Bradley Beal's return to the Washington Wizards has coincided with their return to winning basketball — though his play on the offensive end of the court has not necessarily be a reason why.
Going into Monday night, the Wizards had five of six games with Beal back; however, he had only shot above 50 percent once and appeared hesitant in utilizing his elite ability to convert from beyond the arc. In a showdown with one of the best teams in the NBA, Beal returned to form in impressive fashion: 23 points on just 13 shots, with 7 assists and 4 rebounds in a 105-97 win against the Portland Trailblazers.
This wasn't a case of Beal over performing on the midrange game that he has become too reliant on, either. The Wizards shooting guard scored 19 of his 23 points at the line, from three-point range and from the foul line. When he was running plays inside the three-point line, he opted to set his teammates up rather than shoot contested shots and in turn showed some of the playmaking ability that is starting to separate him from the standard issue spot up shooting guard.
Beal hit all four of his three-pointers on the night. Furthermore, several of his makes displayed an aggressiveness from that range that had been lacking recently. Consider the following two plays. On the first, Beal uses Drew Gooden's screen to create space, then takes a step back three-pointer off the dribble (which he converts).
With the next shot, Beal doesn't find his shot immediately off John Wall's pass. He waits, steps in with his right foot and squares up for a good look at the basket (that he also converts).
Taking shots like these are essential to put pressure on the defense, forcing them to deal with Beal's efficient shooting from deep.
Wizards head coach Randy Wittman was quite pleased with the play from his third-year shooting guard: "His confidence level is back a little bit. I thought at the beginning of the last game he was wavering a little bit, he was hesitant. I just told him, 'Go out and play. Don't think about anything, don't think about a missed shot or mistake.'
Getting into seams, dropping passes off...That's what he can do. He's not just a jump shooter. He's gotta put pressure on the defense when they chase him off screens, gets into seems, get the big to convert, if the big doesn't convert, get to the basket."
This was Beal's ninth game scoring 20 or more point game in his 49th appearance of the season. He had 22 such games in 73 appearances last season and 13 in 56 appearances in his rookie campaign. Clearly, the injuries that have hampered Beal's season has prevented the sort of breakout season that Wizards fans were hoping for after the 2014 playoffs.
Beal acknowledged that his play recently had not been up to his own standards, saying after the victory over Portland, "I know I haven't been playing well ever since I came back, I just needed to get my rhythm back and my feet back underneath me."
He credited his teammates for "continuing to yell at me" to shoot more and keep his confidence up. Even after his strong performance over Portland, Beal said his teammates thought he passed up too many shots during the game.
As much as it seems unfair to quibble with such a strong performance, which saw Beal post a team high +19 (no other Wizard start was above +3) and a team low defensive rating, you can see why his teammates yell at him to shoot it more. Take the following clip for example:
Sometimes it's good to pass up a good shot for a great shot but as far as this team goes — other than a wide open look at the rim — there is no better shot. After all, Beal is a 46 percent three-point shooter on the right side of the floor.
Portland's Terry Stotts, coach of a team that hoists the fourth most three-pointers per game in the NBA, summed up his thoughts on three-point shooting quite simply prior to the game: "Philosophically I'm very much in favor of good three-point shooters taking a lot of threes."
The Wizards, who are one of only three teams with two starters in the top 20 in three-point shooting percentage (Golden State and Atlanta are the other two), could use a few more of these vital shots from their best threat from deep.
So though John Wall is plenty enough to carry this team into the playoffs, he'll certainly need his back court running mate Bradley Beal repeat his play from Monday as the season ends and the postseason begins. And if Beal can step up and continue play well against the rest of the Wizards' opponents the way he did Monday against one of the NBA's best, their ceiling looks much higher than it did just a few weeks ago.