As offensively challenged as the Washington Wizards were last season, their top needs in Thursday’s NBA draft are clear.

With the third overall pick, Wizards’ President Ernie Grunfeld must address the team’s subpar scoring and inefficient three-point shooting. Grunfeld needs to select an athletic wing player who possesses a nice long-range touch and belly-growling hunger to improve. If Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal is available, Grunfeld should pick him faster than Andray Blatche asks for a break during practice.

During their fourth consecutive season with a winning percentage below .318, the Wizards averaged only 93.6 points – tied for the eighth-lowest total in the 30-team league. Their horrendous .320 percentage on three-pointers was the NBA’s third-worst mark.

Although there is no shortage of reports of teams trying to trade up to No. 2 to take Beal, he could still be available when Grunfeld goes on the clock at No. 3. If the Wizards, who have missed the playoffs 19 times in the past 24 seasons, hope to complete their latest rebuilding project sometime before John Wall, their talented and clearly frustrated point guard, retires, they need to quickly gobble up the up-and-coming Beal.

Beal, who turns 19 today, has the required physical tools (he’s listed at 6 feet 4, 207 pounds) needed to become an impact-making NBA shooting guard. Beyond the “measurables” that decision-makers weigh before investing millions in teenagers, Beal also has produced during actual competition.

In his only year with the Gators, Beal was much better late in the season – his three-shooting improved markedly – than he was in the beginning. That’s the type of right-direction performance general managers like to see.

NBA people who have spent time with Beal say he’s as steady off the court as he is on it. And maturity is something the Wizards have strived to bring to their locker room while still digging out from the wreckage caused by franchise-killer Gilbert Arenas.

“He’s a high-character, high-skill shooting guard,” a Western Conference general manager wrote to me Wednesday in a text message. “The upside is, he’s Ray Allen. . . . He’s the safest guy in the [draft’s] top five.”

A retired general manager recently told me he didn’t buy the Allen stuff, simply because he doesn’t like to compare incoming players to future Hall of Famers. “But the kid is very good,” the former general manager said. “He’d help anyone that needs” a shooting guard.

In the NBA right now, the Wizards are high on that list.

They finally gave up on one-dimensional 2007 first-rounder Nick Young, trading him to the Los Angeles Clippers in March. Holdover Jordan Crawford, another first-round pick (acquired in a trade), shot 28.9 percent from behind the three-point arc and has made 39.4 percent of his field-goal attempts during two seasons in the league. If those numbers don’t improve a lot, Crawford may find himself in another line of work soon.

The Wizards, who also hold the second pick in the second round, must pair Wall with a backcourt mate capable of keeping pace with him. Wall is entering his third season, and surrounding him with talent is essential to his continued development individually and that of the team.

In addition to potentially providing the Wizards with dependable wing scoring because of his consistent jumper, Beal also is the type of big-time athlete (he averaged a very un-guard-like 6.7 rebounds in college) alongside whom Wall thrived while playing at Kentucky and on the AAU circuit in high school.

“If someone doesn’t move up to No. 2 to get him, I think the Wizards would,” draft Beal with the third pick, the Western Conference general manager said.

There’s certainly a lot of positive buzz surrounding Beal. NBA executives had a favorable view of him based on his solid and, at times, sensational showing as a college freshman. He has only helped himself in workouts and interviews with teams.

Nothing Beal has accomplished to this point, however, guarantees his future success in a league in which the Wizards once used a No. 1 overall pick to select Kwame Brown – among professional sports’ all-time biggest draft busts.

As any longtime hoops observer knows, players who stood out at lower levels often fail in the top-of-the-mountain NBA.

Many are done in by lack of talent, which, unfortunately for teams, only becomes apparent well after the ink has dried on their seven-figure guaranteed contracts. Others are simply ill-equipped to conduct themselves professionally (Blatche should do a master’s thesis on that one).

With so much that could go wrong, the draft may seem like a total crapshoot to fans, especially considering some executives try to play down expectations even before making a pick. “When you’re drafting, you have to remember you’re going to draft a very young player,” the Wizards’ Grunfeld said recently. “He’s going to have to learn and have to grow.

“You have to remember . . . they’re young players.”

Know any teenage boys you would want to commit millions of dollars and the future of your franchise to?

No one has a fool-proof plan to unearth draft gold every year. The most successful talent evaluators, though, discover their share of gems.

Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti is widely considered the best in his field. Six picks after the Wizards selected knuckleheaded center JaVale McGee (they finally traded him in March) during the first round of the 2008 draft, Presti used a first-round pick on some guy from the Congo named Serge Ibaka.

Ibaka led the NBA in blocked shots last season. He’s a first-team all-NBA defensive player and a cornerstone of the young, exciting Thunder, which lost to the Heat in the NBA Finals.

“Scouting, certainly, is a huge bedrock for any organization, but no one here is taking credit for knowing Serge Ibaka would turn into this type of player,” Presti said recently in a phone interview.

“Evaluating young players is very difficult. We try to make informed decisions and just try to do the best we can and shift the odds. But you need some good fortune.”

Beal still being available when the Wizards pick would qualify. Making the correct choice would be up to Grunfeld.

For Jason Reid’s previous columns go to