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Most Improved Player Award within Bradley Beal's reach

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Most Improved Player Award within Bradley Beal's reach

NBA preseason is also open season for predictions. Earlier this week, Ben Standig looked at John Wall's Vegas odds for winning the NBA MVP. Perhaps more realistic are Bradley Beal's prospects for winning the Most Improved Player Award. 

Typically, the MIP honors go to players in their third or fourth seasons, as with last year's winner Jimmy Butler. Beal has been a starter for all three of his years in the NBA, but is still only 22 years old.

Sure, he was unusually mature coming into the league, but most players aren't done developing at his age. It's enticing to think that a player who averaged 15.3 points and shot 41% from 3-point territory last year will only get better.

Being so young should give him plenty of time to work on his weaknesses -- shot selection, free throw shooting and ball handling -- or so the thinking goes. Granted, Beal has to stay healthy, but if he can improve those things and follow through on his pre-season goals of shooting more beyond the arc and doubling down on defense, he could be the favorite to win MIP.

There's only one flaw in the logic that assumes Beal will trend upward: He hasn't exactly been doing that, at least not yet. Let's look at his statistical progression in several key categories.

3-point shooting: 39% (1.6 of 4.2 attempts per game) in year one; 40% (1.9 of 4.7 attempts) in year two; 41% (1.7 of 4.1 attempts) in year three. 

His free throw shooting is similarly flat: 79% (2.2 of 2.8 attempts per game) in year one; 77% (2.0 of 2.6 attempts) in year two; 80% (2.1 of 2.6 attempts) in year three.

As for turnovers per game, he averaged 1.6 in year one, 1.8 in year two and 2.0 in year three.

Beal went on a scoring tear in the 2015 playoffs, jumping from 15.3 points per game in the regular season to 23.4 in the postseason. But his efficiency took a hit, especially 3-point shooting percentage. He turned the ball over more often, too. 

Is it a bad sign that his numbers haven't shown much year-over-year growth? Unclear, but that wasn't the case with the past three Most Improved winners: Butler, Paul George and Goran Dragic.

Butler won it in his fourth season (second starting) and showed significant growth in nearly every statistical category each year. George also won in his fourth season (third starting) as the culmination of a steady upward trajectory on offense. Dragic took five years, but received the award following his first full season as a starter, this after starting no more than five games in any of his first three seasons. 

None of this means that Beal can't or won't make a MIP-level leap, but that if he does, the graph of his growth will look quite different from those of recent winners. 

The Wizards are making some changes this season that will benefit Beal's Most Improved hopes. Namely, coach Randy Wittman wants his team to attempt more 3-pointers instead of settling for long 2s, the most inefficient shot in basketball.

For a player that shoots so well from beyond the arc, Beal should be averaging more attempts per game. According to Basketball-Reference.com, only eight players shot a better 3-point percentage than Beal did last season (41%), but he didn't even crack the top 20 in number of 3-pointers taken. 

His attempts from downtown will almost certainly increase this year, as will his fast-break opportunities as the Wizards transition to an up-tempo offense. A small-ball, fast-paced style should also result in more trips to the free throw line. 

There's also the not-so-little matter of his contract situation: The Wizards and Beal have not yet agreed to an extension. He will become a restricted free agent next year if he doesn't re-sign with Washington.

The player's camp is likely seeking a max deal or something close, but Washington seems more content to let the season begin than make that financial commitment up-front. The circumstance puts pressure on Beal to prove he's worth max money -- many million dollars of motivation to stay healthy and step up his game. 

One thing's for certain: a Most Improved Player Award would all but lock up the big bucks. 

MORE WIZARDS: Wizards compensate for poor 3-point shooting in new offense

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Wizards have big questions to answer coming out of All-Star break

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller look ahead to the biggest questions the Wizards need to answer after the All-Star break. They also explain why Bradley Beal proved a lot in his first All-Star Game appearance.

They also unveiled a new segment involving guessing Wizards players based on their social media captions.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

The Wizards experienced a wild ride before the All-Star break, but came out of it on solid ground, fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 33-24 record. With 27 games still remaining until the postseason, here is a look at the biggest storylines moving forward...

Who will they sign?

The Wizards are close to signing a new player as they were left with open roster spots following the trade deadline when they dealt guard Sheldon Mac to Atlanta for a second round pick. The Wizards have keyed in on the backup point guard position and are likely to go in that direction with the move. But they could still be in the market for other players, possibly someone at the backup wing position, even if they sign a point guard.

The Wizards only have a few days left to make a move because they need to get their roster to 14 players within 14 days of the Mac trade on Feb. 8. Their next game is on Thursday against the Cavaliers, so they could have someone in the building in time to play in that game.

RELATED: WIZARDS DID WELL IN FIRST HALF DESPITE OBSTACLES

When will Wall return?

Wall had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Jan. 31 and was prescribed a recovery timeline of six-to-eight weeks, meaning he still has about another three weeks to go before a return is possible. It could be another five weeks before he's back on the court. That puts him in the range of missing another 10-to-17 games.

The Wizards have played nine games since he went down and have won seven of them, but they aren't even halfway there yet. They have a long way to go. Because it's Wall and his return will have a domino effect, this is the most important storyline to watch for the Wizards moving forward.

How will Wall fit back in?

Wall's return will of course be a big deal for the Wizards. They will be adding an All-Star back into their lineup with just weeks before the start of the playoffs. But at the moment, they have a good thing going and are playing much better than they were in the last week or two before he was shut down. That, of course, had a lot to do with Wall playing injured.

It will be interesting if the Wizards are still winning at anything close to their current rate when Wall comes back. That would be the ideal scenario because they could ease him back into the lineup and take their time getting him up to speed. But it will also create a complex situation for head coach Scott Brooks, who will need to make adjustments to his rotation. The alternative would be if the Wizards aren't playing well when Wall returns and the concern there would be the urge to rush him back in any capacity.

PODCAST: BREAKING DOWN THE WIZARDS' FIRST HALF

Tough schedule

The Wizards have fared quite well for themselves so far with a 33-24 record despite injuries to Wall, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter to varying degrees. But they have done so while enjoying the easiest schedule in the NBA, 30th out of 30 teams. It is about to get a lot tougher coming out of the All-Star break.

All in the next five weeks the Wizards will see the Cavs, Bucks, Warriors, Raptors, Pacers (twice), Timberwolves, Celtics, Spurs (twice) and the Nuggets. Of their next 17 games, 15 will be against teams currently in the playoff picture. They could be without Wall for all of them. That won't be easy.

Can Oubre get back on track?

While Wall has been out, just about everyone on the Wizards has stepped their games up to compensate. Though he still impacts games in other ways, Kelly Oubre, Jr. has been one exception on offense. In his last 11 games, Oubre has averaged 9.4 points and shot just 31.2 percent from the field and 23.2 percent from three. In his previous 46 games, he averaged 12.4 points while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three.

That is a major difference and the Wizards certainly want to get the early-season version of Oubre back. At his best he is one of their most consistent scorers and an excellent three-point shooter. When he's contributing on both ends of the floor, the Wizards are tough to beat.

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