What we learned from the NBA portion of the Wizards' preseason schedule

Chase Hughes
NBC Sports Washington
<p>The Wizards have one more preseason game, but it's not against an NBA team and John Wall will not play. So, let's evaluate what we saw from their NBA exhibition games.</p>

What we learned from the NBA portion of the Wizards' preseason schedule

The Wizards have one more preseason game, but it's not against an NBA team and John Wall will not play. So, let's evaluate what we saw from their NBA exhibition games.

We already know John Wall will not play on Friday in the Wizards' final preseason game, and other key players may follow suit. The game is also not against an NBA team, but instead the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association.

With all due respect to Yongpeng Zhang and Muxtar Shirelijian, the NBA-level regular season tuneup of the Wizards' exhibition schedule is for all intents and purposes over with. Head coach Scott Brooks is likely to rely heavily on his backups in Friday's preseason finale and may go all the way to the bottom of his bench to dole out playing time.

Since Wall's preseason is over, it seems like an appropriate time to take a step back and draw some conclusions about what to expect when the Wizards kick things off with their regular season opener against the Miami Heat on Oct. 18. Here are five observations...

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Bench has potential: Given there are new additions and players in contract years and plenty of unknowns, there are some fair questions about the Wizards 2018-19 bench. And, as we've seen many times over the years, what appears to be an improved second unit on paper can often be a mirage. Sort of like a bullpen in baseball, it's hard to predict how players will perform when they are only offered small sample sizes to work with.

But through four preseason games it is already clear, at the very least, that the ceiling for the Wizards' bench is much higher than it was a year ago and maybe higher than it has been in a long time. 

Tomas Satoransky, though yet to find his three-point stroke, has been impressive. He is clearly more confident after balling out for the Czech national team over the summer and is using his versatility like never before. He's rebounding, setting others up with crisp passes and playing sound defense both on and off the ball. 

Satoransky has stood out in small ways on offense, particularly in his time off the ball. When Austin Rivers attracts the defense cutting into the lane or Jeff Green draws them in on a post-up, Satoransky becomes extra dangerous with his threat as an outside shooter and because he is a quick decision-maker on catch-and-go plays.

Speaking of Rivers, his ability to both shoot the three and cut past defenders off the dribble can be a massive difference-maker. The Wizards haven't had some as creative as he is offensively on their bench in years. He's lightning quick off the dribble and so far has shown a willingness to pass when the defense closes. He is also a hard-nosed, aggressive defender and has set a physical tone on the perimeter.

Green, who like Rivers was added this offseason, adds athleticism to the second unit and a calm, cerebral presence on both ends of the floor. He's smooth in the post and explosive on the fastbreak. He can switch to guard multiple positions on defense. Green could be a major asset this season if he stays consistent.

Kelly Oubre Jr. has produced mixed results this preseason, but his game on Wednesday night was a good indication of how he can thrive when asked to do less offensively. Oubre had a horrible shooting night, but still impacted the game with deflections on defense and his speed on offense. With Rivers and others carrying the scoring load, Oubre can be a super utility player who does all the dirty work.

Dwight Howard's injury has prevented us from seeing the second unit as a hole, but Jason Smith has filled in nicely. His 14-point, six-rebound performance against the Pistons was a good sign for a potential bounceback season.

All in all, the Wizards' bench has a chance to be a plus this season and for the first time in a long time.

Mahinmi looks good: Howard's buttocks injury has allowed Mahinmi to crack the starting lineup, and so far the results have been mostly good. Mahinmi, as his teammates and coaches have noted, is moving better than he ever has since he signed a free agent deal with the Wizards in 2016. He was healthy this offseason and appears much sharper after working on his game rather than rehabbing an injury for much of the summer.

Mahinmi's apparent resurgence is coming at a good time for the Wizards, as Howard may miss their season opener and has yet to even practice. If Howard misses a few games in the regular season, they might be able to get by just fine. And when Howard comes back, Mahinmi could provide the rim protection and overall steadiness for the bench that the Wizards were seeking when they acquired him.

The one problem Mahinmi has shown this preseason is his knack for getting into foul trouble. That could be an issue. But otherwise, it seems like he is gearing up for a productive season and may even sprinkle in some three-pointers for the first time in his career.

Howard's injury could linger: Let's go back to Howard. The biggest thing we learned in the preseason is that his injury is worse than initially thought. His timeline is still unclear, now 17 days after his injury was originally revealed by Brooks.

Howard, who signed with the Wizards in July, has since seen a specialist in New York and received a pain injection. Though all along the Wizards have insisted he is making progress, he hasn't been able to do much besides shoot the ball.

There are only seven days before the Wizards' regular season begins, so time is running out. There is usually something that emerges from the preseason that unexpectedly becomes a big question for the regular season and this certainly qualifies.

Brown is a fascinating project: Wednesday night against the Pistons was the Wizards' final dress rehearsal against an NBA team and rookie first round pick Troy Brown Jr. did not see the floor. That told us plenty about where he currently stands in the rotation and that is on the outside looking in.

Brown is only 19-years-old and there is considerable depth at his position, so we probably could have guessed he wouldn't be getting heavy minutes early on. And throughout the preseason, we have been reminded that he is very much a work in progress.

The talent and potential are obvious. His rebounding, passing and ball-handling skills are advanced for his age and he could some day be a uniquely gifted passer for his size. But he can't consistently make shots yet and some of the passes and dribble combinations that worked in college will need to be adjusted for the NBA level.

The good news is that Brown is a super hard worker and could very well force his way into the rotation by the end of the season. One high-ranking Wizards executive remarked during training camp that he expects it to be difficult for the Wizards to keep him off the court by the middle of the year.

Wall and Beal might be even better: The preseason has shown us many things we already knew about John Wall and Bradley Beal. The two are All-Stars look poised to tear up the league like they always do.

But we have also seen some stuff that is new, some wrinkles in their game that Brooks has been seeking for a few years now. We saw Wall play more off the ball and, at times, be effective doing so. We have seen Beal bring the ball up the floor and show no pause in attacking the rim. His confidence as a creator off the dribble continues to improve and impress.

We all get caught up in the additions the Wizards make each offseason, as if trades and free agent signings are the only way the team can get better. But with a still-young core, the best way for the Wizards to take another step is if guys like Wall, Beal, Oubre and Otto Porter Jr. continue to ascend. Wall and Beal, though already well-established, may still be rising.

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