- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Last season, as teams scored and scored on the Wizards with relative ease, the only apparent solution was to put up more points than their opponents — a solution that still resulted in a paltry 25-47 record. Washington allowed the second-most points per game in the league, offsetting whatever value comes from having the seventh-best scoring offense.

So ahead of Wednesday’s 2020 NBA Draft and the free agency market that opens Friday, the Wizards know what they need. It’s not scoring; they have John Wall and Bradley Beal returning, plus plenty of other options to put points on the board.

Instead, Washington needs defensive help. And with the 9th pick in the draft, that could be a good place to start, finding a player who could help seal that end of the floor — or at least improve upon last year’s porous unit.

So with that in mind, here are three players the Wizards could target to address that all-too-apparent need.

Onyeka Okongwu

To Bryan Kalbrosky, a reporter from HoopsHype, the answer for the Wizards is clear. Draft Onyeka Okongwu, the 19-year-old center from USC, and enjoy the benefits of a solid defensive big who’s drawing comparisons to Bam Adebayo.

“Okongwu is probably the most NBA-ready defender in the frontcourt among all prospects in this class,” Kalbrosky said. “I interviewed him, and the first thing he told me was you were going to get a defender from him. He takes a lot of pride in playing defense.”

In his lone season with the Trojans, the 6-foot-9 center showed he can be productive on the offensive end, too. He averaged 16.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while shooting at a 61.6 percent rate. He might not have the playmaking ability that Adebayo has — the Miami big man averaged 15.9 points last season — but that could come with time.

And defense is an important upside for Okongwu, a player who averaged 2.7 blocks per game in college, the ninth most in the country.

“He’s the best defensive big in the draft,” said Brandon Simberg, an NBA Draft writer for Busting Brackets, a college basketball website. “He’s quick, he’s fast, he can jump, he’s got good touch around the rim. So I think the Wizards think that’s their long-term option at center if he’s there at 9.”

Isaac Okoro

There’s more than one hole on this Washington roster, though, and securing a wing could be another path forward. If Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard opts to address that position, he can still find a standout defender in Isaac Okoro.

In his lone season at Auburn, Okoro averaged 12.9 points on 51.4 percent shooting from the field. His average dipped to just 29 percent from behind the arc. But the 19-year-old could improve on that end of the court while providing strong defensive qualities.

“Okoro is by far the best on-ball defender of all the wings,” Simberg said. “And the Wizards were pretty atrocious at defense last year. So right away, they can plug him to start the three, and he’s going to guard the other team’s best player.”

Okoro is a strong scorer from inside six feet, using his size and speed to finish. The knock against him, though, is what the 6-foot-6 wing can do elsewhere on the floor.

“Because of the defensive issues the Wizards have had, I think Okoro definitely makes some sense,” Kalbrosky said. “… But I probably wouldn’t go with him because he’s not a tremendous shooter.”

Devin Vassell

The jump Devin Vassell made between his freshman and sophomore years makes him a player who should be on Washington’s radar. He went from averaging 4.5 points per game for Florida State in 2018-19 to 12.7 points in year two, proving to be an efficient scorer from deep.

In some ways, Vassell is a more balanced option than Okoro. While not as strong of a defender, Vassell’s shooting could be the differentiator that matters, giving the Wizards a 3-and-D type on the wing.

Vassell shot 41.5 percent from beyond the arc as a sophomore, and he added 1.6 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. Plus, his athleticism and 6-foot-6 frame helped him add 1.6 steals and one block per game.

“He’s got plus offensive and defensive statistics and measurements,” Vassell said. “Really low turnover rate; makes the right plays. Really high three-point percentage. He’s definitely somebody who I see fitting into a rotation fairly seamlessly.”


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