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On February 24, Bradley Beal scored a career-high 55 points on 19-33 (.575) from the field, 8-13 (.615) from 3-point range and 9-10 (.900) from the free throw line. Beal scored 22 points in the fourth quarter alone, helping the Wizards erase a 17-point deficit in the final frame and force overtime against the league-best Bucks. One night prior, Beal scored 53 points in Chicago. Against the Bulls, he shot 55.5% from the field and made 18-20 (.900) free throws.
Beal’s two-night scoring display made history. He became the first player since Kobe Bryant in 2007 to score 50-plus points on back-to-back nights and the sixth player in league history to ever accomplish the feat.
The two-game stretch, spanning just over 24 hours, was a highly concentrated dose of everything Beal brings to the game. It was, however, just a small part of what may have been his most impressive accomplishment of the season. From January 20 through March 6, Beal scored 25-plus points in 21-straight games. The run, in which he averaged 36.0 points per game, featured two 50-point games, six 40-point games and 16 30-point games. It was the longest streak of 25-plus-point games in franchise history and the second-longest such streak in the league in the last 10 years.
The games against the Bucks and Bulls, as well as the other 19 games surrounding them, are the most eye-popping, attention-grabbing accomplishments of Beal’s career-best season. But the backbone of his 2019-20 campaign – and his most compelling case for a spot on the All-NBA team – is the consistency he brought from the season’s opening tip in scoring, playmaking and leadership.
On the season as a whole, Beal is averaging 30.5 points per game, the second-highest average in the league, trailing only James Harden, and the second-highest single-season average in franchise history. But scoring is just part of what Beal has brought to the table this season. He’s also averaging 6.1 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, making him only the fifth player since 1975 to average 30.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds while shooting over 45.0% from the field. The other four players on that list: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry.
Judged against history, Beal’s season stands tall. But his case for All-NBA won’t be judged against history. It will be judged against his peers – the other great performances of the 2019-20 season.
It passes that test as well.
Beal is one of four players with 30-plus games with 30-plus points, joining Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trae Young.
Beal is one of five players to score 20-plus points at least 50 times, joining Harden, Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard.
And Beal is one of just three Eastern Conference players, joining Antetokounmpo and Young, to average at least 25.0 points and 5.0 assists this season.
“His case is that he’s one of the top 15 players in the league,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “Every coach that coaches against him, they basically tell me that with all the double teams that we see and all the ways they try to stop him and all the ways we try to counter that – and Brad somehow figures out a way to still score 30 and six assists and lead us.”
Beal’s relentlessness and consistency have not gone unnoticed across the league. In the Wizards’ last game before the hiatus, a seven-point win over the Knicks, Beal capped his season fittingly: a 39-point, seven-assist showing in which he shot 11-25 (.440) from the field and 13-15 (.866) from the line.
“He’s not going to stop coming at you, he’s going to give it his all,” Knicks big man Bobby Portis said of Beal. “Everything is run through him, he doesn’t stop playing, he plays hard each and every night. He can score the basketball with the best – he’s the second-leading scorer in the league – so obviously he’s going to get his shots. It’s kind of hard to contain a guy like that, where you know he’s not going to stop coming at you. Normally when a guy misses two or three, he gets down on himself. It doesn’t matter if he misses four, five, six, seven, eight – he’s going to keep coming and it’s kind of hard to contain him.”
Two nights prior, after a matchup with Miami, Beal drew praise from another Wizards opponent: third-year All-Star Bam Adebayo. The two shared a moment following the game and Adebayo rocked a Beal jersey during his postgame interview, calling the Wizards’ guard “one of the top scorers in the league” and saying “it was great to know (I) earned his respect.”
“I’m happy to wear (the jersey),” Adebayo said. “It’s in his city. It’s just the utmost respect for a guy like that.”
With John Wall out for the season, Beal has been forced to take on a much heavier workload for Washington. His usage rate (34.4) is the highest of his career by 6.0 percentage points. While this accounts for some of the spike in Beal’s statistical production, it’s also put him in a position to round out parts of his game that had been less necessary through the first seven years of his career.
Beal’s scoring grabs the headlines, but it’s his playmaking that marks his biggest point of improvement this season. His 6.1 assists per game, a career high, makes it four-straight seasons he’s improved his assists per game rate and his second-straight season over 5.0 assists per game. Beal’s improvement holds up from an advanced angle as well. His assist percentage – an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted on while he was on the court – has climbed each of the last four years as well. At 29.1% this season, his assist percentage jumped 5.0% from last season.
Beal has dished out at least six dimes in 34 of his 57 games played this season, a testament to the volume and consistency of his improved playmaking skills. But his development in that facet of the game was never more evident or impactful as it was in a late-game scenario against the Nets on February 26.
Down by one with less than 10 seconds to go, Beal called for a screen, drew a Brooklyn double team and, rather than forcing his way through it, quickly found another option, dishing to Jerome Robinson, who knocked down a three to put the Wizards ahead for good.
After the game, Brooks praised Beal’s decision-making and noted just how far he’s come in the last four years.
“He makes plays and he's much more (than he was) when I took the job four years ago,” Brooks said. “I knew he was much more than just as a shooter or scorer. He can make plays and he's a two-way player. He's an all-around [player]. He's all set on the basketball court.”
“[He’s improved] a lot,” said San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan after Beal scored 33 points in 138-132 shootout win over the Spurs in November. “He’s a leader. He’s one of the best two guards in this league – one of the best scorers in this league. (He) has playmaking abilities. He’s grown. It’s been fun to watch him evolve all these years.”
Beal has made it clear all season that through all the statistical accomplishments, individual praise, franchise and league records, his focus remains the same. He wants to win.
The night Beal went off against Milwaukee, scoring 55 points, 29 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Wizards lost – and Beal took no time to celebrate the statistical accomplishments after the buzzer.
“I don’t care about points,” Beal said. “I don’t care about stats. I could have 80 points, but if we don’t win, I’m going to be pissed. Ultimately goal is to win, man. Whatever that looks like.”
His drive to win and his leadership of a young Wizards team, more so than the 50-point games, scoring streak and improvements as a playmaker, are Beal’s greatest case for recognition as one of the league’s best. Through great adversity and with more on his shoulders than ever before, Beal has put forth the best season of his career and one of the best season-long performances in the league this year.
“Brad has stepped up,” Brooks said. “He’s gotten better, he’s improved every year. I think he’s a great ambassador (for) the league…I know I coach him, so I get to see his work. I’ve seen his improvement; I’ve seen his body of work for the last four seasons. I see how he carries himself on and off the court. I’m proud to coach him. I’m sure he understands that he’s right there with the best players in the league. I think he deserves it.”