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Morning tip: Bradley Beal is still headed toward max deal

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Morning tip: Bradley Beal is still headed toward max deal

Now that Bradley Beal is back in the starting lineup, playing starter's minutes and playing in back-to-backs, it's worth revisiting whether or not his status as a max player going into restricted free agency has changed.

So far, it hasn't. In 13 games he has played with the Wizards going into the All-Star break, after returning from a stress reaction in his lower right leg for the fourth year in a row, Beal is shooting 83 of 153, 54.2%, from the field. 

He played 32 minutes in two of three games earlier in the week before logging 37 -- two above what was projected to be his maximum by some close to the situation -- in Thursday's 99-92 loss at the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Hopefully we can keep these extended minutes where they are," said Wizards coach Randy Wittman after Tuesday's game in New York. "It's hard. You play 32 minutes one game, 16 the next, 22 the next. I told the doctor to go on vacation and let’s hope he does that after the All-Star break.”

He was joking, but the Wizards have to be careful. Before the onset of Beal's injury Dec. 9, he played 40-plus minutes in five of seven games. In the other two, he logged 38 minutes. A stress reaction, a dark spot on the bone, is a precursor to a season-ending fracture that heals with rest. 

The Wizards are using a different method of tracking Beal's movements, which is now possible with the SVU cameras used in each NBA arena, such as the distance he's running and how much he's cutting.

After the data is received, they huddle to determine what his minutes should be. Going into a week off because of the All-Star break might've factored into the sharp minutes increase Thursday.

Even though Beal said when he returned that he could be facing a minutes cap for the rest of his career, there's an expectation that he will receive a max offer when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer and the Wizards will give it to him. 

Beal is finishing at almost 60% at the rim and has made a concerted effort to eliminate long two-point shots from his game. He's shooting a career-high 46.3% from the field and making almost 40% of his three-point looks. If Beal can stay off the injury list, he can take off like John Wall did when he signed a max offer based on his ceiling and potential rather than his accomplishment at that point of his career. 

"That's one of my goals for this whole year, increase my efficiency, my shot selection. I try to eliminate those long twos as much as possible," Beal said. "It’s awesome to be able to see my percentages go up."

The open market will ultimately set Beal's pricetag, and at least one team that's betting on his potential should make him a max offer. Then the ball is in the Wizards' court on whether or not to match it to retain Beal.

They'll have no choice because letting him walk for nothing as the salary cap grows from $70 million to almost $90 million isn't really an option for a franchise that'll be at a crossroads as it remakes the roster with or without Kevin Durant.

Scorers in today's NBA are more valuable than ever. Beal has a good reputation because of his character and attitude, too. A replacement player of that level, which they'd have to have in stow before allowing Beal to leave, aren't just waiting around in bunches. There's competition from 29 other NBA teams to land them which drives up the price automatically because of supply vs. demand. 

"If he was not injured, he would've been an All-Star this year," Mark Bartelstein, Beal's agent, told CSNmidatlantic.com on Thursday. "That's the way he was going."

There's a confidence now, unlike in past seasons when Beal had the stress reaction in his leg, that everything is under control because of the protocols in place. His minutes will be watched closely. And none of it is expected to interfere with his summer activity with USA Basketball to compete for a spot for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. 

This is Beal's make-or-break year in more ways than one. If he avoids any more setbacks with his leg, he's still in prime position to cash in. 

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Brandon Clarke

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Brandon Clarke

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Brandon Clarke

School: Gonzaga
Position: Forward
Age: 22 (turns 23 in September)
Height: 6-8
Weight: 207
Wingspan: 6-8
Max vertical: 40.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 3.2 bpg, 68.7 FG% (6.8/9.7), 26.7 3PT% (0.1/0.4), 69.4 FT%

Player comparison: Montrezl Harrell, Dominic McGuire

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 17th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 25th, Ringer 11th

5 things to know:

*Clarke is a forward who probably swings more towards the four-spot at the NBA level. He is considered one of the best defensive players in this draft, having won the West Coast Conference defensive player of the year award this past season. He averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per game for Gonzaga and was known for his versatility to guard multiple positions. 

