WASHINGTON, DC -  MARCH 21: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards smiles against the Denver Nuggets on March 21, 2019 at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Beal emerges into bona fide star during career year

After making his first NBA All-Star team in the 2017-18 season, Bradley Beal was hungry for more in his seventh season. He wanted to be an All-Star caliber player for the second straight year to demonstrate consistency and improvement. Beal didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder; he was out to prove that he belonged in the conversation as one of the best players in the league.

Last season, Beal was asked to play a bigger role when John Wall missed 41 games. It wasn’t easy, as he had to change the way he played and become much more of a decision-maker. Still, he embraced the challenge, and helped keep his team in position to make the playoffs. Wall came back at the end of the 2017-18 season, but the Wizards lost to the Raptors in six games in the first round of the postseason.

When Wall went down again in late December this season, the franchise was put on Beal’s shoulders once again. The result put extra pressure on him for a second straight season to carry the load and try to lead the Wizards to success. This time, however, he knew what to expect.

Beal’s growth on the court guided the Wizards through a challenging season. The Florida product played the final 47 games without his All-Star backcourt mate in Wall, scoring 27.2 points per game. Without Wall, teams would double-team, trap, and load up on Beal; yet, he would still find ways to deliver. Beal won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award twice and was selected to his second straight All-Star Game. He finished the season averaging 25.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game, all career-highs. All Beal cares about at the end of the day is winning, but it was hard to ignore his career year.

“Granted, we did not have the season we wanted,” Beal says, “but there’s a lot of things we can build off of. A lot of positives we can take from it and definitely happy and proud of the way I played this year.”

“That’s a testimony to how much hard work he put in throughout the summer and season, preparing himself,” Wall said of Beal’s season back in February. “That’s why I felt like he should have been an All-Star starter. With the numbers he’s put up and carrying this team throughout the year, being in the Eastern Conference with 20-point games and 40-point triple-doubles. You don’t see too many other guards doing that other than probably James Harden.”

Beal became the first player in franchise history to average at least 25 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game in a season. He was also the first player in franchise history to score 2,000 points, grab 400 rebounds, and dish out 400 assists in a season, joining the likes of Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and other Hall of Famers and current All-Stars. He's just the 21st player in NBA history to accomplish the feat. Beal’s 40-point, 15-assist triple-double on December 22 against the Suns was only the 10th of its kind in NBA history. He did it again on January 13 against the Raptors, posting 43 points, 10 rebounds, and 15 assists.

“Amazing player, amazing player,” Bucks All-Star forward and MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo said of Beal back in January leading up to the NBA All-Star roster draft. “If he is available I’m definitely going to draft him. He can make shots, he can make his teammates better. I know when I pass him the ball, he is always going to knock it down.”

“Bradley is a hell of a player,” Hornets All-Star guard Kemba Walker said of Beal. “He can score with the best of them. His passion and energy for this game each and every night, what he does for this team is unbelievable. It is fun to watch. I am a huge Brad Beal fan.”

Beal became an elite playmaker, reading defenses and finding his teammates when opponents would give him extra attention. Long considered just a shooter, he made 67.3% of his shots in the restricted area, ranking among the top five guards at finishing around the rim. Beal made 209 3-pointers, the second most of his career. His ability to score in all three zones – inside, midrange and from 3-point – made him nearly impossible to defend.

“He is playing amazing,” Warriors guard and three-time champion Stephen Curry said. “Obviously the brunt of the load on the offensive end has to go through him and he is playing at an All-Star level. They are a different look without John [Wall] and Brad is an amazing talent.”

"I'm tired of seeing Washington,” Hornets head coach James Borrego proclaimed on March 15, following the fourth and final matchup between the Wizards and Hornets this season. “I'm tired of seeing Washington and Beal. So good luck to the rest of the NBA. Good luck trying to figure him out. We've done a good job on him the last couple of games. But you know with him it's just a matter of time. He's a special talent. He can score on so many levels.”

After fighting a durability narrative for the first four seasons of his career, Beal played 82 games for a second straight season. He’s only missed five games in the past three years, including one for rest in the final game of the 2016-17 season. Beal played the most minutes in the NBA, never complaining and embracing his durability.

Off the court and in the locker room, Beal emerged as the leader of the Wizards with Wall sidelined. Beal set the standard, showing up to work out on optional workout days, speaking up when needed, and representing the Wizards with character and charisma. He took rookie Troy Brown Jr. and second-year center Thomas Bryant under his wing, taking on a 'big brother' responsibility. Winning was always the driving factor, but Beal also continued to preach growth and development to the young players and the rest of the team.

“Brad’s been everything,” Bryant said of Beal toward the end of the season. “Literally everything. I can’t even put into words how much he means to this team. It means a lot to us as teammates. He’s the heart and soul of this team. He drives this team each and every day. He’s a great leader by example. He goes out there and plays hard and brings it every day.”

“Brad is like the big brother I never had,” Brown said. “He’s the only person I’ve ever been around that acts like me and has the same morals and respect for other people with a platform. I look up to him a lot and I don’t usually do that to most people. He’s somebody who always says what needs to be done.”

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks knew Beal was more than capable of making another leap. He’s called him one of the best two-way players in the NBA several times during his three seasons with Beal. Brooks praised Beal’s preparation, leadership, and durability, glowing in pride knowing how much Beal has grown.

“He’s a star; he’s an All-NBA player,” Brooks said of Beal. “The way he’s played, the way he’s fought and helped us. It hasn’t been easy on him, and he has handled it with such class and dignity and pride. Just the way he carries himself, we can move forward as an organization knowing Brad is a big part of what we do.”

Still only 25, Beal is now a two-time All-Star and the Wizards’ all-time leader in 3-pointers, with several other records to his name. He considers himself the second best shooting guard in the league behind James Harden, and it’s hard to argue against Beal.

Bradley Beal swaps jerseys with Dwyane Wade, one of his basketball idols (Getty Images).

Back in February, one of Beal’s basketball idols Dwyane Wade was asked if he needs to pass the torch to the next generation of great shooting guards. Wade, who retired after this season, had quite the statement about Beal. It’s fair to say that few players in NBA history could give a fellow shooting guard this strong of an endorsement.

“You don’t pass the torch, guys take the torch,” Wade explained. “Kobe [Bryant] didn’t pass the torch to me. Ray Allen didn’t pass the torch to me. I’m not passing no torch to James [Harden] or to Brad [Beal], they’re taking the torch. Them guys are unbelievable players.”

Beal did more than build off his first All-Star game appearance. He cemented himself as one of the best guards in the NBA, and one of the top players in the Eastern Conference. Even though the season did not go as planned, Beal’s emergence was incredible to watch in 2018-19.

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