With little salary cap room this past summer to make significant additions to their roster, the Wizards essentially need to improve from within to improve much at all this season. It was an offseason of unprecedented change around the NBA. Yet the Wizards have rested their hopes on young players continuing to ascend.
Through nine games, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter don't just appear to be better, as many young players do year-over-year, they look leaps and bounds above what they were just months ago.
Once known as a three-point specialist, Beal has developed inside-outside versatility on offense only seen in MVP candidates. Otto Porter has expanded his game on both ends of the floor, emerging as a capable third scoring option and one of the best in the NBA at swiping steals.
It was easy to notice the growth of the Wizards as a team on Sunday night, as John Wall sat on the sidelines, out due to a sprained left shoulder. The Wizards beat the very-good Toronto Raptors in a game they may not win even one year ago. Long a team where one key player absence would sink the ship, that is not the case anymore.
Yes, Kyle Lowry was ejected in the second quarter. But Wall's supporting cast pitched in to take out a playoff team on the road and following a stretch of four losses in five games.
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Beal played opposite DeMar DeRozan, another one of the NBA's best shooting guards, and for a night belonged in a completely different category. While DeRozan couldn't find his rhythm, Beal was lights-out. He dropped 38 points on 16-for-26 shooting, his third straight game of 35 points or more and his second straight shooting 60 percent or better.
Beal cleary worked on his ball-handling this offseason, building off his career-year in 2016-17. After proving he could stay healthy, Beal now uses more complex dribble combinations and attacks the rim with even more confidence, no matter who is standing in the lane.
Porter's improvement getting steals is no accident, either. He is getting smarter at the gambles he takes, whether it be from watching film or retaining more information from scouting reports.
Porter helped limit DeRozan to his 8-of-21 shooting and stuffed the box score with 19 points, five rebounds, two steals and a block. He shot 8-for-13 from the field and 3-for-4 from three.
After nine games, Beal is averaging 25.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Those aren't just All-Star numbers, as many have him predicted to be in Los Angeles this February, that level of production would put Beal in the All-NBA conversation.
Porter is averaging 18.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, all while shooting 56.9 percent from the field and 52.5 percent from three. Those stats could put Porter in the All-Star Game.
Getting three All-Stars in one season is not an easy feat. The Wizards haven't seen that happen since 1974-75 when Phil Chenier, Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes all earned the honor.
There is a long road to February, but with a few weeks of the 2017-18 NBA season having passed, the Wizards have two players in Beal and Porter, both 24, who are raising the bar for themselves and quickly.