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With John Wall's injury in mind, defense should be big priority for Wizards in 2019 draft

With John Wall's injury in mind, defense should be big priority for Wizards in 2019 draft

The Wizards will not truly know what they have in John Wall following his Achilles surgery until he returns to game action, and that may not be until the 2020-21 season. He is expected to be out at least 11 months, but there is a chance he misses a full year and owner Ted Leonsis has already endorsed the idea, if it is the best course for his recovery.

The Wizards, though, can start taking measures for Wall's return as soon as this week with Thursday's NBA Draft. Using the draft, trades and free agency, they can begin to build a roster around Wall to increase the odds he comes back an effective player.

Much of the analysis of how Wall will be affected by the injury has focused on the offensive end and whether he will lose some of his trademark speed. But there is an argument to be made that the defensive end will be a larger concern and the best area to find Wall some help.

Offensively, Wall will still have strengths to play to even if he is no longer the fastest, quickest player on the court. He is one of the league's best passers. When committed, he rebounds well for his position. And he could expand his game to the post with a size advantage over most of his opponents.

Would a more consistent three-point shot help? Sure, but he can still be effective.

Defensively, it might be a struggle and especially early on. He will be tasked with staying in front of cat-quick point guards like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker. Wall already had his defensive issues before the surgery and matters will only be more difficult now after an injury known for affecting lateral quickness.

What the Wizards can do is try to build a defensive foundation around Wall to mitigate those potential problems. They can surround him with physical perimeter defenders and install rim protection behind him. Then, Wall would be asked to do less. He could focus on playing sound team defense and directing his opponents into traffic created by his teammates.

The problem is that the Wizards will essentially have to build their defense from scratch. Though they have some capable defenders like Bradley Beal and Troy Brown Jr., and though Dwight Howard's rebounding will help, the Wizards are coming off a year in which they had one of the worst defensive units in the league. 

The Wizards were 27th in defensive rating and 29th in points allowed. They gave up the fifth-most three-pointers and at the fourth-highest percentage. And they surrendered more field goals within five feet of the rim than any other team.

Defense has been highlighted as a major long-term need by the Wizards' current staff, though they still hold the 'interim' label until further notice. Under head coach Scott Brooks, the team has made strides on offense but has lost their way defending the ball. They want more balance moving forward.

Several of Brooks' assistants are not under contract for next season and the team has explored hiring a defensive specialist, according to a person with knowledge of their plans. One assistant who could be replaced is Maz Trakh. He is in contract limbo and has not been present at the team's pre-draft workouts.

NBA coaches, though, can only do so much. A defensive renaissance will have to come from the players.

The Wizards will have some options that could help when they are on the board with the ninth overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft. It could be a shot-blocker like Bol Bol, Brandon Clarke or Jaxson Hayes. Nassir Little would add toughness to the perimeter. Sekou Doumbouya would give them versatility.

Revamping their defense probably wouldn't include re-signing Bobby Portis or Jabari Parker, the latter of which has a team option the Wizards are likely to decline later this month. Thomas Bryant and Tomas Satoransky aren't lockdown defenders, either, but do offer some upside on that end.

With limited money to spend, free agency won't offer any quick fixes for the Wizards. The best they could likely do is find cheap players to help begin an overall culture change. 

When it comes to the draft, the Wizards do not have the luxury to draft solely for need. They have to get the best player available, no matter the position. That could even be a point guard, despite Wall being due $170 million over the next four years.

But it might be smart to favor defense over offense and the same applies to free agency and beyond. That approach could come in handy once Wall is ready to go.

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3 biggest moments in Wizards 125-121 loss to Magic

3 biggest moments in Wizards 125-121 loss to Magic

The Washington Wizards couldn't continue their winning ways against the Orlando Magic on Sunday, falling despite an admirable comeback attempt. 

Here are the game's top three moments. 

Brad Beal injury scare

Bradley Beal has been on a scoring tear of late, notching consecutive 44-point outputs against the Celtics and Timberwolves. But before he could really get going Sunday night, he had an injury scare after rolling his right ankle. 

Beal is far and away the most important player on the roster given John Wall's long rehab from an achilles injury, so an ankle injury would seriously hinder the Wizards chances at staying in games. Thankfully, he stayed out on the court and almost orchestrated an admirable fourth quarter comeback with some smooth shooting from deep. His 34 points were a game high. 

Boost from the Bench

The Wizards have plenty of offensive contributors in the starting five, and on the bench. The second unit trio of CJ Miles, Moritz Wagner and Davis Bertans produced 48 points on the night. Miles was feeling it from deep, going 6-7 from behind the arc to offset some shooting troubles from Troy Brown Jr., who had two points on 1-5 FGM.

Despite only combining for eight points on the night, Brown Jr. was able to connect with rookie Rui Hachimura for a highlight-reel alley-oop

Local Product Markelle Fultz seals the game

D.C. native and Dematha alum Markelle Fultz seems to be settling into the Orlando Magic offense. With 19 points, a career-high two 3-pointers and some great transition basketball, Fultz terrorized the Wizards backcourt all night long. Although it's clear this roster wasn't built for defense, the strategy of leaving Fultz wide open for uncontested threes certainly backfired. 

Beal, on an impressive shooting hot streak down the stretch and only down three with under a minute to go, has his kickout pass deflected by Fultz, who then sealed the game with a dunk over Bertans on the other end. 

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Rui Dunk Tracker: Troy Brown Jr. lobs it to Hachimura for the alley-oop

Rui Dunk Tracker: Troy Brown Jr. lobs it to Hachimura for the alley-oop

Rookie sensation Rui Hachimura has been an inside menace for opposing forwards early in his fledgling NBA career. That didn't change against the Orlando Magic on Sunday night. 

The first dunk came off a beautifully crafted pick and roll with Troy Brown Jr., who lobbed it up for a Hachimura alley-oop. Some great chemistry from the young guys there. 

The Japanese international is averaging 13.8 ppg and 5.7 rpg through his first 10 games, shooting an efficient 50.8% from the field during that stretch. More offensive athleticism like this will do well to take a load off Bradley Beal's shoulders. Beal scored back-to-back 44-point games in a Boston loss and win against Minnesota, but will need more help from his teammates if the Wizards want to improve on their 3-7 record. He scored 13 points in the first half versus Orlando. 

The No. 9 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft has been a matchup headache for defenders with his combination of size and speed. Deployed at the four, he's been both too fast for bigger defenders and too strong for smaller defenders. 

Here's to hoping for more Hachimura dunks in the games ahead!

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