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Wizards GM search: How Pelicans hiring David Griffin alters approach

Wizards GM search: How Pelicans hiring David Griffin alters approach

It's time to update the Wizards general manager search. Perhaps the most prominent available candidate is off the board.

David Griffin, who led the Cavaliers’ front office during the team’s 2016 NBA Championship season, is set to become the executive VP of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans, ESPN reported Friday.

Griffin served as an NBA analyst since leaving Cleveland in 2017. While not the hottest rumored candidate for the Wizards opening, Griffin expressed general interest in the position and the opportunity to work with owner Ted Leonsis, sources told NBC Sports Washington. 

Instead, Griffin lands with the Pelicans. New Orleans interviewed several front office types for the position including their interim GM Danny Ferry, Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon and Wizards senior VP of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard.

When the regular season ended this week, the Wizards, Pelicans, Suns and Timberwolves were the teams with front office openings. Plenty changed since beyond Griffin's hire.

You may have heard, but Magic Johnson abruptly resigned as the Lakers team president. Chaotic as the scene may be in LA, the opening suddenly becomes the league’s most desirable. Immediate buzz named Griffin among the top replacement candidates primarily because of his prior history with Lakers star LeBron James.

Phoenix removed the interim tag and gave James Jones its GM job Thursday. 

Minnesota reportedly aims to hire a new president of basketball operations. 

Meanwhile, Memphis underwent a front office and coaching shakeup Thursday.

On April 2, Leonsis revealed he would consult with a search firm to aid in finding Grunfeld’s replacement. The Wizards aren’t necessarily racing against these teams – Leonsis expects a three-week or so reflection period – but some target overlap is inevitable though perhaps not with the lone official candidate. 

That would be Sheppard, now the interim head of Washington’s front office following the firing of longtime team president Ernie Grunfeld. Leonsis immediately declared Sheppard in the mix following the Grunfeld news. 

While loud portions of the Wizards fan base show skepticism because of his lengthy work history with Grunfeld, Sheppard is well respected around the league. Several organizations brought him in for GM interviews in recent seasons. Moving Sheppard into the lead role would increase the use of analytics and other innovative methods.

Ferry, the son of former Bullets GM Bob Ferry, and Langdon are among the other names frequently mentioned by league sources along with Nuggets president Tim Connelly and Thunder VP of Basketball Operations Troy Weaver.

Connelly, a Baltimore native, began his NBA career as an intern with the Wizards in 1996. After a stint in New Orleans, he joined Denver in 2013. The Nuggets became of the league’s most impressive stories this season, and enter the postseason as the two-seed in the challenging Western Conference. 

Leaving a situation poised for a multi-season run of success for a Wizards team coming off a 32-50 season and perhaps without injured guard John Wall for most of next season seems surprising on the outside. Sources tell NBC Sports Washington that personal considerations make the idea of returning to the area attractive for Connelly. 

Langdon’s potential stands out considering the obstacles facing the next hire.

The former Duke star and NBA veteran served as a scout for three years with San Antonio before becoming Brooklyn’s assistant GM in 2016. Langdon and Nets GM Sean Marks inherited a dismal situation in Brooklyn after the team traded away numerous first-round picks in the 2014 trade with Boston for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Thanks to a series of creative trades – acquiring draft picks attached to unwanted contracts – Brooklyn improved from 20 wins in 2016-17 to a 42-40 record this season and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. 

Washington’s challenges are different, but creativity is required. Wall’s injury recovery occurs while his $170 million supermax contract kicks in next season. All-Star Bradley Beal may become eligible for a supermax if named to the All-NBA team this year. Beal is the lone proven high-rotation player on the roster heading into next season, and yet the Wizards might not have more than approximately $20 million in cap space depending on what happens with their free agents this summer.

Boston assistant GM Mike Zarren is another reported candidate, but the lifelong Celtics fan leaving the organization after 14 years would surprise some near the team. 

Some team snagging Griffin or franchise turmoil elsewhere is the opposite of surprising. Just don’t be shocked if other organizations start pushing the pace now that one of the biggest GM names available went off the board.

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Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

John Wall last played in an NBA game on December 26, 2018. He's expected to come back at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, and once he makes his long-awaited return to the Wizards' starting lineup, he'll find himself in a much different point guard landscape than the one he left. 

The position has changed, traditional point guards are mostly a thing of the past. NBA offenses are either run through multiple ball-handlers who can score and facilitate, or they're one-man shows centered around highly skilled individuals such as James Harden and Luka Doncic. 

Wall has consistently been one of the best in the league at his position, but after missing a year to an Achilles injury, it's hard to forecast where his game will be come next season. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 point guards in the game (all presumed healthy), and see where Wall falls on the list. 

