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NBA Draft 2020: Isaac Okoro would be a huge defensive improvement for the Wizards

NBA Draft 2020: Isaac Okoro would be a huge defensive improvement for the Wizards

The Washington Wizards are likely to have a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2020 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Isaac Okoro

Team: Auburn
Position: Forward
Age: 19
Height: 6-6
Weight: 225
Wingspan: 6-8.5

2019/20 stats: 28 G, 31.5 mpg, 12.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.9 bpg, 51.4 FG% (4.5/8.7), 29.0 3PT% (0.7/2.5), 67.2 FT%

Player comparison: OG Anunoby, Andre Iguodala 

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 4th, Sports Illustrated 6th, Ringer 10th, NBADraft.net 7th, Bleacher Report 9th

5 things to know:

*Okoro is one of the most explosive athletes in this draft. He embodies exactly what NBA teams are looking for in a multi-skilled, all-around athlete. As a 6-foot-6 wing, he has the strength to get into the paint but the speed, passing and ballhandling of a guard. Okoro will need to improve on his range, especially given his size, but is already built to compete against NBA talent. 

*His best skill is his defensive coverage. Not many players projected to be lottery picks have the same open-court defensive ability of Okoro. He can guard all five positions and have a ton of success. Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl called him the best defensive guard he's ever coached. A team that doesn't immediately need a playmaker but a solid piece (i.e. the Warriors), could really utilize a player like Okoro. 

*Okoro has played at an elite level for several years now. In 2018 he was a member of the United States Under-17 team playing alongside James Wiseman, Wendell Moore and R.J. Hampton. Most of his contributions came off the bench (4.3 points and 1.6 steals per game) s the team went on to win the gold medal at the FIBA championship.

*Injuries are not common for Okoro. However, he did strain his hamstring last season that forced him to miss three games. Once he was out of the lineup of one of the top-five teams in the country (the only non-senior starter), Auburn inexplicably lost to inferior opponents Missouri and Georgia. The offense just looked clunky and out of sorts without him. His scoring ability may not be as such of an asset as other areas of his game, but he is a key figure in an offensive rotation. 

*At 19 Okoro already had one jersey retirement. McEachern High School retired Okoro's No. 35 after four all-Georgia honorees and a 32-0 record his senior season.

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Fit with Wizards: A wing without much of a 3-point game might not be exactly what the Wizards are looking for in this year's draft. Washington has plenty of players who have a natural driving ability in John Wall, Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura.

What Okoro would bring though is a defensive intensity that is lacking from their guard play and a leader off the bench. The 19-year-old would immediately become Washington's best and most versatile defender.

His build and size are similar to a typical NBA frame. Even if he came in a game as a specialist, Okoro is 'NBA ready.'

Okoro could play in any lineup. He doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective. A high basketball IQ could have him flirting between multiple units, as long as that unit doesn't need him to be an outside shooter. Small lineup or big lineup, he could find himself in any role.

There are few Wizards that have those abilities; to guard all five positions and have versatility for his size. Isaac Bonga has a game that is consistent with Okoro's, but Okoro has far more confidence and ballhandling ability. By no means is he a flashy player, but solid all around.

That is where he might be a target for the Wizards. Last draft general manager Tommy Sheppard went with the safe, solid pick in Hachimura over several potential playmakers that were available. It paid off. Okoro could be the safe and solid pick this season as well. 

Over time he will need to improve on his shooting range. It's difficult to have a long career as a wing with just a physical style and strong defense. 

If he's the best player available when the Wizards select their pick, he should be the guy that comes off the board. 

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Bradley Beal knows how much returning to NBA games will mean to John Wall

Bradley Beal knows how much returning to NBA games will mean to John Wall

The NBA currently has plans to open its 2020-21 regular season in December. If that holds true, John Wall will take the floor for the first time in nearly two full years.

He had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles in February 2019, but had been out since the previous December due to bone spurs. Two years is a long time to sit out, especially when it coincides with what should be a player's prime.

Bradley Beal, meanwhile, has continued to lead the Wizards in Wall's absence. And now that his 2019-20 season has been shut down, he too is looking towards next year and he can't wait to reunite with his partner in the backcourt.

"Oh man, I'm beyond excited. I'm not going to lie," Beal said Sundy afternoon on NBC Sports Washington.

But beyond his own anticipation, Beal has grown close enough to Wall over the years to understand how much returning to the court will mean to him. Wall has not only been out of the game for a while, much has changed during that time. He has spoken sentimentally about what his first game will mean to him.

