season. That makes him still very much a prospect as he enters his Age 20 campaign looking to make a much bigger impact in his second season than he did in his first.

The good news for Brown is that the minutes should be there. At this point he looks like at-worst the second small forward behind C.J. Miles and he should have a chance to battle for the starting job in training camp. With Isaiah Thomas' checkered injury history (he only played 12 games last year), there is a good chance Brown sees time at point guard as well, maybe even some starts there. We'll see.

Brown's passing and rebounding are up-to-speed for his size and position, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve his three-point shot. Though he dominated in his brief time in the Summer League, he still only shot 40.6 percent from the field. Also, the Wizards could really use a leap from him on defense because he has a relatively high ceiling on that end of the floor and most of their players do not.

3. Moe Wagner, C

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, free throw shooting
Areas to improve: defense, rebounding

The path to minutes isn't quite as clear for Wagner, who is probably going to be stuck behind Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant in the frontcourt. But the way he can crack the rotation is by hitting his threes, something he was not able to do as a rookie for the Lakers last season or in the 2019 Summer League for the Wizards.

Wagner presents intriguing long-term upside because of his shooting and his knack for getting to the rim off pump-fakes. But he needs to learn how to affect more shots around the rim, even if he can't block shots. And his rebounding could use some improvement, as his 9.8 rebounding percentage last season wouldn't even stand out for a wing player, much less a seven-footer.

4. Admiral Schofield, F

Age: 22
Strengths: outside shooting, team defense
Areas to improve: defense against taller players, ball-handling

The expectations should be low for Schofield in his rookie season, despite the fact he played four years in college and has an NBA-ready frame. Most second round picks don't make much of an impact early on and he is slotted to be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

Schofield's fastest way to NBA playing time is through his defense and three-point shooting, the two biggest reasons the Wizards drafted him. If he can provide toughness and an edge in the midrange, it will give the Wizards something they have lacked in recent years. And he shot at both a high percentage and for volume from three at Tennessee, and you can't have enough perimeter shooting these days.

5. Justin Robinson, G

Age: 23
Strengths: outside shooting, passing
Areas to improve: finishing around rim, turnovers

Like Schofield, Robinson is probably going to spend a good deal of his time with the Capital City Go-Go this season. But working in his favor is the team's lack of depth at point guard. They have Thomas, who again has some injury concerns. And they have Ish Smith, but there appears to be an opening at the third point guard spot.

Brown could fill the void and so could Jordan McRae. The Wizards could even give Bradley Beal more of an extended look running the offense. But the door seems to be open for Robinson to make an impact and early. He needs to focus on taking care of the ball, playing physical defense and making his open threes. The Wizards don't need Robinson to be a big-time scorer, but he can add spacing if he shoots from three as he did in college.

Honorable mention: Garrison Mathews, Isaac Bonga

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