NBA Draft 2012: Bradley Beal Keeps Growing Into His Game

WASHINGTON -- All throughout this draft process, I've been trying to figure out what took Bradley Beal so long to realize how good he actually is this season. After watching him work out and talk for a while with the Washington Wizards, I think I now have some idea. Perhaps the mystery isn't really much of a mystery.

"Throughout the year, I was struggling because I wasn't having too much fun," Beal told reporters. "I was too worried about my shot rather than doing other things to impact the game. [But] once those things started happening, my shot started falling and I started having fun again."

A cliche, to be sure, but it's not a meaningless one. You ever know someone who pours so much energy into an important thing in their life, only to lose his or her way because there's one mental block they can't get past? Of course you do. It happens in people's professional lives. It happens in struggling marriages. It happens in huge court cases where one procedural stumbling block is finally overcome. It happens to kids that struggle academically or socially before finally finding themselves. Sometimes, you can get so hung up on one thing that you let it bother everything else. The key to getting over it is to stop putting it on a pedestal and just relax.

"Coach [Billy Donovan] was constantly getting on my butt about it," Beal said when I asked what triggered his attitude change. "Eventually, I just moved past it and started doing other things like rebounding, because Pat[ric Young] needed help down low. I just took it upon me to do a lot of those things, and it actually got us started in our offense a lot quickier, started opening it up more. Once I started doing other things, the rest fell into place."

Suddenly, Beal now feels like he can do anything. He thinks he can show teams he can make plays with the ball in his hands, saying he wants to "showcase" his pick and roll game. He thinks he's a better defender than people realized, proving it in one drill where he had to double-team the post, then close out on the shooter in the weakside corner. With Sam Cassell standing there ready to pounce, Beal initially gave him some space, but then slid over beautifully to cut off Cassell's driving lane and force him into a fadeaway 18-foot jumper. The other two participants -- Hollis Thompson and Quincy Roberts -- did not fare quite as well.

These are the kinds of things that have so many teams intrigued with Beal despite his struggles as a freshman at Florida. He's capable of doing pretty much anything on the court. Despite his height, he doesn't play small, using his broad shoulders to snag rebounds that other guards can't grab. His occasional confidence lapses obscure his beautiful shooting form -- at one point, during a shooting drill, he hit eight jumpers in a row from all over the court. His lateral quickness, combined with his fundamental ability to stay balanced while closing out, are top-notch for an 18-year old.

It's just a matter of putting all these skills together. While Beal still may be figuring himself out, he's certainly come a long way from his early days at Florida, when he admitted he wasn't even planning on declaring for the draft.

During the year, I knew for a fact I wasn't coming out," he said. "I was like, 'I'm not even ready to come out.' But towards the end of the year, I started playing like I knew I was capable of playing."

More notes below the jump.

  • The Wizards actually let media in to see much more of this workout than Wednesday's one with Thomas Robinson, which I really enjoyed. Today, we saw Beal and the rest of the prospects go through a number of drills.
  • The first one was a defensive drill where the three players worked on closing out on shooters. One player was guarding the top of the key, one was on offense curling off a baseline screen and the other was defending the offensive player on the baseline. A coach threw a pass to the offensive player, who then dumped the ball into another coach in the post. The coach in the post then kicked the ball out to the top of the key, and that coach then swung the ball into the left corner, where Sam Cassell was standing. The defender at the top of the key had to double-team the post, then sprint to the left corner to defend Cassell. From there, they played out the sequence. As noted above, Beal was the most impressive of the three here.
  • Thompson probably struggled with that drill the most. The first two times he did it, Cassell drove by him and got into the paint for a layup and a short jumper. At that point, Randy Wittman shouted at Thompson, telling him he'd have to leave if Cassell scored on him again (note: he wasn't being serious). Thompson forced Cassell into a fadeaway that missed the third time around, so I guess he was allowed to stay.
  • The three players finished up with two shooting drills. For the first one, they had to hit five jumpers from all around the court on one end, sprint to the other end to do it again, sprint back to hit three jumpers on both sides, then finish up with a fast-break layup. Beal was very good here, hitting several shots in a row early on.
  • The second one was the infamous "seven" drill, where the players had to shoot a mid-range jumper, sprint to the opposite side against the wall on the sidelines and then shoot another jumper. The process continued until the player hit seven shots. Here, Thompson was really impressive. He began the drill on the opposite side of the court about a minute after Beal, but still finished well before him.
  • Worth noting: Beal said he had never done the "seven" drill before, whereas Thompson said he had done it many times.
  • As you'd probably expect, Cassell was chirping at the prospects a lot during the first drill. That's probably why Wittman turned to Beal before the drill again and calmly said, "don't let this fucker score on you." "I was just trying to make sure Sam can't score, because he talks a lot," Beal said afterwards.
  • Beal said he idolized Allen Iverson growing up, but didn't say he had one favorite player. He did say that he studied Ray Allen, especially "how he moves without the ball and how he shoots."
  • I've spent a lot of time obsessing over Florida's loss to Louisville in the Elite 8, mostly because I feel like it was one of those "step back to step forward" moments that I think all young prospects go through. That's why I asked Beal what he felt he learned about himself as a player after that experience. "Try to draw more contact, and stop just looking for contact," he said. "I think sometimes myself, as well as my teammates, when we drove, we were looking for the contact, looking for a foul call instead of just playing basketball and trying to finish at the rim. Also, we settled for too many jump shots. They were in foul trouble the whole game, and we didn't attack them at all."
  • As opposed to Thomas Robinson, Beal is using the "aw, shucks" strategy when asked about his ambitions. "I wouldn't guarantee it's mine, no," Beal said when asked if he could see himself as the Wizards' starting shooting guard next year. "I'm the type of guy who wants to earn every bit of it. I don't want anything given to me."
  • Beal said he sat next to the Reverend Jesse Jackson on his plane ride over, and it didn't go quite like he thought. More on that here.
  • A number of you have said you'd be intrigued by Thompson as a second-round pick. The Georgetown product showed off his sweet stroke, but as noted above, he did struggle a bit in the defensive drill I saw. Afterwards, he admitted that he's still struggling with a groin issue that he played through at the end of the Hoyas' season. "Injuries happen," he said. "You keep moving forward."
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