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Morning tip: Bradley Beal's extension talks on tap

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Morning tip: Bradley Beal's extension talks on tap

Once the free-agent madness that kicks off today simmers down, the Wizards will have a week to figure out what to do regarding Bradley Beal who is eligible for an extension going into the last year of his rookie contract. 

"We have all the way to October to get something done on that front," Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld told CSNwashington recently. "We'll talk to his agent (Mark Bartelstein) at the appropriate time  and see where that process takes us. Obviously, we think very highly of Bradley and we want him here for a very long time."

They can't begin negotiations with him until July 9 and have until the end of October to come to an agreement. If not, discussions must be tabled until the 2015-16 season ends and Beal becomes a restricted free agent.

Beal's production slipped in his third season with 15.3 points a game, two fewer than the previous year, and has to decide between long-term security now or a shorter deal so he'll be in position for a bigger payday when the salary cap is set to explode next season.

Beal has had three stress reactions to his lower right leg in each of his three NBA seasons. He missed the start of a 46-win season this time because of a broken left wrist. Another reaction crept up before the All-Star break and cost him nine games. He has had multiple sprains to both ankles and was driven to tears when leaving the court in the playoffs. 

All indications suggest that the Wizards aren't inclined to offer a max contract to a shooting guard who averages 15 points and has trouble consistently manufacturing offense from the free-throw line. Beal's representatives will point to what he can be when he's fully healthy:

  • It was Beal's emergence during the postseason, when the Wizards advanced to the conference finals for the second year in a row, that has showed the most promise. He was the Wizards' leading scorer in 10 games at 23.4 points and made it to the foul line six times a game (in 19 of 63 regular-season appearances, he didn't attempt a free throw).

  • Beal played lockdown defense on All-Stars DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors and Kyle Korver, the NBA's top three-point shooter, of the Atlanta Hawks. 

  • Without John Wall setting him up after he broke his left wrist in Game 1 vs. Atlanta, Beal's production actually increased. In the three games that Wall missed, Beal tallied 22 assists. 

Recent history suggests the Wizards would prefer to get the issue put to bed now so it doesn't linger throughout the season and serve as a distraction. They offered a max deal to Wall in this same position, before he blossomed into a two-time All-Star, and now his five-year, $80 million deal looks like a bargain.

Wall makes players around him better and the Wizards knew that long before he signed his extension. Despite Beal's down season, will they reach the same conclusion? If allowed to become a restricted free agent, he'll certainly receive other offers which will drive up his pricetag in an open market. It's pay now or pay later. 

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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

Dwight Howard may play in the Wizards' regular-season opener on Thursday night against the Miami Heat, but the team will not know until the day of the game and likely won't announce the decision either way until head coach Scott Brooks addresses the media about two hours before tipoff.

Howard only has three practices under his belt but has made significant progress throughout this week after missing all five of the team's preseason games due to a strain in his piriformis muscle.

Head coach Scott Brooks said Howard has looked good in those three practices but has a lot of missed time to make up for.

"I think he's definitely winded at times, but that's part of it," Brooks said.

Brooks added that Howard is not getting the same lift when jumping that he's used to. Howard, 32, is used to playing above the rim and his vertical leap is an important part of his game.

The Wizards play their first two games at home, the second on Saturday against the Raptors. They then embark on a Western Conference road trip beginning with the Blazers on Monday.

Brooks said Howard will "definitely" make that trip with the team, which gives a good indication of how close he is to returning to game action. When Howard is ready to play will be left up to the team's medical staff.

If Howard does miss time, the Wizards are expected to rely on his backup Ian Mahinmi as the starting center. Jason Smith would then become the No. 2 center on the depth chart, though they could use forwards like Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at the five-spot.

Howard signed a two-year free-agent deal worth $11 million to join the Wizards in July.

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By the numbers: A beyond the box score stat each Wizards player can improve this season

By the numbers: A beyond the box score stat each Wizards player can improve this season

The Wizards kick off their 2018-19 season on Thursday against the Miami Heat, as they look for much better results than they got last year. The Wizards want to push for 50 wins and get past the second round of the playoffs and in order to do so, will need to improve in a variety of ways.

Here is a look at some stats that go beyond the box score that each Wizards rotation player could improve upon...

John Wall, PG, 1.8 contested threes per game

Bradley Beal is one of the best in the business at contesting three-pointers, at least when it comes to the frequency of closeouts. He was ninth in the NBA last season in the category with 4.1 per game and that was down from 4.4 the year before, when he placed fourth. Wall, on the other hand, has generally averaged less than half of Beal's output. 

