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Bradley Beal can handle the workload, but that doesn’t mean he should

NBA: Washington Wizards at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Just hours before playing Bradley Beal 83 minutes over back-to-back nights, Scott Brooks talked about his philosophy on managing playing time, as Candace Buckner of The Washington Post detailed:

At this point in the season, NBA teams do not practice or hold morning shoot-arounds the day of games as frequently as earlier in the year. So, Beal did very little in preparation for Hornets — only walking through offensive plays and participating in a three-minute rebounding drill, according to Coach Scott Brooks.

“Those are key areas we manage and monitor the guys’ loads and those are the things NBA minutes don’t ever show,” Brooks said. “That’s why I don’t really worry about if he plays 38 or 42 minutes because in reality it’s 40 minutes of basketball. There’s a lot other hard things in the world to get through other than playing 40 minutes of basketball.”

Brooks has been a proponent of decreasing practice action in order to stretch out his stars’ minutes. Back in 2016, shortly after taking the Wizards job, he talked to Chris Mannix about how he’s focused more on cutting back practice time rather than focus on minute restrictions.

I know as I was growing as a coach, I understood that the wear and tear on the bodies were important to manage. When he had such a young, dynamic team. Our practices were so much fun and intense and very competitive, but as I grew as a coach, I understood that we have to be efficient in what we do and figure out what’s really important and cut our practices down. The analytics tell you that.

The thing I didn’t focus on: Minutes per game. I focused on minutes per practice. Because you know, you can play a guy 36 minutes per game, and cut it down a minute, but still practice them for two-and-a-half hours and still have an hour and twenty minute shootaround, that minute is really nothing.

Seeing some of the training camps, I was fortunate Coach Pop [Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich] let me come for 3 or 4 days, and I saw how he did it. There was a lot of similarities in practice plans and how we did things, but I really pinpointed his as being really efficient. They weren’t long, they were to the point, they were very competitive, and they moved on quickly.

To Brooks’ credit, Beal has held up remarkably well while leading the league in total minutes played and minutes per game. He hasn’t missed a game due to injury since December 2016, and his performance hasn’t slipped even when he plays big minutes. He scored 21 points on 9 shots in the second half of the Saturday’s win over the Grizzlies after playing nearly 64 minutes over the last 30 hours. This season, he’s averaging 26.2 points per game on 53.7 percent shooting from the field, and 41.9 percent shooting from deep on the second night of back-to-backs, so he’s holding up very well in high-fatigue situations.

When it comes to discussing Beal’s heavy minutes load, it isn’t a matter of whether or not he can handle the minutes or whether it affects his performance. He’s shown for three straight years he can handle big workloads. The question now is why should the Wizards play Bradley Beal so many minutes when there’s so little benefit?

Washington has an extremely small chance at making the playoffs this season and while the team has not conceded the season just yet, some of their recent moves—moving Bobby Portis into the starting lineup, giving rookie Troy Brown Jr. more minutes—indicate the Wizards understand preparing for an uncertain future is more important than going all in for a short playoff run. At the same time, they’re playing Beal—Washington’s most important player for the future—like it’s playoffs or bust. In fact, he is averaging more minutes per game this season (37.7) than he did against Toronto in the playoffs last season (36.0).

Even if you aren’t concerned about how Beal’s minutes affect his performance or the potential to wear him down over the course of the season, there’s always the risk of contact injuries. In that sense, there is a significant difference between playing 38 minutes and 42 minutes, because every minute he’s on the floor increases the risk he could suffer an injury from a hard fall, like the one he took on Saturday, or from any other kind of collision during a game.

This is where the Wizards’ lack of a clear direction beyond this season gets troublesome. Everyone in the front office and on the coaching staff is on pins and needles because of the disappointing season. No one wants to wave the white flag because conceding defeat could expedite the inevitable shakeup that happen once Washington is officially eliminated from playoff contention. So instead, the Wizards just keep moving along, hoping they can protect their most valuable player while exposing him to all the risks that come on the long journey to the middle of nowhere.