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NBA Draft Insider sees viable risk-reward options for Wizards at No. 9

NBA Draft Insider sees viable risk-reward options for Wizards at No. 9

CHICAGO -- The NBA Draft lottery happened and went splat for the Wizards. No shot at selecting Duke forward Zion Williamson or Murray State guard Ja Morant. No moving up the board, no holding steady. Instead, Washington fell back to the ninth selection despite a less than four percent chance of falling there.

Get over it and focus on the interesting prospects likely available.

That’s the positive advice from ESPN’s lead NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony as the 2019 NBA Combine sets to tip-off Thursday,

“The best players in the draft rarely go 1-2-3 as we anticipate on the night of the draft,” Givony told NBC Sports Washington. “Year after year we re-draft and see how it goes. (2013 No. 1 overall pick) Anthony Bennett goes here; Giannis Antetokounmpo goes (15th in 2013). Whatever, the draft happened and now it’s time to move on and discuss some guys.”

While the 2019 talent lacks a deep talent pool at the top relative to other years, Givony said, “[The Wizards] are going to get an interesting, young talent. This is the Zion draft, but there are other players that are going to be good in this draft.”

Consensus remains elusive with the prospect order nearly one month ahead of the June 20 draft other than Williamson and Morant likely going off the board 1-2, followed immediately by Duke’s RJ Barrett.

Two players last seen in the national championship game, Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter and Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver, project among the top 4-8 selections. Another Duke player, forward Cam Reddish, could slide to nine, but don’t hold your breath considering his potential.

Based on the No. 9 pick, the draft class and a Wizards roster lacking bodies, the debate is less about need vs. best player available and more about upside vs. identity. The first-round selection may become the first major personnel move by the next general manager. Washington remains without a set front office head since Ernie Grunfeld’s dismissal on April 2.

If there’s a go big mentality, there might not be a more on the nose candidate than Bol Bol.

The 7-foot-2 son of ex-Washington Bullet Manute arrived on the college basketball scene last season as the fourth overall prospect behind those three Duke heavyweights. The slender center only got to show off his unique size and skill combination in nine games before fracturing his foot in December.

“I think Bol is really interesting,” Givony said. “If he didn’t get hurt I think we’d be talking about him in that top four group."

Bol averaged 21.0 points. 9.6 rebounds and shot 52 percent from beyond the arc before suffering the season-ending injury after nine games.

“Offensively the upside may be the highest in the draft. How often can you find a  guy who is 7-foot-2, can shoot threes, pass it, has amazing touch, can move the way he does and block shots? The guy’s talent is unreal,” Givony gushed. “Maybe that’s the guy you take at nine and (think) if things would have worked out differently for him he’s’ a top four pick.”

For this potential reward comes sizeable risk. While Bol measured a 7-foot-7 wingspan at the Combine according to ESPN, he weighed a mere 208 pounds after tipping the scales around 225-230 pre-injury. Powerful NBA big men would push Bol around even at the higher weight.

Other concerns exist with Bol’s attitude and passion. Or at least they did entering college. One NBA scout told NBC Sports Washington,“[Bol] was considered a bad kid, entitled. I didn’t want anything to do with him.” That specific source suggested the desired turnaround occurred during the season. Givony concurred.

“[Desire] was a definite knock on him going into college, but I’ve heard he’s made major strides in that area this year,” Givony said.

Evaluating Sekou Doumbouya, the youngest prospect in the 2019 class, presents different challenges -- and potential.

The 6-foot-9 forward from Guinea plays professionally in France’s top league. Maturity in multiple ways is a question mark for the 210-pound, 18-year-old old, but Givony sees a prospect worthy of lottery consideration. Givony slotted Doumbouya to Washington in his first post-lottery draft.

“I think he makes a lot of sense (for the Wizards),” Givony said. “What he’s doing in France, it’s not what (Mavericks rookie) Luka Doncic did in Real Madrid, but it’s very, very rare. He’s starting, he’s productive. He’s making shots. He’s guarding everybody. He’s their best defender. He’s athletic. He’s long. He’s multi-positional. His shooting has made significant strides. He’s what the NBA is looking for these days, that wing forward type. Can guard everywhere, make a three. Athletic, has a great frame. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t one of the players the Wizards looked at."

Doumbouya did not attend this week’s Combine. Don’t fret. There’s a good chance the Wizards have a thick file on the kid thanks to Tommy Sheppard’s relentless scouting.

“There’s not an executive I see on the road more than [Tommy] throughout the year, especially this year," Givony said. “He’s prepared for this.”

Whether Sheppard, the Wizards’ interim front office leader since Grunfeld’s dismissal, makes the pick at nine remains unclear. Sheppard is one of several candidates in consideration. The group reportedly includes Denver president Tim Connelly.

What’s also uncertain is which players will be available at nine and how the Wizards’ eventual decision-makers value those options.

“I’m not sure the player you get ninth is any different from the player you get sixth. It’s beauty in the eye of the beholder. Maybe a guy we have projected 13th goes seventh,” said Givony, who acknowledges his big board is hardly set. He also believes the Wizards are positioned to add help.

“I’m not that smart to know how this thing is going to play out five weeks before,” Givony said. “Anytime you have a top 10 asset I think it’s a pretty valuable asset. I’m sure Tommy and his group will use it wisely -- if he’s the one making the pick.”



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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.