Some of that can be explained by the fact Wall is usually guarding the primary ball-handler, while Beal is asked to defend a shooting guard and shooting guards generally shoot a lot of threes. But if Wall could improve in how many closeouts he gets on threes, the Wizards could become one of the best teams at defending the perimeter. They were already good last year at opponents three-point percentage, but could make strides in the amount of threes they allow. Last year they were 12th with 10.2 per game.

Bradley Beal, SG, 30% on pull-up threes

Beal's offensive maturation has been a joy to watch over the years and last season was the All-Star season breakthrough we all expected to arrive someday. But there is still room to grow and for a shooter as good as Beal, he could be better at pull-up threes. Many of the best scorers in the NBA have killer pull-up threes and last year Beal lagged behind, shooting just 30 percent on those plays. 

The good news is that he shot over 37 percent in each of the previous three years. If he gets back up there this season and works it back into his game that now includes an improved attack off the dribble, he will be incredibly hard to stop.

Otto Porter Jr., SF - 0.1 charges drawn per game

Porter does so many things well and is one of the more underrated players in the league. But no one in the Wizards' rotation took fewer charges than Porter. Now, that's easier said than done when LeBron James is barreling down the lane. But small forwards can be some of the most effective charge-takers on the floor because they often operate in the midrange and can step out of traffic to confront guards. Just look at Shane Battier's career.

Markieff Morris, PF, 1.5 screen assists per game

Morris didn't have a ton of opportunities to rack up screen assists last season as he was often playing alongside Marcin Gortat, who was especially good at setting screens and played a central part of the pick-and-roll. But Morris may play some more at the five spot this year in small-ball sets and executing good screens will be one of the biggest determinants of his success.

Dwight Howard, C, 0.5 fastbreak points per game

This one isn't going to be easy for the big man, who will likely be starting many of the Wizards' fastbreaks by rebounding the ball and dishing it out immediately to Wall or another guard. But Howard could get so many of his points this season simply by hustling up the floor in transition. Since he may have to sacrifice some of the post-up opportunities he enjoyed in Charlotte, fastbreak dunks could help him compensate. He just has to keep up with Wall. Sounds easy, right?

Kelly Oubre Jr., SF, 2.7 deflections per game

This number for Oubre is actually pretty good. He was tied for 24th in the NBA in the category and for a guy who doesn't play super-heavy minutes, that's not bad at all. It's just that Oubre has the potential to be one of the very best players in the game at deflecting passes. He has the wingspan, the quickness, and the instincts to wreak havoc like few players can. This is also one of the stats that GMs will notice when they determine how much to offer him next summer. If he finishes, say, top-five in the NBA, that will be a major selling point.

Ian Mahinmi, C, 15.6 defensive rebound percentage

Mahinmi had the best offensive rebound percentage on the Wizards last year, but was fourth on the defensive end. The Wizards want to be better defensively and play with more pace and Mahinmi will be a big key to accomplishing those goals for the bench. They need to get the ball off the rim and out to Austin Rivers and Tomas Satoransky as soon as possible.

Austin Rivers, SG, 36.3 percent on catch-and-shoot threes

Rivers' 64.2 free throw percentage is his biggest area to improve this season, but since the point of this article is to go beyond the box score, let's go with his catch-and-shoot three-point percentage. Rivers was decent last year and has been better in the past, but his ability to space the floor and fire it away quickly off a pass is going to be important for the Wizards' second unit this season. Last year, Rivers was better at hitting threes off the dribble, but will need to knock down shots on catch-and-shoot plays to reach his ceiling playing alongside Satoransky.

Tomas Satoransky, PG, 0.0 percent on pull-up threes

What was true for Rivers is the opposite for Satoransky and to an extreme degree. Despite leading the NBA with a 52.2 percentage on catch-and-shoot threes, he literally did not make a single attempt from three off the dribble. 

Don't believe that? Check his NBA.com splits page. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 and has a high release point. He is also getting more and more comfortable creating off the dribble. The next step for him as a shooter is to diversify how and where he shoots from on the floor. 

Jeff Green, PF, 1.0 deflections per game

Green was one of the best players on the Cavaliers last season at contesting shots, but ranked 12th on the team in deflections. He has the size and athleticism to get in passing lanes, despite playing much of the time around the rim.

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