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Most Improved Player Award within Bradley Beal's reach


Most Improved Player Award within Bradley Beal's reach

NBA preseason is also open season for predictions. Earlier this week, Ben Standig looked at John Wall's Vegas odds for winning the NBA MVP. Perhaps more realistic are Bradley Beal's prospects for winning the Most Improved Player Award. 

Typically, the MIP honors go to players in their third or fourth seasons, as with last year's winner Jimmy Butler. Beal has been a starter for all three of his years in the NBA, but is still only 22 years old.

Sure, he was unusually mature coming into the league, but most players aren't done developing at his age. It's enticing to think that a player who averaged 15.3 points and shot 41% from 3-point territory last year will only get better.

Being so young should give him plenty of time to work on his weaknesses -- shot selection, free throw shooting and ball handling -- or so the thinking goes. Granted, Beal has to stay healthy, but if he can improve those things and follow through on his pre-season goals of shooting more beyond the arc and doubling down on defense, he could be the favorite to win MIP.

There's only one flaw in the logic that assumes Beal will trend upward: He hasn't exactly been doing that, at least not yet. Let's look at his statistical progression in several key categories.

3-point shooting: 39% (1.6 of 4.2 attempts per game) in year one; 40% (1.9 of 4.7 attempts) in year two; 41% (1.7 of 4.1 attempts) in year three. 

His free throw shooting is similarly flat: 79% (2.2 of 2.8 attempts per game) in year one; 77% (2.0 of 2.6 attempts) in year two; 80% (2.1 of 2.6 attempts) in year three.

As for turnovers per game, he averaged 1.6 in year one, 1.8 in year two and 2.0 in year three.

Beal went on a scoring tear in the 2015 playoffs, jumping from 15.3 points per game in the regular season to 23.4 in the postseason. But his efficiency took a hit, especially 3-point shooting percentage. He turned the ball over more often, too. 

Is it a bad sign that his numbers haven't shown much year-over-year growth? Unclear, but that wasn't the case with the past three Most Improved winners: Butler, Paul George and Goran Dragic.

Butler won it in his fourth season (second starting) and showed significant growth in nearly every statistical category each year. George also won in his fourth season (third starting) as the culmination of a steady upward trajectory on offense. Dragic took five years, but received the award following his first full season as a starter, this after starting no more than five games in any of his first three seasons. 

None of this means that Beal can't or won't make a MIP-level leap, but that if he does, the graph of his growth will look quite different from those of recent winners. 

The Wizards are making some changes this season that will benefit Beal's Most Improved hopes. Namely, coach Randy Wittman wants his team to attempt more 3-pointers instead of settling for long 2s, the most inefficient shot in basketball.

For a player that shoots so well from beyond the arc, Beal should be averaging more attempts per game. According to Basketball-Reference.com, only eight players shot a better 3-point percentage than Beal did last season (41%), but he didn't even crack the top 20 in number of 3-pointers taken. 

His attempts from downtown will almost certainly increase this year, as will his fast-break opportunities as the Wizards transition to an up-tempo offense. A small-ball, fast-paced style should also result in more trips to the free throw line. 

There's also the not-so-little matter of his contract situation: The Wizards and Beal have not yet agreed to an extension. He will become a restricted free agent next year if he doesn't re-sign with Washington.

The player's camp is likely seeking a max deal or something close, but Washington seems more content to let the season begin than make that financial commitment up-front. The circumstance puts pressure on Beal to prove he's worth max money -- many million dollars of motivation to stay healthy and step up his game. 

One thing's for certain: a Most Improved Player Award would all but lock up the big bucks. 

MORE WIZARDS: Wizards compensate for poor 3-point shooting in new offense

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Wizards' preseason showed how Jeff Green can help bench score from inside and out

Wizards' preseason showed how Jeff Green can help bench score from inside and out

When Mike Scott left to join the L.A. Clippers, the Wizards replaced him as the backup power forward with Jeff Green and in doing so found a guy who is similar in many ways, albeit for a cheaper price. He is experienced, versatile offensively and even a local guy who roots for the Redskins.

Where they differ on the offensive end is the ways they like to score. Scott is more of a three-point threat, while Green is more comfortable operating in the post. 

Last season with the Wizards, Scott attempted only a third of his shots from less than 10 feet, while Green took 54.2 of his attempts from that range. Nearly a third of Green's shots (30.3) came within five feet of the rim.

