Posted Oct 17, 2012 12:10 PM
BROOKLYN -- Nothing comes easy for the Washington Wizards.
This is supposed to be the season in which the Wizards take a step forward, maybe even challenge for a playoff spot in the East. The knuckleheads that have been holding them back for the last few seasons are gone from the locker room, replaced by a set of veterans that are supposed to give John Wall some stability.
But you just knew it wasn't all going to go according to plan, right?
Yep, Wall has a stress injury in his right knee and will miss all of training camp and the first month of the season. Beyond the third-year point guard, the Wizards also have already dealt with injuries or illnesses to Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singleton. The season is still two weeks away and coach Randy Wittman already has a M.A.S.H. unit on his hands.
You wonder: How much can Wittman and his team actually accomplish in training camp and in their eight preseason games? How long will it be before Wall is 100 percent. Will his development stall for another season? You question the future of the Wizards.
Then you watch rookie Bradley Beal play. And you realize that Bradley Beal can play.
Beal, selected by the Wizards with the No. 3 pick in this year's Draft, isn't the fastest guy on the court, nor the quickest. He's not a freak athlete, nor is he very big for his position. He doesn't overwhelm at all if you're just watching a game. But if you're just watching him, you see it.
He's a ballplayer. And he's a ballplayer playing his first preseason.
"Bradley is a great young player," teammate Trevor Ariza said this week. "His game speaks for itself. He's a mature, 19-year-old player and he has so much potential to his game."
When NBA.com conducted our Rookie Survey a couple of months ago, Beal received votes in seven of eight possible categories. Some of the 39 rookies thought he was a great shooter. Others thought he was a great playmaker. Another thought he was a great defender. And a couple even thought he was the funniest guy in the room.
Maybe the most noticeable thing about Beal is his composure. Rookies, especially those who played just one season in college, shouldn't have that at this point. But this one doesn't play too fast or get too flustered, as evidenced by just three turnovers in his first 110 preseason minutes.
"The thing that he's shown, for a rookie, is consistency," Wittman said before the Wizards' preseason loss in Brooklyn on Monday. "If you can come in as a rookie and be consistent, that's part of the process. You'd like to see that out of all your players, but he's shown that so far."
Through four games, Beal is the Wizards' leading scorer, averaging 15 points a game on 43 percent shooting. He's been solid from mid-range, but has also shown an ability to get to the rim and to the free-throw line.
Beal can get shots both off the dribble and off the ball. His first three buckets against the Nets were catch-and-shoot opportunities, the first two being mid-range jumpers after curling off pin-down screens. It's clear that he already knows how to move without the ball and create space for himself.
"There may be times I have to put the ball on the floor and score that way as well," Beal said. "It's just the flow of the game, just take what the defense gives me."
Beal might have to seek the ball more aggressively at times, though. On Monday, there were stretches when he didn't get any touches for a few minutes at a time. The Wizards need to utilize his skills, especially when their other scorers aren't on the floor. Wittman said that he doesn't want the rookie to "take a back seat."
"I think I got lost in the game a little bit," Beal said afterward. "I wasn't aggressive enough. There were times I was hitting open guys. We weren't making plays on the offensive end. We were sloppy at times."
Defensively, Beal is already solid, certainly better than his backup, Jordan Crawford. He was able to stay in front of Joe Johnson most of the night, but just didn't have the size to deal with the 6-foot-7 All-Star in the post.
"I've got to get stronger," Beal said. "There are going to be plenty of guys like that who are going to do that to me, like D-Wade and Kobe. That's just the beginning. I have a long way to go. I still think I did alright. I held my own, but he still got the best of me at the end."
Eventually, Wall will be healthy. And when he is, it may be his rookie backcourt-mate who gives him more stability than any of the veterans the Wizards brought in. After just 2 ½ weeks as a pro, Beal is already comfortable in the league.
"I feel more relaxed," Beal said when asked how much things have changed since training camp opened. "This feels normal right now. It doesn't feel like I'm nervous or I even feel like a rookie at all, so I'm just playing ball, just having fun."
"This," Ariza added, "is not even the surface of what he can do."
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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