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Beal among league leaders in career-best start
Tuesday night against Orlando, with the Wizards missing five players due to injury, Bradley Beal played 42 minutes, took a season-high 30 shots and scored 42 points. Some of those minutes came at power forward, a position Beal says he has not played since his college days at the University of Florida. While the Wizards came up short down the stretch, Beal gave the team what they needed to stay in the game and put on an example-setting performance for the young players on the roster.
This season has presented circumstances Beal has not seen since his first year in the league. That season, Beal and fellow young backcourt star John Wall were still in the earliest stages of their careers. The Wizards went 29-53, finished 12th in the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs by a wide margin. The team was young, featuring eight players under the age of 25, and built with the development of those young players in mind. A handful of veterans, including Emeka Okafor and Nene Hilario, were among the team leaders in minutes, but played their most important roles behind the scenes, showing the way for the young players that would one day be tasked with carrying the franchise.
Seven years later, Beal is in the veteran seat. Sure, his role goes far beyond providing leadership and being a mentor for the Wizards’ youth – Beal is in his prime as one of the best players in the league, an All-Star, a multi-dimensional offensive weapon, an improved distributor and a closer. Beal is being asked to do as much or more for his team than any other star in the league. Going into the season, this much was clear: as goes Beal, so go the Wizards.
Beal embraced that challenge – and didn’t take long for him to find his stride. After a pair of subpar shooting performances in the Wizards’ first two games of the season, he ripped off one of the best stretches of his career. Over the next 11 games, Beal averaged 32.5 points on 50.6% shooting and 7.3 assists per game. That stretch included a trio of 40-point games, including a season-high 46 that helped Washington keep pace in a 159-158 shootout with the Houston Rockets. On November 13 against Boston, Beal scored 44, the first of five consecutive games with at least 30 points. Beal was the first Wizards player since Gilbert Arenas in 2006 to record such a streak.
From November 15-22, the Wizards won three of four games, their best stretch of this young season. In those games, Beal averaged 35.3 points and 8.5 assists per game, highlighted by a 44-point, 10-assist outing in a 21-point win over the Timberwolves. Beal shot 15-22 (.682) from the field with a +31 rating in 37 minutes of action and became one of just three players this season to record a game with at least 40 points and 10 assists.
Five days later, the Wizards hosted the Spurs, earning another shootout win, 138-132. Beal, who made 10 consecutive shots in the second half, scored 21 of his 33 points in the third quarter to spark the Washington win.
“[He’s improved] a lot,” Spurs All-Star DeMar DeRozan said postgame. “He’s a leader. He’s one of the best two guards in this league – one of the best scorers in this league…It’s been fun to watch him evolve all these years.”
Up next, the Charlotte Hornets. Beal went off for 30 points, 12 assists and five rebounds – his fifth consecutive 30-point game.
"He's an All-Star player,” Hornets head coach James Borrego said after Beal’s standout performance. “He's a guy that can play multiple levels; he can play off the bounce, you can trap him, you can blitz him, but he's going to find ways to free up not only himself, but his teammates. He's a heck of a player and you’ve got to give him credit.”
Beal has 10 games this season with 30-plus points, trailing only James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, and ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring with 28.7 points per game.
Only Doncic and LeBron James have recorded more games with at least 25 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. That balance, perhaps more than his scoring numbers, are the most impressive element of Beal’s year-over-year improvement.
This season, Beal is averaging 7.2 assists per game, more than double his career average. His assist percentage (the number of his teammates’ field goals he assists while on the court) has improved significantly in each of the last four seasons. Beal’s current 29.3 assist percentage is up from 24.1 percent last season, 21.0 percent in 2017-18 and 16.2 percent in 2016-17.
“He’s a baller,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. “We have challenged him every year to get better and he has. He’s basically been a point guard these last couple years with John [Wall] being out.”
Last year, playing in all 82 games, Beal became the first player in franchise history to average 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game over the course of an entire season.
Some of Beal’s statistical jumps are a product of a heavier workload. His usage rate, currently at 30.9 for the season, has gone up by about one percent each of the last four years. However, the increased volume has hardly taken a toll on his efficiency. His shooting percentage (47.2) trails only his 2018-19 and 2016-17 seasons and is nearly two percent higher than his career average.
The numbers are eye-catching, historic and impactful. Beal scores more – and more efficiently – in Washington’s wins this season. But Beal knows his statistical production and the wins that come from it are only part of the goal this season. The Wizards roster is full of former first round picks fighting to make a name for themselves in the league – and Beal understands his role as leader of that group. Beal has become the veteran he once looked up to as a young player. And as was the case during his rookie season, there have been and will continue to be bumps along the way.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” Beal said after Sunday’s loss to the Clippers. “…You’re not going to expect [the young players] to do what I do. You have to have that in mind and just understand that they are going to make mistakes and I’m going to make mistakes too. I can’t always just harp on them all of the time. Just continue to get better and improve and do the best we can do.”
Beal is now a figurehead of the organization, a leader and a spokesperson. His words and his on-court example carry more weight than they ever have in his career. As this young Wizards team battles through growing pains and fights off an early season injury bug, a performance like Tuesday’s 42-minute, 42-point showing may again be asked of Beal. If his production through the first month of the season is any indication, he’ll be up for the challenge.
“We've got to work with what we've got,” Beal said after the Orlando game. “We can't make excuses and on top of that it's giving a lot of guys the opportunity to come in and earn minutes. They're going to make the best of [those minutes]. We're just going to keep chipping away. We're right there.”