Beal Adjusting to NBA Without Wall
It wasn’t that the Washington Wizards needed more depth in the backcourt. If nothing else, the team already had lightening-fast point guard John Wall — the top pick of the 2010 NBA Draft — and athletic shooting guard Jordan Crawford.
But by using the third overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft on Bradley Beal, a shooting guard with a 39-inch vertical and a ¾-court sprint time of just 3.28 seconds, Washington may have given itself the fastest backcourt in the NBA.
Unfortunately, before Wall and Beal could take their marks, the former sustained a stress injury in his right knee, which means the Wizards will be without their “backcourt of the future” when the season opens in early November. Wall hopes to be back soon thereafter, but in the meantime, Beal is being asked to develop into a professional without the aid of Wall.
But as Beal told HOOPSWORLD, learning to play without the team’s franchise point guard can be advantageous.
“I have to be used to playing with or without him,” Beal said. “There are going to be times when he’s not on the floor out there with me, or vice versa. It’s just a matter of playing with what I have now. Eventually, he’s going to get back, and he’s pretty smart, he knows how to fit in well with the team and not affect the chemistry that we have built already.”
In the meantime, Beal has the option of becoming more of a distributor or relying on the style of play that allowed him to average 14.8 ppg in his one season at Florida. For Beal, knowing when to pass and when to shoot is part of the challenge of becoming a professional.
There are nights — such as last week’s preseason game against the New York Knicks when he had five assists — that he’ll be focused on ball movement and living within the offense.
Then, of course, there will be performances like Monday night’s preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets when Beal sparked the offense with his own scoring. Beal attempted 12 shots in the game, finishing with 13 points, but didn’t register a single assist in the 98-88 loss.
“There are times where I’ll be allowed to handle the ball, Coach [Randy Wittman] allows me to handle the ball, and sometimes my teammates want me to handle the ball, as well, so, just playing the one, or the two,” he said. “I feel comfortable playing either position, but I don’t feel there’s this weight on my shoulders that I have to play the one. We still got three or four other point guards on our team, and these guys have been stepping up pretty good these last couple games.”
Perhaps the most encouraging sign of Beal’s four preseason appearances has been the way Washington has pushed the tempo. The Wizards ranked seventh in the NBA in possessions per game last season, and could actually improve upon that this year once Wall gets healthy.
Of course, every guard says they want to play faster, but Beal is averaging just 0.75 turnovers per game in the preseason, so he’s showing he actually can handle that pace.
“I think the pace has been terrific,” he said. “Our defense is what most definitely leads to our offense. As long as we keep playing great defense the way we’ve been doing, and keep doing what Coach wants us to do, the other end will take care of itself.
“As far as the pace, I think we’re fine,” he continued. “We love to play fast, we love to get up and down. As long as we keep doing that, keep our endurance up, get guys in and out, and give guys breaks, and stuff like that, we’ll be fine.”
And even when the Wizards have eased into their halfcourt offense, Beal has shown he’s capable of fitting in, particularly when shooting from the perimeter.
Beal hit less than 34 percent of his 3-point attempts from the college distance last year, but he doesn’t appear to have taken a step back now that he’s shooting from NBA range. Through four games Beal has hit 35.7 percent of his 3-point attempts (five of 14) and while that is a small sample size, he says he’s felt comfortable.
“It hasn’t been too bad, actually,” Beal said. “I still have a lot room for improvement. I still have to get better, bigger, and stronger. I use my legs more because it’s a further distance, so, just being conscious of where I am on the floor, and just work my way towards the three-point line, not just come out and start bombing threes.”
Beal may have had an advantage in this regard.
As a high schooler with blazing speed, defenses tended to give him plenty of room to work with on the perimeter, which gave Beal the notion to hoist up shots from well beyond the arc.
Effectively, he’s already been shooting from NBA range for the last few years.
“Yeah it’s real tempting to [shoot deep three’s],” Beal said. “Especially in high school, the way they play you, they’re scared of you at the regular three, so you have to shoot a deep three sometimes.
“Now actually seeing it as the only line on the floor is totally different,” he continued. “It kind of affects your mind a little bit. You’re used to seeing two-to-three other lines on the floor. On the NBA court now, it’s just that one big old three point line with lots of space, so you have to be well adjusted to it. It’s a lot further than what people think it is.”
The early returns have been good. Nets swingman Joe Johnson seemed to think Beal’s shooting stroke looked very natural on Monday night.
“Great player; I like him,” Johnson said. “Obviously a great shooter, a guy who I think probably can create a little more off the dribble than he did, but, right now, he’s got a little learning curve and he’ll be ok.”
Whether or not Beal’s progress will be affected by Wall’s return is up for debate, but he seems to feel he’ll be better off playing alongside Washington’s biggest name.
“He’s one of the greatest playmakers, hopefully to ever play the game,” Beal said of Wall. “He loves to distribute the ball, but I don’t think it’ll be a problem once he gets back.”