Center Ian Mahinmi already has a celebration in mind for his first career three-pointer.
He’s smiling as he shares the choreography that very well could happen this season. After lofting from the corner and watching that long-distance shot spin through the nylon, Mahinmi plans to make eye contact with Washington Wizards teammate Tomas Satoransky, whether he’s on the court or the sideline, and point. Satoransky finds the most humor in the thought of a 6-foot-11 veteran who’s never connected on a three-pointer in 11 years in the NBA suddenly becoming a shooter, so he’s going to be on the receiving end of the glare and extended index finger.
“Honestly, I’ve been practicing. I’ve been shooting threes,” Mahinmi said after he was spotted launching shots beyond the arc to end the team’s first training camp practice on Tuesday. “Why not work on that?”
If Wizards Coach Scott Brooks has his way, more of his big men will need to practice their three-point celebrations. Otto Porter Jr. will also forsake his “bread and butter” shot and Bradley Beal will adjust his brain into thinking that there is no such thing as a bad jumper, and set a new franchise record for most three-point attempts in a single game.
In Brooks’s vision, the 2018-19 Wizards will be a team that lives and thrives by the three.
“We want to shoot more threes,” Brooks said. “We don’t just want to jack up shots but we want to shoot more threes. We feel that we have a great shooting team. We shot 38 percent [last season], so we need more of them.”
Though Beal has been a repeat participant in the three-point shooting contest during All-Star Weekend and Porter has ranked among the league leaders in shooting percentage from the arc, the Wizards have still relied heavily on the midrange shot. Last season, the team ranked sixth overall in points per possession in shots from 17 feet to the three-point arc (0.833), according to Synergy Sports.
That shot now holds little value on the Wizards’ practice court. Brooks was so serious about eliminating midrange looks that during the late summer open gym runs, any long two was worth a single point. Corner threes were the only deep shot around the arc that accounted for three points. The goal behind the strange scoring system was to motivate players to take the most efficient three-point shot.
The plan worked for 6-9 Lavoy Allen. In his last year in the NBA, the 2016-17 season, Allen attempted nearly as many shots from midrange (54) as he did at the rim (60), but he has evolved and eschewed his sweet spot. When Allen competed in open gym, he recalls hitting two shots around the middle of the floor but instead of getting a “way to go” from the coaches, he heard a different encouragement.
“They told me to step back a little bit,” Allen said. “I made a couple threes … in the pickup games.”
Porter, who shot 45.1 percent in spot-up situations a year ago, had to think about the last time he attempted a midrange shot. He paused and searched for the answer. His memory only goes back so far.
“I don't remember the last time I took a midrange,” Porter said. “You know that's my bread and butter, so we're definitely focused on taking more threes and paint touches. We're trying to take less midrange. That's the way the league is going, so that's the approach that we're going to take.”
Beal has his coach’s blessing to become one of the high-volume three-point shooters in the NBA. He has the chops: Beal already holds the franchise record for most three-pointers in a season. Brooks has challenged him to take more.
For over a year, Brooks has told Beal to attempt 20 threes in a game. Chris Whitney and Gilbert Arenas share the team record for 15 attempts.
“I’m always about playing the right way and getting the best shot possible. Sometimes Coach wants me to take bad shots. As crazy as that sounds, that’s what he wants sometimes. That’s kind of an adjustment I have to make mentally,” Beal said. “I’ve never had anybody challenge me to shoot 20 threes in a game. I have still yet to do that and he told me that’s something he still wants to see while he’s coaching me. When you have a coach like that, I feel like no player would sit here and be like, ‘Oh man, I can’t do that.’ But when you have someone giving you that confidence, giving you that green light, it boosts you more.”
Don’t expect Mahinmi to shoot 20 in a game — he said he’s more focused on playing his role and really doesn’t think much about the perimeter.
“I’m not focused on my threes,” Mahinmi said.
Even so, last week in open gym Mahinmi made 65 of 100 three-pointers while mostly operating from the corner. Although the Wizards aren’t planning to design plays for Mahinmi corner threes, one day the look-and-point celebration just might happen.
“I’m looking at like, okay, if I’m in a situation in the game, put my mind into it and let it go like I do in practice, before practice, after practice and live with the result,” Mahinmi said. “It’s just like [adding] another weapon to your arsenal.”