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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