WASHINGTON -- It wasn't supposed to be like this. Bradley Beal was good, at times transcendent, all throughout the Summer League and NBA pre-season. Yet, through his first two professional games, Beal is averaging five points on 15 percent (!!!) shooting.
Following Saturday's loss to the Celtics, during which coach Randy Wittman sat Beal in favor of A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo, Beal seemed noticeably disappointed in himself. Not angry, not hurt, just disappointed.
"On offense, I wasn't involved, really," he said. "I wasn't being aggressive. I wasn't asserting myself. It's upon me. It's not my coach's fault, the players' fault. It's on me. I have to be responsible for it. I basically have to step up."
The team and coaching staff appear to be in agreement with Beal about his struggles. Jordan Crawford, a player who certainly doesn't hesitate to get his offense, put it this way:
"It's not in his game to force it, he'd like to let the game come to him. I think, you know, as a two guard in this league, you've got to be aggressive and bring some of that attention to you on defense and open up everything for other players."
This was clear throughout the entire game and on one play in particular. As Mike mentioned in his post-game notes, early in the third quarter, Beal beat his man on a pick and roll with ten seconds left on the shot clock. Even if he hadn't taken a shot, he could have at the very least driven to the basket and either gotten fouled or dumped the ball off to a big man or open perimeter shooter. Instead, he dribbled a bit, then passed the ball off to Price, an at-best marginal offensive player.
Beal seemed to be able to toe the fine line between aggression and forcing the issue during Summer League. The defenses he's facing right now are stingier, but it's not like he hasn't played against high levels of competition before. His collegiate team, the Florida Gators, was one of the nation's top programs and went deep into the NCAA tournament, where Beal largely excelled.
"These games are real. They count," Pargo said. "I can't imagine being 19 in this league, starting and having to produce. So we're just trying to instill confidence in him. He works really hard in the gym. You just have to trust yourself. Go out there and make plays, and if you turn the ball over, at least you're aggressive."
Emeka Okafor went through a lot of the same struggles as Beal during his rookie year. Picked second in the 2004 NBA draft, Okafor was tasked with not only living up to high expectations as a high draft pick, but also the pressure that came with being the franchise player of the upstart Charlotte Bobcats. The results weren't always pretty (he shot 45 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the line), but Emeka hung in there and eventually had some really good seasons.
"He's a rook. His whole season is going to be about figuring it out," Okafor said. "You can't get too high and you can't get too low in this league. Just keep moving."
Okafor and Pargo were never the kind of go-to scorers that the Wizards hope Beal can become. Their advice for him, though, is spot on for a few reasons: 1) 99.99 percent of rookies at some point experience growing pains similar to the ones Beal has gone through, 2) Washington as a whole has been discombobulated on offense this year, and 3) the guys Beal is playing with now are, shall we say, less than ideal starters, especially for a player who will always get most of his points within the flow of his team's offense.
Looking ahead, Beal will likely start to improve now that Seraphin is back in the line up, continue to improve once Wall returns and really hit his stride toward the end of the year. He's really young, has a good work ethic with solid fundamentals, was an effective college player with no major red flags (aside from a low usage rate, which tends to happen when you play the wing next to two ball-dominant guards), hasn't gotten hurt and seems to be in excellent shape. Perhaps most importantly, he's self-aware and is surrounded by high-character veteran teammates and coaches who want to help him.
In other words: he should be fine.