Earlier this month I broke down almost every angle of Bradley Beal's prospects for winning the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. Almost, except for the biggest factor he can't control -- competition.
NBA.com released the 2015-16 General Manager Survey last week, and the results make clear that Beal could be up against a crowded field of players set to break out. Among them? His teammate, Otto Porter, Jr.
When asked "Which player is most likely to have a breakout season in 2015?", 10.3% of GMs voted for Beal, making him tied with Jabari Parker of the Bucks for third place.
Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins (17.2%) and Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo (13.8%) came in first and second in voting, respectively. The answers were fairly scattered with 14 other players receiving one or more votes, including Porter.
At least one GM believes Porter is more likely to take a big leap than Beal. In case you were wondering, Ernie Grunfeld didn't vote for either of his players -- that's against survey rules.
As with Beal before him, let's lay out Porter's areas for improvement and the factors that could help and hurt him.
The pair have a good number of similarities: Both are 22-year-old wing players who are slated to start for the Wizards.
Porter, a small forward entering his third season, has the potential to develop into a versatile 3-and-D player in the mold of Khris Middleton or even Kawhi Leonard.
To get there, he'll have to eliminate the defensive lapses that diminish his otherwise solid game on that end of the floor.
Everyone remembers Porter's blooper-reel mistake when guarding Chicago's Tony Snell. Vacant moments like that can't continue to happen, but he does have the length to recover from small miscues.
That length also should allow Porter to excel as a perimeter defender and rebounder. He'll need to bulk up his naturally thin frame to become more effective in the paint, though.
The 3 ball is obviously key to the 3-and-D job description, as much for the spacing element as the scoring. Porter won't compete with Beal as the best 3-point shooter on the team, but he has made strides shooting from beyond the arc that can keep defenders honest.
Like Beal, Porter stepped up his game in the playoffs last year, but the increase in his production followed a general upward trend of his career numbers -- something less evident with Beal, but common in recent Most Improved winners like Jimmy Butler and Paul George.
As a rookie in 2013-14 regular season, Porter averaged 2.1 points (shooting 19% from 3) and 1.5 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game.
In the regular season last year, those numbers became 6 points (34% from 3) and 3 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game.
He took it to another gear in the postseason, averaging 10 points (38% from 3) and 8 rebounds in 33.1 minutes per game. He also came up with 1.2 steals per game, an improvement from 0.6 in the regular season.
It's promising that Porter's stats increased as his minutes did, but even better that his efficiency didn't suffer.
His effective field goal percentage actually jumped from 47% to 51% in the playoffs. That likely had something to do with the Wizards playing smaller lineups, spacing the floor and freeing Porter to play to his strengths.
Several factors should help him build on last year's progress: First, Paul Pierce's departure leaves Porter as the starter, so he could see an uptick in playing time.
More importantly, the Wizards are transitioning to a small-ball, fast-paced offense this season that suits a rangy, versatile player who can guard the perimeter and space the floor by shooting 3-pointers. Sound familiar?
The Most Improved race boils down to a competition with oneself as much as with others, so Porter holds an advantage over his teammate Beal simply because Beal's numbers were so high from the beginning.
Beal became a starter his rookie year and averaged 13.9 points (shooting 39% from downtown) per game at age 19. So his 15.3 points per game (41% from 3) two years later doesn't look like a very big leap.
That's exactly the thought process that led Ben Standig to predict Porter would best Beal, and even win Most Improved in 2016:
Porter won't catch Beal's talent level this season, but the former Georgetown star has more room to grow. That's both on the court and in the minds of those who deemed him a bust or a Shaqtin-a-Fool All-Star. Porter flashed his 3-and-D potential during the postseason -- and now his corner deep ball is much improved. Add in steady minutes with the starters and Porter's game jumps in Washington's small ball scenario. How much of a jump? Yep, he's winning the MIP award this season.
If he can average at least 12 points and around 10 rebounds per game this year, he'll have a very good shot.
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