- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2019

Entering Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz, the Washington Wizards had almost the same odds of landing the No. 1 pick as they do making the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight pegs Washington’s playoff chances at just 5 percent, while mathematically it has a 4.5 percent chance to land the first pick.

If by now you’ve tuned out the Wizards but are curious who they could land in the draft, then it’s time to start paying attention to the NCAA Tournament when it begins this week.

Since the Wizards have the ninth-worst record in the NBA, here are nine prospects to keep an eye on:

Zion Williamson, Duke forward

⦁ When Duke plays: Friday, 7:10 p.m. vs. winner of North Dakota State-North Carolina Central.

⦁ Why you should watch: Williamson’s athleticism shouldn’t be possible for a man his size — 6-foot-7, 285 pounds — but that’s exactly why he’s worth watching. Already the consensus No. 1 pick, Williamson has lived up to the hype. He’s a physical force who explodes at the rim. Please let this man stay healthy.

RJ Barrett, Duke guard

⦁ Why you should watch: Barrett could use a strong NCAA tournament to re-establish the hype. This season, he has taken a bit of a back seat to Williamson, but he still projects to be a very good NBA player. He can get to the rim and score.

Cam Reddish, Duke forward

⦁ Why you should watch: The third-best player at Duke, Reddish would likely be the top option on any other team. At the next level, he projects to be a knockdown 3-point shooter, though he’s only shot 32.7 percent from deep in college. Still, he has a smooth jumper and a 7-foot-1 wingspan.

Ja Morant, Murray State guard

⦁ When Murray State plays: Thursday, 4:30 p.m. vs. Marquette.

⦁ Why you should watch: Outside of the Duke guys, no player in the NCAA has captured the nation’s attention like Morant. Like Russell Westbrook, he’s an explosive, athletic point guard who carried his team to the tournament. He leads the NCAA in assists, too. A must-watch player.

De’Andre Hunter, Virginia forward

⦁ When Virginia plays: Friday, 3:10 p.m. vs. Gardner-Webb.

⦁ Why you should watch: Everyone remembers UMBC’s upset over Virginia last year, but Virginia fans will quickly point out Hunter missed that game because of an injury. Hunter elected to return to school this season after flirting with the NBA and his decision has helped his stock. He fits the 3-and-D mold and can really shoot it from deep (45.7 percent).

Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech guard

⦁ When Texas Tech plays: Friday, 1:30 p.m. vs. Northern Kentucky.

⦁ Why you should watch: Culver keeps climbing on draft boards. The Ringer is bullishly high on him, ranking him second overall in this class, while Sports Illustrated ranks him seventh. He has good instincts and has done well in taking on an expanded role at Texas Tech. Culver would give the Wizards a much-needed backup for Beal — who leads the league in minutes.

Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga forward

⦁ When Gonzaga plays: Thursday, 7:27 p.m. vs. winner of Fairleigh Dickinson-Prairie View.

⦁ Why you should watch: This year’s draft is often described as top heavy, but Clarke might be good value if Washington ends up at No. 9. He’s a long, athletic defender with the ability to guard every position. At 22 years old, Clarke also might be more NBA ready, given his experience.

Keldon Johnson, Kentucky guard

⦁ When Kentucky plays: Thursday, 7:10 p.m. vs. Abilene Christian.

⦁ Why you should watch: 2019 might be the rare year in which Kentucky isn’t loaded with NBA talent. But Johnson appears to be the best of the bunch, thanks to his steady 3-point shot (38 percent). He projects to be picked at the near end of the lottery.

Nassir Little, North Carolina forward

⦁ When North Carolina plays: Friday, 9:20 p.m. vs. Iona.

⦁ Why you should watch: Like Duke’s Barrett, Little’s stock could use a boost. The North Carolina forward has been inconsistent this season, flashing in one performance and looking ordinary the next. That being said, Little has the physical traits to dominate at times. He’s a versatile wingman and that would help the Wizards.

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