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Wizards' pre-draft interviews include Jalen Smith, Immanuel Quickley in adjusted process

Wizards' pre-draft interviews include Jalen Smith, Immanuel Quickley in adjusted process

Despite the suspension of games, the postponement of the draft lottery and the uncertainty of when the 2020 NBA Draft will be held, the pre-draft process has continued in earnest around the league as teams are poring over film and even interviewing prospects.

The interviewing process began with seniors and international players and has now grown to include underclassmen, as the list of players was compiled and distributed recently. The Washington Wizards have been gathering as much information as possible by interacting with prospects on video conference calls.

They recently spoke with Immanuel Quickley of Kentucky and have plans this week to interview Jalen Smith of Maryland, NBC Sports Washington has learned. Both players are projected first round picks. The Wizards also interviewed Arizona big man Zeke Nnaji, who is expected to fall in the late second round or go undrafted.

The methods are different than in years past, but the Wizards are doing what they can to learn more about each player. Usually, players fly in for in-person workouts and go through all sorts of drills. The Wizards are notoriously tough in those settings, pushing players through strenuous exercises that test a player's physical conditioning and resolve.

When players visit, there is a physical aspect of seeing them up close and getting measurements. But really it is about gleaning the intangibles and trying to do that over a video conference changes the calculus.

 

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For instance, last year Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard had some team staffers report back to him on their interactions with prospects who made visits. By staffers, meaning equipment managers, development coaches and the like; essentially, not people like Sheppard or head coach Scott Brooks or Frank Ross, their vice president of player personnel. 

Sheppard wanted to know how players treated people when they weren't around. Agents prepare their players for how to greet and respond to Sheppard, but what about the junior public relations official? That can be used as data for which to judge a player's character; i.e. how they act when the big boss isn't watching.

So, there are challenges to the new process, but also some potential positives. For the players, they don't have to criss-cross around the country in what becomes probably the most grueling travel schedule of their basketball lives. Some players, often the ones who aren't projected first round picks, have to fly all over the place. They go from Brooklyn to San Antonio, then back East to D.C., often times sacrificing sleep.

The adjusted interview process may also allow the Wizards to speak with many more players. At the moment, they are a bit limited by the absence of the draft lottery. With the ninth-best odds, they may have to wait to schedule interviews with the top picks who as of now would not fall to their range.

For now, what the Wizards can do is talk to as many viable draft prospects as possible. Like, Quickley and Smith who are both projected by mock drafts to be taken in the 20s.

Quickley, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard, is a talented scorer. He was the SEC player of the year this season with averages of 16.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. His best selling point may be his 42.8 three-point percentage on 4.8 attempts per game.

Quickley could develop into a microwave scorer in the mold of a Lou Williams or Kendrick Nunn. And with a reported 6-foot-10 wingspan, he is also considered a plus-defender.

Smith, also a sophomore, is a 6-foot-10 big man with length and bounce. He put up eye-catching numbers for the Terps, averaging 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. He even shot 36.8 percent from three on 2.8 attempts.

The Wizards badly need rim protection and rebounding, and he does both. He would also give them another shooter to spread the floor, arguably the ideal type of center to pair with Rui Hachimura.

The Wizards saw a lot of Smith up close this season, as he plays in their backyard at College Park. They didn't cut any corners with Smith and two other NBA prospects in Anthony Cowan Jr. and Aaron Wiggins also on Maryland.

Specifically to Quickley and Smith, if the Wizards really like either of them they could be faced with the same scenario they had two years ago with Moe Wagner. They brought Wagner in for two workouts and loved what they saw, but couldn't justify taking him with the 15th overall pick. He instead fell to the Lakers at 25, so they waited a year and traded for him.

There is always the possibility they evaluate a player higher than everyone else. It happened to different extents each of the past two years with Hachimura and Troy Brown Jr., both of whom some argued were reaches where they were picked.

Especially with Hachimura, who has been very good as a rookie, the Wizards proved they knew what they are doing in deviating from the mock drafts. Their internal evaluation has so far proven right.

Another question still lingering about the pre-draft process is how long it will be. Usually, the calendar follows the same routine as previous years. Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the lottery has been pushed back without finalized regular season standings to determine the odds. Will the draft follow? If so, when will it take place?

All the Wizards can do is keep putting their notes together and making the most of what has been an unusual, but still productive period of building their big board.

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Moe Wagner had to get creative to train during quarantine with a hoop in his driveway

Moe Wagner had to get creative to train during quarantine with a hoop in his driveway

Playing basketball in your driveway, that is relatable. Doing so to prepare for NBA games while in the middle of a league shutdown due to a worldwide pandemic; well, that is unusual.

But for Wizards center Moe Wagner, training during quarantine required some creativity before the team reopened their practice facility in early June. First, he rented out the townhouse below his to set up a workout space. It was vacant, allowing Wagner to use training equipment with enough space for a 7-footer to move around.

"We set up a little gym," Wagner said.

Wagner's schedule was regimented by Zoom workouts hosted by the Wizards trainers and coaching staff. But eventually, that wasn't enough.

Wagner had his brother, Franz, with him. Franz plays for the University of Michigan, where Wagner starred before becoming a first round draft pick in 2018.

"Eventually my brother and I got a little eager to shoot a ball, so my agent had us sent a basketball hoop for outside which we built. It took us like three days," Wagner explained.

"We played a little bit in the garage in the middle of the city. It was kind of an absurd situation, but you will take what you can get, I guess."

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The garage Wagner and his brother played in was without a roof. They are common in Washington, D.C., especially in Northeast. So, it was technically a garage but more like a walled off driveway.

"[We] set it up in my back alley. Every time a car drives by, you have to wait. Obviously, it's very old school. You're going back to the roots a little bit. But after six weeks of not touching a ball, you're like 'we've gotta do something, man.' I'm a professional basketball player and I haven't touched a basketball in six weeks. That ain't right," Wagner said.

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Waiting when cars drive by makes sense. Driveways are big enough for kids to shoot around in. But Wagner requires a bit more range to spread out and practice NBA threes.

Wagner indicated he did not shoot a ball for roughly six weeks. That would mean he set the hoop up around the end of April. If that is the case, he was likely more fortunate than many other young players who went longer without being able to shoot.

That's the big variable with the league's hiatus; who had the resources to train, either to just stay sharp or potentially even improve. Wagner was able to keep working on his game, it just took a good deal of creativity. 

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Wizards will face Lakers, Clippers in Orlando's NBA exhibition schedule

Wizards will face Lakers, Clippers in Orlando's NBA exhibition schedule

Before the Wizards begin their eight-game schedule to close out the regular season on July 31, they will have three exhibition games to get warmed up in Orlando.

They will start July 22 against the Denver Nuggets and also play the Lakers and Clippers. Those are the three top seeds in the Western Conference.

Here is a look at their three-game set:

7/22: Nuggets, 3:30 pm ET
7/25: Clippers, 8 pm ET
7/27: Lakers, 3 pm ET

The question here, of course, is whether the stars will play given these games won't count. In a usual preseason, the answer would probably be 'no.' But in this case, with each team only having three games to find their rhythm before games start, and after months off, it is anyone's guess.

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It wouldn't be surprising if the Wizards did see some combination of Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The biggest question mark would be that Lakers game since it is the last exhibition game for both teams. Maybe James and/or Davis sit with two games already under their belt and an opening night meeting with the Clippers awaiting.

Either way, the Wizards will get a look at some of the NBA's best teams before they kick things off for real. And this also means they will be playing games nine days ahead of their regular season. There are now just under three weeks to go until the Wizards return to the court.

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