It will be the first game since his mother's death due to cancer. And it will be the first time he will play in front of his son.

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Wall has lived a tumultous life. Beal knows full well what the game of basketball has meant to him throughout all of it.

"I'm more happy for him than anything because he gets to get back on the floor. He hasn't been on the floor in a long time," Beal said. "For him to be able to get his place of peace, his muse back and his love and joy back, I think that will be great. I'm definitely looking forward to just us together."

When Wall does play again, there will be plenty of focus on how he looks when he returns after so much time off and after a very serious injury. There have been encouraging reports and video footage of him playing in practice situations, but the true test will be in an NBA game situation.

RELATED: WALL LOOKS AS GOOD AS EVER IN LATEST WORKOUT VIDEO

In that time, Beal's game has transformed significantly. He has blossomed into a two-time All-Star who now counts an expanded repertoire of play-making skills. He was forced to add elements to his game with Wall out of the mix.

Though they have played seven NBA seasons together, there is some intrigue and mystery about how they will look when they reunite. Both should be different players and people than they were when they last shared the court.

The Wizards' roster has also been overhauled around them. They have young players on the rise like Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant.

"With where I've taken my game to him being a five-time All-Star, we can really grow our team and our young stars that we have in the making," Beal said. "I'm excited and I know the fans are too. It can't come any faster."

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Wizards-Pacers will be DeMatha High School reunion with Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant

Wizards-Pacers will be DeMatha High School reunion with Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant

DeMatha High School head coach Mike Jones can still remember the conversations between Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant when they were underclassmen, some of those discussions which were in passing, that they didn't even know he heard.

Long before they became NBA first round picks, the two were best friends. They would sit in the locker room in Hyattsville, MD and marvel over what it would be like to someday make it to the league.

"They used to talk about playing in the NBA, they used to talk about making it. They used to talk about playing against each other," Jones told NBC Sports Washington.

On Monday at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington, Grant and Oladipo's teams will square off in the NBA's campus in Orlando. Grant now plays for his hometown Wizards, the team his father also played for, while Oladipo is in his third year with the Indiana Pacers.

"To be able to see their dreams come true, it's incredibly rewarding because I know they did everything they were supposed to do to make that happen," Jones said.

As Jones can attest, both Grant and Oladipo did not take the path many first round picks did. Both arrived at DeMatha without any hype. They had to start out on the freshman team and work their way up to varsity. And they did it the hard way.

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They would show up early in the morning before school to work out at what is known as the 'Breakfast Club.' The rules are simple. You show up dressed and ready to go by six in the morning or else you aren't allowed in the gym.

Grant would travel from 30 minutes away and Oladipo from 45 minutes out. Grant would set his alarm and walk into his mother's room and bounce on the bed to wake her up. 

"He woke his mom up, he woke his ride up to take him to the gym. It wasn't the other way around. That's love for the game," Jones said.

RELATED: 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM WIZARDS LOSS TO NETS

Once they arrived at school, the gym would be opened by David Adkins, who is now an assistant coach for the Wizards and will be sitting on the bench on Monday. Adkins cut his teeth in the high school ranks, but now leads an expansive player development program for an NBA team.

Those early morning workouts helped Grant and Oladipo rise through DeMatha's vaunted basketball system, which has produced many stars at all levels of the game. Monday's NBA slate also features other alums from the school like Jerami Grant of the Nuggets, Jerian's brother, and Quinn Cook of the Lakers.

But just having the talent and going to DeMatha isn't enough to make it to the sport's highest level. It takes a level of determination not everyone has.

Grant and Oladipo each went the extra mile to go from unheralded high school players to big-time college stars to NBA first round picks. They have become testimonials for Jones to cite to the young players he coaches today.

"It makes it easier for someone to listen to you, but let's be honest, kids are funny. You can say the No. 1 pick in the draft [Markelle Fultz] didn't play varsity until he was a junior, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft [Oladipo] didn't start on varsity until his senior year," Jones said. 

"I can throw those stories out to an eighth grader and he's looking at me like 'yeah, that's cool but I'm ready to play varsity today.' It probably doesn't help as much on the front end, but during the process it helps because when a young man doesn't have immediate success, we can point to those guys."

For those who are willing to put in the time, Grant and Oladipo represent shining examples of what hard work can lead to. Jones believes their success is validation for his program and also the basketball talent in the D.C. area as a whole.

But Jones knows that for this particular duo it also represents something on a more personal level.

"Just their friendship, their partnerhood, their bond together; I've never seen anything like it," Jones said. "I'm so proud to have been able to watch them up close."

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