- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Toward the end of the Washington Wizards’ first practice of training camp Tuesday, there were threes as far as the eye could see.

On every end of the two practice courts at the new MedStar Wizards Performance Center in the District, players took turns practicing 3-point shots. Otto Porter. Kelly Oubre. Ian Mahinmi.

Yes, Mahinmi — the center who has attempted eight 3-pointers in his 10-year NBA career.

Coach Scott Brooks said defense was the first thing the Wizards focused on when they opened camp. But on offense, the long ball is atop the priority list.

“We feel that we have a great shooting team. We shot 38 percent (last year),” Brooks said. “So we need more of them.”

In making that decision, Brooks and his team have committed to catching up to a leaguewide trend for which the NBA has become infamous. Teams averaged 29 3-point attempts a game in 2017-18, an average which skyrocketed from just 18 attempts per game in 2010-11. For seven straight seasons, the NBA has collectively set a new league record in that category.

The Wizards ranked 23rd in 3-pointers attempted last season, lagging behind the league average with 26.5 shots per game. But their success rate of .375 percent was the fourth-best mark in the NBA.

Brooks held a 3-point shooting contest in the middle of Tuesday’s practice, saying it was one of the first times he’d ever tested it out as a drill. He divided the Wizards into four teams, and the losing teams had to perform push-ups.

“We want to make practice fun and we want to make practice competitive,” Brooks said. “We want to make practice very efficient. The things we do in practice, like I told our guys, everything we do is thought out and it’s about getting our team better, it’s about getting yourself better … It’s not coach talk, it’s not coach drills, it’s players getting better drills.”

Porter said he was not part of the winning team, smiling as he said he was a bit salty he had to do push-ups.

“We’re definitely focused on taking more threes and more paint touches,” Porter said. “We’re trying to take less mid-range. That’s the way the league is going, so that’s the approach that we’re gonna take.”

But for players like Porter, who called mid-range shots his “bread and butter,” that commitment requires an adjustment. The small forward said he couldn’t remember the last time he took a mid-range shot in practice this summer.

Now, he says, the 18-foot shot is “there just in case,” a Plan B or C of sorts.

“It’s never gonna go anywhere, so why not shoot more threes?” he said.

The long-range shots won’t be left up to Porter, John Wall and Bradley Beal, either. Brooks expects his bigs to contribute them as well, particularly forward Markieff Morris. Morris shot a career-best .367 from 3-point range last season, making him an option when the Wizards need to go small.

“With Keef, his ability to shoot threes last year and hopefully even more this year, we can play him because his feet are pretty quick. He can guard smaller players,” Brooks said. “Small-ball lineup, it just depends. I look at it more (as) a lineup that can shoot threes. With Keef being in that shooting four spot now, and he can put the ball on the floor, it’s an asset for us.”

Brooks added that Mahinmi sincerely has been working on his 3-pointer.

“I’m not saying that we’re gonna design plays for him, but don’t be surprised if he shoots threes,” the coach said. “He made 65 out of 100 last week. He works on it.”

Asked about Mahinmi’s deep ball, Porter had a quick laugh before replying, “There’s a lot of bigs that play the five that’s putting up shots that you would never think. I mean, if our coaches got him shooting up threes, then you just got to live with it.”

Center Dwight Howard also has talked about adding a 3-point shot to his game, even before signing with the Wizards last offseason. But whether that’s possible for him remains to be seen.

Howard missed Day 1 of camp with a sore back, as he and Brooks warned could happen at the team’s media day Monday. Austin Rivers left practice early as he dealt with neck spasms.

The Wizards have just five days before playing their first preseason game Oct. 1 at home against the New York Knicks.

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