2021 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 29: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards smiles during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers during Round 1, Game 3 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on May 29, 2021 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC.
Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Beal caps career-best season with All-NBA honors

Coming off the best season of his nine-year NBA career, Bradley Beal was named All-NBA Third Team on Tuesday night, capping an historic individual season that cemented his place among the league’s elite. Beal becomes the 14th player in franchise history to be named to an All-NBA team and the third since 2000 (Gilbert Arenas, John Wall).

Beal averaged 31.3 points per game, which ranked second in the NBA, shooting a career-high 48.5% from the field, the second-highest field goal percentage among all players with at least 20 field goal attempts per game.

“I am humbled and honored to be named to the All-NBA Third Team,” Beal said in a statement after the announcement was made. “I would not be able to achieve this honor without my coaching staff, teammates, and our great fans who gave me unbelievable support during an unprecedented season. I am excited to get back to work this summer and building on what we were able to accomplish.”

“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said earlier this season. “Not (just) one of the best guards, he’s one of the best all-around players in the league.”

Just a handful of years ago, Beal was regarded as a highly capable young shooter with potential to grow into more, but struggled to make strides as nagging injuries shortened his seasons. As he fought through a hamstring injury late in the 2020-21 season to help the Wizards through the final stages of their push for the postseason, Beal noted on multiple occasions how important it was to him that he overcame the injury-prone label that overshadowed the early years of his career.

Beal played over 70 games just once in his first four seasons in the league and didn’t average more than 17.4 points per game in that time. Just a few years later, he’s put together back-to-back seasons averaging at least 30.0 points per game, becoming just the sixth player since the NBA-ABA merger to do so.

The Wizards finished the regular season four games below .500 (34-38), but were four games over (32-28) in the 60 games that Beal played. In those 60 games, he led the team in scoring 49 times, including a franchise-record-tying 60-point game, a 50-point game, eight 40-point games (second-most in the NBA) and 34 30-point games.

Beal started the season with 17 consecutive games with at least 25 points, the longest such streak to start a season since the NBA-ABA merger and the fifth-longest all-time, trailing only streaks by Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry and Elgin Baylor. In that time, he averaged 34.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. In 12 of those 17 games, Beal scored over 30 points, highlighted by the 60-point game in Philadelphia in which he totaled 57 points in the first three quarters.

“It was a crazy season,” Beal said in his exit interview with the Wizards Podcast Network’s Off The Bench podcast. “A lot of highs, a lot of lows, but the high moments were just that. I had, individually, some very good games. I would say my career high with 60 would probably be my favorite playing against the Sixers. That was fun being in that environment. It was tough because it was like playing pickup almost. No fans, just your team vs. my team – who wants it?”

Beal’s red-hot opening weeks of the season drew praise from all around the league.

“Great players in this league continue to re-invent themselves and find different ways to attack,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said of Beal in early February. “Bradley Beal has earned the opponent staffs and teams to game-plan and throw everything and the kitchen sink at him to try and slow him down. I don’t think anybody has really figured that out this year.”

“Besides the talent level that people witness and watch night-in and night-out, in terms of what he’s doing, I think his character, his competitiveness, just his internal makeup,” said Billy Donovan, Bulls head coach and Beal’s college coach at the University of Florida. “I think that’s what has enabled him to constantly, every year in the league, just get better and better and better. I think it’s a tribute to his work ethic…I’m not surprised with what he’s done as a player in this league. I would have expected this out of him because of his character and his work ethic.”

While Beal’s record-breaking hot start to the season made for great entertainment – and earned Beal an All-Star appearance after a 2019-20 snub – it was not translating to wins. That all changed in the final weeks of the season.

In the same exit interview, Beal highlighted the Wizards run over the final 23 games of the regular season as one of his favorite memories of the season, coming back from a 17-32 record that had them sitting at 13th in the Eastern Conference. Washington closed the season 17-6, finished eighth in the East and advanced out of the Play-In Tournament to secure a first round series against the Sixers. Beal’s individual statistics in that time were outstanding. After missing six of eight games with hip and back injuries, Beal played the next 16 games, averaging 32.7 points on 49.5% shooting in 37.4 minutes per game. The Wizards went 13-3 in that time with wins over the Jazz, Warriors, Lakers and Pacers (twice). In the final game of that 16-game stretch, a one-point win over an Indiana team Washington was battling with for postseason seeding, Beal scored 50 points on 19-31 (.613) shooting, but left early with a hamstring injury.

Beal sat for the next three games with the hamstring injury, but returned for the Wizards’ regular season finale, a matchup against the Hornets with significant Play-In Tournament seeding implications. Beal struggled in the early going, but saved enough for when it mattered most. He scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, giving Washington the win and the advantageous eight-seed in the Play-In Tournament.

Beal was clearly playing at less than 100% health, and admitted as much, but continued to push through and give the Wizards just enough to get into the postseason.

“Call me the one-leg bandit,” Beal said with a laugh after Washington’s loss to Boston in their first play-in game. “I try to be as impactful as I possibly can. I think I had four compression sleeves on, but it’s just a matter of doing whatever it takes to be out there. I’m trying to help these guys as best I can and obviously smart with it.”

After the loss play-in loss to the Celtics, Washington faced a win-or-go-home situation against Indiana two days later. Beal led the way with 25 points on 9-17 (.529) shooting, propelling the Wizards to a 27-point win over the Pacers. The victory clinched a postseason berth for Washington, a goal that both Beal and the organization established and reiterated throughout the season.

He scored at least 25 points in all five of the Wizards’ playoff games against the Sixers, including a 33-point, 10-rebound, six-assist game in Game 1, becoming the third player in franchise history with at least 30-10-5 in a postseason game.

Beal’s All-NBA recognition is a fitting cap to a historic season, chock-full of record-breaking games Washington needed to keep its season afloat. At certain points, the Wizards were stretched as thin as any team in the league, relying consistently on performances from their stars and unlikely contributions from lesser-known role players. Through it all, Beal was the driving force. While his season was highlighted by 60- and 50-point games and explosive fourth quarter performances, it was defined by its consistency, the fact that his coaches and teammates could count on him every night to show up and bring All-NBA level play. Still, Beal rarely gloated or went out of his way to draw attention to his own standout performances, usually deferring praise to Washington’s role players and developing young core.

Throughout a tumultuous season loaded with on-court and unprecedented off-court challenges, it was never hard to believe that Beal had as much fun as it looked like he was having. As the Wizards season ended – along with Beal’s career-best season-long campaign – the All-NBA guard reflected on the mindset that drove him all year long.

“It’s easy to lose sight of why you play the game,” Beal said after Game 5 in Philadelphia. “Whether you’re pressing or you want to do so well to win or contribute to the team, it’s very easy to lose sight of why you play the game when you were five or six – because it was fun. We embraced it, we loved it. Nothing changes for me at the highest level ever. It’s the same motto, same mentality – embracing the stage you’re on, understanding and trusting your work. You worked your tail off to be where you are, so have fun in the game. Go out and give it your all and understand that you put in the work to be where you are.”

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