*There are questions about whether Clarke's shot-blocking will translate to the next level. There aren't a ton of 6-foot-8 rim protectors in the NBA and there have been many before Clarke who racked up blocks in college but then couldn't in the pros. His height suggests a potential problem and also his lack of a plus-wingspan. But working in Clarke's favor is his 40 1/2-inch vertical leap. Only three players had better numbers at this year's combine and all were guards. That type of jumping ability is rarely seen with players at Clarke's size.

*A big concern for Clarke is that at this point he can't shoot from the outside. He attempted only 24 threes in his three years in college and made six of them. If he can't develop a three-point shot, he will need to live in the midrange and around the rim and that's just not how the best players his size play these days. Clarke doesn't need to become a sharpshooter, but a respectable three would open up his game.

*Clarke is going to be 23 years old by the time the season tips off. That is quite old for an NBA prospect, as many of the top players will only be 19 at the start of the year. That could mean he will contribute right away in the NBA, but it could also tell teams that his ceiling is limited compared to younger, less-polished players. Clarke just took a little longer to develop into a pro prospect after starting his college career at San Jose State. He transferred and played one year at Gonzaga. Dropping a guy's stock just because of his age, though, can be risky. Malcolm Brogdon has been making teams pay for that decision for years.

*He is from Canada. The country continues to pump out top NBA prospects and this year alone can claim Clarke, R.J. Barrett of Duke and Nickeil Alexander-Walker of Virginia Tech. Though many have come from the Toronto area, Clarke hails from Vancouver, in the western part of Canada. He also spent much of his youth in the United States, having moved to Arizona when he was three.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards like Clarke, as evidenced by their interview with him at the NBA combine. And there are reasons to suggest he would fit in quite well with what they are looking for.

He would be plug-and-play and provide an instant impact at a position of need. Depending on what they do with their free agent forwards, he could even start as a rookie at the four.

They also need a complete overhaul defensively and he would help them improve on that end of the floor. He would provide rim protection and help shore up their midrange defense as well. 

Clarke plays smart, team-oriented defense and the Wizards need more of that. He could help them change their mindset on that end of the floor. Clarke seems like the type of player good defensive teams like the Bucks and Pacers would covet, that too often in recent years the Wizards have overlooked.

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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

For Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, last season's heartbreak in the WNBA Finals is only fuel for another potential postseason run in 2019. 

"That's something I don't think I'll ever let go," Washington's star forward told Chris Miller on the latest episode of the Wizards Talk podcast. "It's always tough when you get to that Finals and you can't finish it off. But I think it's something that can fuel you. You don't want to let it just bring you down and depress you and make it so you can't get over that hump."

"If you use it as fuel and motivation, it can help you get better. I think that's what we're all gonna do."

The Mystics reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history in 2018 but ultimately lost to the Seattle Storm. Delle Donne, recently named in WNBA.com's GM survey as the favorite to win league MVP, is back for her third season in Washington and headlines a strong team that has the talent to compete for the title again.

Her status for Saturday's season opener against the Connecticut Sun is up in the air due to a left knee injury, but Delle Donne believes the Mystics will have another great season given the continuity on the roster from last season and the return of All-Star forward Emma Meesseman. 

"We feel great. We've got our core back," said Delle Donne. "And to be able to add a superstar like Emma to that roster is pretty scary. Especially with her style of play and the way that our team started playing last season, where it was such positionless basketball. Spreading the floor, just spreading it, making it easy for one another to attack, get some threes. She's just gonna add so much to that."

NBC Sports Washington will be broadcasting 10 Mystics home games during the 2019 WNBA season. For the full regular season schedule, click here.

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