1. James Harden
2. Luka Doncic
3. Damian Lillard
4. Steph Curry
5. Chris Paul
6. Kyrie Irving
7. John Wall
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Kemba Walker
10. Kyle Lowry

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Wall has the talent to be in the top three of this list for sure, though it's difficult to put him anywhere but No. 7 right now. He's probably a tier above Walker and Lowry, while Wall and Westbrook are more comparable players. 

Irving, Curry and Lillard are too good and have been consistently great enough to where you can't put them below Wall, while Paul might be a great inspiration for players like Wall. Paul keeps getting older and keeps getting hurt but he's still so, so good. 

Then you have the two walking offensive systems in Doncic and Harden. Their production and what they do for their teams as primary ball-handlers is mostly unmatched across the eight players listed below them. 

Wall could rise all the way to the top of this list if he plays to his full abilities. The speed, perimeter defense, passing and dribble penetration made him an All-NBA level player. If Wall can improve his accuracy from beyond the arc, take more threes and fewer mid-range jumpers, I don't see why he can't see an uptick in efficiency even if his athleticism isn't what it used to be.

It's not a reach to say the Wizards' contention hopes depend heavily on whether Wall plays back to All-Star form or not. An Achilles injury is incredibly challenging to bounce back from, especially for a player like Wall whose game has had so much to do with speed and explosion in the past. 

The good news is he's had a chance to digest the game from a different perspective and time to fine-tune his jumper, while his Wizards teammates, especially Bradley Beal, are better than when he last suited up. 

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2020 NBA Draft: Robert Woodard II could be one of the best prospects no one is talking about

2020 NBA Draft: Robert Woodard II could be one of the best prospects no one is talking about

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: Robert Woodard II

Team: Mississippi State
Position: SF
Age: 20 (turns 21 in September)
Height: 6-7
Weight: 230
Wingspan: 7-1

2019/20 stats: 31 G, 33.1 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.0 bpg, 49.5 FG% (4.4/8.9), 42.9 3PT% (1.0/2.3), 64.1 FT%

Player comparison: Jae Crowder, Chandler Parsons

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, Sports Illustrated 43rd, Ringer 28th, NBADraft.net N/A, Bleacher Report N/A

5 things to know:

*Few players in college basketball took as big of a jump as Woodard from his freshman year to his sophomore season. He transitioned from a bench role player that could do a little bit of everything, into an able-bodied scorer off the ball that could take advantage of multiple size matchups. His scoring improved by a six-point average and had a key role in the Bulldogs' offense.

*Most impressive for Woodard was the development of an outside shot. His growth included a 15% jump from long-range with an added confidence to score at all three levels. Mind you, his 42.9% shooting was only on 70 attempts and an area of his game that was not previously highlighted. 

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*How Woodard fits on an NBA roster is what has mock draft experts split on where he will be selected. Some don't even have him being drafted. It seems he's most natural on the floor playing as a guard, however, he has a high dribble and commits two turnovers a game for someone that typically does not run the point. He has the accuracy to be a wing scorer, but lacks the consistent shot selection of a 3-point threat. Some evaluators see him as an undersized four, for his rebounding and presence around the rim, but his post-moves are really nonexistent. 

*Woodard is built well and has an NBA-ready frame. It led him to be an effective rebounder 6.5 boards per game as a nontraditional post player and a good defender with the agility to block shots. He also has a high basketball IQ which makes him a high-level defender off the ball.

*Woodard's father, Robert Woodard is Mississippi's all-time high school scorer with 4,274 points. He also continued his playing days at Mississippi State. 

Fit with Wizards: Positional flexibility with a knack for hitting 3-pointers would be why the Wizards would take a chance on Woodard. Many of the fundamentals of his game are already set which wouldn't mean Washington would need to spend time on development. 

He has a similar offensive game to Rui Hachimura: Nice size and build, that occasionally also steps out behind the arc. He can also rotate to multiple positions.

How the Wizards would utilize Woodard remains to be seen though. Backing up Hachimura, who was drafted just the year prior is not a long-term sustainable plan. Having Woodard even be a bigger wing (ie. Davis Bertans if re-signed) would be another back-up role. Yet, Woodard does not nearly jack up as many threes as Bertans. Playing Woodard as a guard isn't really in the cards either.

A depth piece that can fit in multiple spots is Woodard's biggest asset for the Wizards. And from there they could develop him into the role they see fit. His one season of a robust 3-point shooter is not enough to see that being his future.

There's not much to justify him going in the lottery. However, if Tommy Sheppard wants to add a young, NBA ready-built player in the second round or even as an undrafted free agent, Woodard could provide value in those spots. The athleticism and ability are there.

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