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Chris McCullough is doing his best to improve with limited playing time and free agency months away

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USA Today Sports

Chris McCullough is doing his best to improve with limited playing time and free agency months away

It is not often that Wizards fans get a glimpse of forward Chris McCullough, who resides on the end of Washington's bench. He only gets playing time at the very end of already-determined games or out of necessity due to injury on rare occasions.

McCullough is often only in the game for a few minutes at a time, but he makes the most of the opportunity. He is active running the floor and attacking the rim, trying to put up any stats he can before the final buzzer rings.

The numbers reflect that if you want to have fun with small sample sizes. McCullough is averaging 2.6 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.3 blocks in 4.8 minutes, which equate to 19.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes. Obviously, his numbers can't fairly be extrapulated over a full game. But the numbers he does record demonstrate that when he gets out there, he's not messing around.

"I make the most out of my three minutes," McCullough said. "I go get me a rebound, an assist or a dunk. That's my three minutes right there."

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His efficiency with his minimal playing time has drawn attention and jokes from his teammates. In a game against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 27, regular rotation players Markieff Morris and Mike Scott couldn't help but notice they didn't get a dunk in 30 minutes and 23 minutes, respectively, but that McCullough did in just four minutes on the floor.

"I come in and get a dunk right away. That's what I normally do," McCullough said.

Scott is a good player to ask about McCullough, as the two spent time together in the D-League during the 2016-17 season. He has watched McCullough develop over the past two seasons, first as a member of the Nets organization and now with the Wizards.

Scott sees a bright future for the 22-year-old.

"Man, he has so much athletic ability," Scott said. "I always tell him all the time 'man, you're gonna make a lot of money.' I know people are not supposed to say that to keep younger players like him level-headed and to keep them humble. But I always tell him that."

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At 29 years old, Scott has played six NBA seasons and his game has changed along the way. He relies less and less on his athleticism as a veteran player who has learned the tricks of the trade. 

McCullough remains a raw talent and has a lot to learn, but Scott has noticed improvement.

"He has nice touch, he has great length, quickness, speed. I just tell him he needs to slow down sometimes," Scott said. "His mind is moving faster than his body. Once he slows down and really starts to understand the game, he's gonna be a problem. He already can jump out of the gym."

Scott, who jokingly claims he taught McCullough how to shoot, says he thinks the game is slowing down for McCullough, but the young forward needs to continue learning his shooting spots on the floor and working on his ball-handling.

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McCullough said his focus recently has been pull-up jumpers in the halfcourt and transition. He is also continuing to learn how to establish a proper routine for NBA success.

Part of that is observing veteran players like Scott, Marcin Gortat and Jason Smith.

"First guy I watch is Jason Smith. He's been here for 10 or 11 years. He's a good professional. Not only on the court, but off the court as well. Everything he does, I try to mimic," McCullough said.

The Wizards declined the fourth-year option on McCullough's rookie contract back in October, but have the ability to sign him this summer if they want when McCullough will hit free agency. Members of the Wizards front office remain confident about his future and their chances of retaining him if they choose.

Though it may not show up during meaningful minutes in games, McCullough appears to be heading in the right direction.

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Listen to our recent interview with Chris McCullough on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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

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NBCSW

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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John Wall and Bradley Beal will depend on each other more than ever in year 7

John Wall and Bradley Beal will depend on each other more than ever in year 7

The Wizards will only go as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal take them. There's just no other way around it.

The chemistry between Wall and Beal has been the dominant topic for years surrounding this team, and the magnifying glass will only be pushed closer this season, despite all of the other additions the Wizards made this offseason.

It's all about the backcourt. 

Luckily, both Wizards All-Stars understand and embrace the pressure. 

"We're opposites, but we're the same in a way," Beal told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. "He's more loud and outspoken, I'm more chill and relaxed, but you put us together, it's peanut butter and jelly."

Have you noticed that peanut butter and jelly always seems to be the go-to "good combination" for people? At least Beal didn't say something weird like tuna and bananas, although to each his own if that's what you like.

Anyway, more importantly, Wall understands this sandwich dynamic just as much as Beal does. Especially when the topic of a championship comes up. 

"I couldn't get it without him, and he couldn't do it without me," Wall said.  "I think that's the bond we have built, and it's gotten so much better each year."

One of the biggest reasons for divorce that we see in pro sports is ego. So many players don't understand what Wall alluded to. No matter how good you are, you can't do it alone. You need your wingman.

There were certainly rumblings or worries that Wall and Beal had their issues chemistry-wise earlier in their careers, but we're seeing two young stars grow as each season passes. 

That doesn't mean there still won't be times where they don't click. That's natural.

Keep in mind though, this is the seventh season the two will play together. The NBA is known to chew up and spit out young, inexperienced teams. The grind is part of the journey. Wall and Beal have had playoff success and failures, but they went through it together.

Now comes the time where those learning experiences become something they grow from, and use it to fuel a push to their ultimate goal – a championship.

And maybe a better peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

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