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After losing out in NBA draft lottery, Wizards' best option is to trade back

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USA TODAY SPORTS

After losing out in NBA draft lottery, Wizards' best option is to trade back

Despite their fair share of bad luck over the years, the Washington Wizards have generally found good fortune at the NBA Draft lottery. But that was far from the case on Tuesday night in Chicago, as they fell from sixth to ninth and basically landed their worst-case scenario.

Though they technically could have picked as low as 10th, their odds of doing so were less than one percent. Ninth was the worst realistic option. They had only a 3.8 percent chance of landing there, yet sure enough that is where they fell.

Now that they will have no chance at the top prospects like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, the Wizards' best bet is to trade back and acquire more picks. They only have one pick in this year's draft and do not own one in the second round until 2023. 

They need more draft assets for a variety of reasons. For one, they are in a difficult salary cap situation where they lack cheap, high-upside players. The best way to find those is in the draft.

Also, they are set to hire a new team president, one that will likely want to put his fingerprints on the roster. It will be hard to do so without more picks to work with.

And this year's draft is considered very top heavy. Beyond Williamson, Morant and R.J. Barrett, there is not a ton of depth. There may not be much separating the ninth-best prospect from, say, the 13th.

Also, recent history has shown that teams do not have to move back far to stock up. Last year, the Hawks went from third to fifth and picked up a first round pick from the Mavericks. 

The Sixers went from 10th to 16th and got an unprotected 2021 first round pick from the Heat by way of the Suns. Also last year, the Hornets went back just one spot from 11th to 12th and got two second round picks.

The Kings have made a living off the practice. In 2017, they went back from 10th and got both the 15th and 20th picks from the Blazers. In 2016, Sacramento traded back from eighth and got two first round picks - 13th and 28th - as well as a 2020 second round pick and the draft rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was a 2014 first round pick and has turned into a solid pro.

There are plenty of teams that could package a pick this year and a future asset to move up, but also a few that have multiple 2019 first round picks that could strike a deal with Washington. The Boston Celtics have the 14th, 20th and 22nd picks. The Brooklyn Nets own the 17th and the 27th picks this year. 

Trading back isn't something the Wizards have usually done. Former team president Ernie Grunfeld didn't once trade back in the first round in his 16 years with the team. He traded first round picks away for veterans and once traded up to get Kelly Oubre Jr. in 2015, but he never traded back in the first for more picks.

Those types of deals also don't usually happen until draft night. The Wizards will likely want to see how the board shakes out on June 20 before making a deal. Maybe someone like De'Andre Hunter of Virginia or Cam Reddish of Duke unexpectedly drops and they can't pass up the opportunity to take them.

But all it takes is one team to fall in love with a player that is out of their reach. If the Wizards find one of those teams, they should see what they can get in return.

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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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