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Otto Porter could challenge Bradley Beal for Most Improved


Otto Porter could challenge Bradley Beal for Most Improved

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. 

MORE WIZARDS: John Wall's biggest sacrifice? Try Gummi Bears

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Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

Bradley Beal's phantom foul and the Wizards' most important rally of the season

After calling an inconsistent game throughout the night, the referees made a decision with five minutes to go in Game 4 that nearly altered the entire series between the Wizards and Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan was chasing a rebound on the baseline and ran into Bradley Beal. Beal, who had a team-high 31 points, was levied a sixth and final foul with the score tied. 

Beal had unloaded for 20 points in 12 minutes in the second half, but now the Wizards would have to close it out without their All-Star shooting guard. Somehow, they were able to seal the win and tie the series.

Beal heard the whistle as he laid on the ground. He immediately hopped up and unleashed a tantrum that nobody could blame him for.

He jumped up and down, screaming at the referees, who had just called by all accounts a questionable foul and in a key moment of a playoff game.

Both Beal and head coach Scott Brooks were incensed and with good reason.

“I was beyond emotional, beyond mad, frustrated," Beal said. "I honestly thought they were going to kick me out of the game I was so mad, but I was happy they didn’t do that."

Beal is probably lucky the referees didn't take offense to his reaction because it continued when he was on the bench. He walked past his teammates and leaned over with his hands on his knees, still furious. Then he returned to the sideline to yell at the refs. Center Ian Mahinmi helped convince him to step back and cool off.

Beal has made a major difference in this series. He averaged 14.0 points in the first two games, both losses. He has averaged 29.5 points in Games 3 and 4, two Wizards wins.

Getting him out of the game was a major break for the Raptors, but they couldn't take advantage. The Wizards closed the final five minutes on a 14-6 tear. John Wall stepped up to lead the charge with eight of those points.

The Wizards still had one star on the court and he played like one.

“Just go in attack mode," Wall said. "When Brad went out, I knew I had to do whatever it took... I just wanted to do whatever, so that we could advance to Game 5, tied 2-2.”

Once Beal composed himself, his confidence grew in his teammates. He and Wall feel comfortable playing without each other because they have done so often throughout their careers.

This year, Wall missed 41 games due to a left knee injury. Two years ago, Beal missed 27 games. Early on in his career, he had trouble staying healthy. Now he is an iron man who played in all 82 games during the 2017-18 regular season.

Beal has grown accustomed to being on the floor a lot, but he realized he can still affect the game from the sidelines.

"I just gathered my emotions, gathered my thoughts and told my team we were going to win, regardless. I knew if we still had John [Wall] in the game I loved our chances," Beal said. "Face the adversity that I had to overcome, just gather myself and be a leader, being vocal and keeping everyone encouraged in the game.”

Wall and others did the heavy lifting in the end. The Wizards used Kelly Oubre, Jr. as the shooting guard with Beal out and he made key plays down the stretch, including a steal on Kyle Lowry in the closing seconds.

The Wizards were thrown a significant curveball and they overcame it to put themselves in good position now having won two straight.

“You have to have resolve to win in this league," Brooks said. "You win playoff games and you win playoff series with having that. We have that, and we have to continue to have that because we have to win two more games and one of them has to be on the road."

When it comes to the officiating, the Wizards deserve credit for their resilience and restraint early in Game 4. The Raptors had 16 free throws in the first quarter compared to the Wizards' four. Washington perservered and ended up with more free throws (31) than the Raptors (30) did for the game.

In Game 1, the Wizards appeared to be affected by a lack of foul calls. That came was called loosely by the referees, while this one was officiated tightly. Though Beal went off, the Wizards for the most part stayed the course and were rewarded for it.

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The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

The Wizards supplied all the highlights and fireworks; 5 must-see moments from Game 4

WASHINGTON -- As the home team in a dire situation you have to take advantage, and that is exactly what the Washington Wizards did in their 106-98 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Highlight reel play after highlight reel play, the Wizards ignited the crowd with some of their best plays from the entire season to make it 2-2 in the series. Here are just a few of them:

1. John Wall collects posters in the first half

The first one was perhaps the best. Everything was going wrong for the Wizards, poor turnovers, bad shots, a three from Toronto. Then John Wall had enough. Not only did he fly past his defender Kyle Lowry, but he went up and slammed one home past the 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas. Up until that point, the Wizards were shooting 1-for-7.

Rinse and repeat, except this time Jakob Poeltl was Wall’s victim.

2. Wall to Beal alley-oop in transition

With the Wizards’ offense faltering, the Raptors remained on the verge of blowing the game open throughout the second quarter. But with a steal from Otto Porter Jr., Wall hung up the ball for Bradley Beal to slam home. The alley-oop kept the Wizards within single digits in the second with an uninspiring offensive effort.

3. Otto Porter breaks out of the half

A subdued offensive start to the game was due in part to the production from Porter. In the first half he went 0-for-4 with one point in nearly 17 minutes of action.

Throw that away in the second half. He broke out of halftime with back-to-back threes and 10 of the Wizards’ 26 in a monster 26-14 run to take the lead back in the third.

He finished the quarter with 10 points, an assist, and two blocks.

4. The Polish Hammer throwing it home

Are you convinced yet that Marcin Gortat’s new haircut is doing him some good? Gortat squeezed through two Raptors’ defenders, threw it down, gave a Goliath-type roar to the crowd before officially bringing the hammer down. 

5. Beal being called for his sixth foul of the game

Agree with the call or not, there is no denying that Beal’s removal from the game lit a fire underneath the Wizards. From that point Washington went on a 14-6 scoring run to end the game, closing out for the win.