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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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Jerome Robinson's shot the latest young player success story for the Wizards

Jerome Robinson's shot the latest young player success story for the Wizards

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards have become the land of opportunity, a place where second chances are given to NBA players too young to be considered reclamation projects. 

Shooting guard Jerome Robinson is the latest to be thrown into the mix. He was the 13th overall pick in 2018, but couldn't get minutes with the L.A. Clippers. Now he's in Washington with an opportunity that wasn't there for him when he was at the end of the bench on a title contender.

The Wizards, though, have a place and a role for him and that translated to the biggest shot of his NBA career on Wednesday night, as he made a go-ahead three with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter to lift Washington to a 110-106 win over the Brooklyn Nets.

“I had a really good look. At that point, when I saw it was wide-open, I had to take it," Robinson said. "At that point you just got to have all the confidence and let it go.”

Robinson sank the three, then on the next possession reeled in a rebound and made two free throws after getting fouled. All within about 10 seconds, he made three plays to give the Wizards the win.

But the shot stands out above all and it was a unique situation for a player of his level of experience. Star shooting guard Bradley Beal passed him the ball and in doing so showed a lot of trust in a player who hasn't proven much at the NBA level.

Robinson, though, didn't look like he was new to the moment. He knocked it down like a pro.

"Jerome didn't hesitate," head coach Scott Brooks said. "He has a tendency to hesitate and I'm telling them, 'he who hesitates doesn’t make shots.' I like that. He caught it, had confidence, he took the shot."

Being too timid with his shots is apparently a thing for Robinson. Brooks wasn't the only one who mentioned it.

"We've been telling him all night...it was a few where he was hesitating. We didn't bring him over here for no reason," Beal said. "If Coach [Scott Brooks] has you on the floor there's a reason you're out here."

“I remember the coaches were telling him [not to hesitate] and you have to shoot if you’re open," forward Rui Hachimura said. "We know he’s a good shooter. The last minutes, the last play, he didn’t hesitate, that’s why I think he made it.”

Robinson, 23, is still trying to build confidence, holding career averages of 36.6 percent shooting from the field and 30.7 percent from three. It is understandable why he would be a little unsure of himself when taking shots.

But after Wednesday, he has reason to believe. The Wizards gave them an opportunity and he seized it.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Bradley Beal trusting Jerome Robinson to win game vs. Nets spoke volumes

Bradley Beal trusting Jerome Robinson to win game vs. Nets spoke volumes

WASHINGTON -- Bradley Beal had scored 50-plus points in his previous two games. He had 30 on Wednesday night against the Nets, including 17 in the fourth quarter alone. If he chose to dribble his way out of the double-team and launch a hero-ball shot in the closing seconds, no one would have blamed him.

He is a star player having the best stretch of his basketball life. Why wouldn't he take the shot?

Well, he didn't. Instead of trying to win the game himself, Beal saw his teammate, Jerome Robinson, wide open on the wing. Robinson, just 23 and in his second year, hasn't proven much at the NBA level yet despite being a 2018 first round pick.

But he was open and passing to him for the open look made basketball sense, even if it required fighting off the urge to be the alpha dog. Fortunately for Beal and the Wizards, Robinson came through as the unlikely hero, as the Wizards knocked off the Nets, 110-106, to snap a three-game losing streak.

Robinson not only made the three to put the Wizards up two points, he then grabbed a rebound on the next play and sank two free throws to seal the win.

"Big props to Brad, trusting his teammates. That tells you what kind of person he is," Robinson said.

Beal is a two-time All-Star currently second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.1 points per game. But he has long taken pride in being an unselfish player, the type who fits seamlessly into a team-oriented system.

Sometimes that means taking what the defense gives him and Beal felt the Nets' approach dictated his decision. He had Garrett Temple, a scrappy defender, facing him up with Caris LeVert sprinting his way. That left Robinson in space.

"I'm not going to chuck it up from 45 when I've got two, three people running at me," Beal said. "I've got wide open teammates. Win, lose or draw, I'm always going to trust guys who are wide open."

Head coach Scott Brooks pointed out afterward how Beal made a similar play in the game before, when the Wizards lost in overtime to the Milwaukee Bucks. At the end of regulation, he passed to rookie Rui Hachimura under the basket and Hachimura was blocked by Robin Lopez.

The results were different, but two games in a row Beal showed faith in a young and inexperienced teammate. Hachimura, though already a standout, is a rookie. Robinson, a second-year player, has yet to find a niche in the NBA and was cast off by the Clippers in a trade just weeks ago.

Also helping the cause on Wednesday was the fact Beal has become a much better playmaker in recent years. This season he is averaging a career-high six assists per game and has improved that number now in four straight years.

Brooks believes he has adapted with All-Star point guard John Wall out due to injuries.

"It was three years ago by an unfortunate injury. John was out [and] missed 41 games that year and last year he missed 50 games. Brad has had a lot of reps [because] eams are going to double team him," Brooks said.

In the middle of a career-best hot streak, a lot of NBA players would have taken the shot. But Beal made the right basketball play and it led to a Wizards win.

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