How the Wizards can help John Wall's cause with the No. 9 pick originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Any decision an NBA team makes with a high pick in the NBA Draft comes down to the balance between two factors: need and best player available. For the Wizards, there may be a third factor, and that is who can help preserve the investment they have made in John Wall.
Wall is now 30 years old and coming off a ruptured Achilles, offering no guarantees he will return to form as the five-time All-Star he was before the injury. Yet, he is due to make roughly $131.5 million over the next three seasons on a supermax contract that earns him 35 percent of the salary cap.
If Wall's return is a flop, it could dramatically limit the Wizards' ability to construct a competitive team. You saw a glimpse of that this past season when Wall's contract, coupled with Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi's salaries, left them with little money to spend elsewhere.
So, making sure Wall can come back 100 percent or close to it is important, and that is not limited to his own recovery. The Wizards can make moves to improve the supporting cast around him to make his transition back easier and also help preserve his impact long-term.
That brings us to this year's draft, as next week the Wizards are set to pick ninth overall, giving them another chance to add an important piece to the puzzle. If Wall does indeed factor into their thinking (and he probably should), here are three ways they could help his (and, by turn, their) cause.
1. Rim protector
Defense is quite clearly a big need for the Wizards, as they had the league's worst defensive rating last season. Well, they could be even worse if they don't give Wall some help, as he will be coming back from a leg injury and expected to stay in front of the quickest players in the league at the guard position. Ultimately, Wall is going to need to provide some resistance at the top of the Wizards' defense, but it would go a long way if there was someone behind him who would be ready to pick up the slack by altering and blocking shots. The Wizards, it is worth noting, gave up the third-highest field goal percentage within five feet of the rim last season.
The Wizards should have options at No. 9, no matter how the board shakes out. James Wiseman (Memphis) and Onyeka Okongwu (USC) may be gone by the time they are picking, but they could turn to Precious Achiuwa (Memphis) or Jalen Smith (Maryland). The ideal scenario appears to be Okongwu falling to nine, but all four of those players would help.
Shot-blockers are kind of like quarterbacks in the NFL. They are hard to find because teams don't often let them go in free agency and trades. Drafting and developing one is the best option.
2. Wing defender
Rim protection isn't the only need the Wizards have on defense. They need to get quicker and more physical on the perimeter as well. One area they could improve is 3-point defense, as the Wizards were 27th in percentage allowed (37.6) and 22nd in opponent threes per game (12.4).
There is also an opening at the three-spot on the depth chart. They have Troy Brown Jr. and Isaac Bonga, but no one as established as Wall and Beal. Ideally, the Wizards could find someone who would help Wall and Beal build a wall on the perimeter and maybe even take tough defensive assignments away from them. Wall could be a liability at first, as he readjusts to the NBA, and Beal needs to save his energy to be the No. 1 option on the offensive end.
The Wizards will also have some options in this regard. At No. 9 could be Isaac Okoro (Auburn), Devin Vassell (Florida St.), Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State), Patrick Williams (Florida St.) or Saddiq Bey (Villanova).
3. High-upside scorer
The Wizards need defense more than anything, but another way they could help Wall's cause is by adding another player capable of scoring 15-20 points a night on a regular basis. Even if they re-sign Davis Bertans this offseason, and if Rui Hachimura continues to develop, there is room for more offensive firepower. Another scorer, even at the guard position, would help take pressure off of Wall and Beal.
There have been some solid players to serve as their third scoring option over the years. But they haven't had anyone who could consistently change games by getting hot offensively.
If the Wizards drafted a player at nine who could soon turn into a top-three scoring option on a playoff team, it would help Wall focus on other things and that may be for the best. Instead of going for 20 and 10 every night, he could strive for 15 and 10 while playing sound defense. The problem with this path is there are fewer options likely to be there at nine. The best fit would probably be Obi Toppin (Dayton), but he is likely to be drafted earlier. And others like Killian Hayes (France) and Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky) may be more long-term projects than the types who would add a scoring boost right away.