WASHINGTON - The Wizards didn’t sign a big name free agent over the summer, but still handed out one of the biggest contracts of the summer when they inked Bradley Beal to a five-year max deal to stay in Washington. In an offseason where several players earned surprisingly high contracts, Beal was a poster boy for many who felt the NBA’s spending spree had gotten out of control.
Beal was injury prone. He wasn’t the scorer that everyone thought he should be. He rarely drew the assignment of the best perimeter defender on the opposing team — an honor that almost always went to John Wall by default.
Many people around the league questioned whether Washington should have given Beal, 23, that kind of deal. And early on this season, the doubters seemed to be right.
Through the first 10 games of the season, Beal shot just 36 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep. He also missed three of those games with a hamstring injury, which reaffirmed the injury concerns many had about him.
Now, Beal is solidified as the team’s best scorer and one of the best offensive players in the league. In the Wizards’ 120-98 win over Oklahoma City on Monday night, he showed exactly why he earned every penny.
“I’m a perfectionist. I want to be perfect. I want to make every shot. I want to be great. That’s just the standard I hold myself to,” Beal said after the win.
For the night, he was as close to perfect as one can get offensively. Despite playing with foul trouble, Beal shot 7-8 from the field and finished with 22 points on the night. He also went 6-7 from three point range in just 23 minutes of play.
He made his first four shots of the game and helped the team jump out to a 22-6 lead against the Thunder in the first quarter. They never trailed, and much of that was due to Beal’s shot making on offense.
Wall’s passing stole the show late, but it was Beal’s slow and methodical offense that really opened the game up for the Wizards early. “It’s all about taking what the defense gives,” Beal said, “while remaining aggressive.”
There was no better play that characterized that for him than a pass he dropped off to Markieff Morris. The Thunder had just cut the lead to three points in the middle of the second quarter. The Wizards were losing momentum and needed a spark. Beal received the ball after a handoff on the wing from Morris and the Thunder crowded him at the three point line.
Rather than finding a way to force a shot or dribbling the air out of the ball as he may have done in the past, Beal jab stepped to his right, dribbled left and went baseline. At first glance, it looks as though Beal drove the ball into nothing, but keeping his balance and wits about him, he dumped off a no-look bounce pass to Markieff Morris for an easy dunk.
Beal’s ability to make that play, something he wouldn’t have done in previous years, makes the Wizards much more dangerous moving forward.
“It’s just my approach,” Beal said. “It’s being aggressive out of the gate and not letting them determine what I want to do, but making them do what I want them to do. Making them play my game.”
Scott Brooks said the Wizards’ offensive explosion against the Thunder had a lot to do with how they moved the ball and spaced the floor out. But Beal, he said, “was in a zone.”
“You can just see it. Certain guys, you can just see it. Once it leaves his hand, it’s going in,” Brooks said. “I don’t know if it hit rim on any of his shots....He’s been like this all year.”
Those who were squeamish about Beal’s contract and the Wizards’ commitment to him are being forced to revisit their initial reservations. His play on the court this season has only reinforced everything his biggest supporters said he could be.
Beal leads the Wizards with +8.3 Net Rating this season. He’s one of the best three point shooters in the league and ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league as a ball handler in the pick and roll.
Injuries are still a concern moving forward, but now, no one is questioning whether or not Beal is capable of playing like a max player. The talent is there and he is only 23 years old. He’s good, and it’s high time we acted like it.
“He’s one of those guys that should be better every year,” Brooks said. And this year, it seems to be trending that way. The only question now is how high is the ceiling?