Green's ability to score inside and with his back to the basket may end up complementing others in the Wizards' second unit quite well. Three-point shooting is more important than ever in today's NBA and his ability to draw the defense inside can open up the floor for others like Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers.

The Wizards did not have anyone on their bench last season with Green's level of skill in the post and Green showed in the preseason a willingness to pass from the paint.

Against the Knicks in the Wizards' fourth preseason game, Green had the ball in the post when he noticed Satoransky's defender was moving closer inside, perhaps anticipating a rebound. He fired the ball to Satoransky, who pump-faked a three and dribbled to his right before knocking down a jumper at the top of the key.

"It's just smart basketball. There are a lot of unselfish guys," Green said of the Wizards' bench. "I think we just work well together. We feed off each other. I think we know how to play the right way."

Satoransky led the Wizards with a 46.5 three-point percentage last season. He knocked down 51.2 percent off catch-and-shoot plays. Rivers shot 37.8 percent from three last year for the Clippers and 37.1 percent on catch-and-shoot looks.

Oubre shot only 34.1 percent overall from three, but that number dropped significantly towards the end of the year. He can get hot from three and is dangerous when cutting to the basket off the ball. Ian Mahinmi, though not highly skilled in the post, can make defenders pay for leaving him on double teams.

It's not only about threes for Rivers and Satoransky, as Satoransky showed on that one play in New York. Both are solid at catch-and-gos. Rivers is decisive and quick and Satoranksy has made noticeable strides since he entered the league and taking off once he gets a pass. 

Green, 32, is still learning their strengths.

"I try to use their attributes to our advantage and creating what I can create," Green said. "If they can shoot and I'm being doubled, I'm going to make the right play and get it to the shooter."

The Wizards made upgrading their bench a big priority this offseason and the net result may be the most versatile group they have had in years. They can shoot threes, run the floor and, with Green in the mix, work inside and out.


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Capital City Go-Go now allow Wizards make final roster cut to 14 and leave the 15th spot open

Capital City Go-Go now allow Wizards make final roster cut to 14 and leave the 15th spot open

On Saturday, two days before the deadline to finalize Opening Day rosters, the Washington Wizards waived four players - LaVoy Allen, Chris Chiozza, Chasson Randle and Tiwian Kendley - and in doing so trimmed their roster down to 14 players. That's one fewer than the NBA roster maximum of 15 players, meaning they opted to leave one of their roster spots vacant.

This was not a big surprise, but it's worth going through the reasons why they chose to do so for those who may be wondering. 

For one, the Wizards have a lot of money committed to their roster and could use some savings. They are fourth in the NBA this season with a total cap of $134.9 million. That is $11.1 million more than the salary cap limit, which means they are due to pay $19.1 million in luxury tax next year, according to Spotrac.

The Wizards also don't absolutely need that 15th player. They have two two-way players in Devin Robinson and Jordan McRae who collectively give them depth at a wide variety of positions. 

Under two-way contracts, they can be activated for up to 45 days this season before the Wizards have to decide on a fully guaranteed NBA deal. The NBA adjusted the rules this season to exclude travel days from that 45-day clock. The NBA days limit for Robinson and McRae also does not begin until G-League training camps begin on Oct. 22.

Speaking of the G-League, the Wizards have their own team now. The Capital City Go-Go will begin their inaugural season in November and that will give the organization the deepest stable of prospects (and roster spots) is has ever had. They now have much more room than ever to stash young players that would otherwise be considered for the final spot.

Even if the Wizards didn't have that option, as they did not last year, it wouldn't necessarily convince them to fill the last roster spot. Last season, they went without a 15th player for much of the year and for extended stretches only carried 13, the league minimum. They even rolled with 12 after the NBA trade deadline, as the league allows two weeks for teams to reach the minimum.

That recent history alone was enough to suggest they wouldn't fill the 15th spot. And, truthfully, that 15th spot rarely came into play as an actual need. This isn't the NFL where injuries make every roster spot incredibly valuable, or MLB where extra innings can sometimes make it feel like their rosters aren't deep enough.

Perhaps the Wizards will fill the 15th spot at some point this season. They can do so in a variety of ways, including if they trade one player for two. Just don't count on it, for all the reasons listed above.