WASHINGTON — Wizards owner Ted Leonsis relayed details of a conversation with soon-to-be two-time All-Star Bradley Beal shortly after the struggling Washington Wizards learned John Wall would miss the remainder of the season.
“Bradley Beal told me, ‘We got enough. We’re going to make the playoffs. We’re not going to let you down,’” Leonsis said in January.
Consider that position from Beal completely serious and one that remains despite the Wizards’ uphill climb with only 12 regular season games.
That’s just not the only reason Beal pleaded to the team owner for more time.
He wanted a reprieve from last season’s finish. He desired a chance to lead the Wizards.
Largely on the back of his stellar work over the last 35 games, the point at which Washington knew its cupboard wouldn’t be full the remainder of the regular season, Beal is delivering a campaign worthy of All-NBA status.
He scored 40 points in Saturday’s 135-128 win over the Memphis Grizzlies one night after dropping 40 against the Hornets.
“The way he’s playing, the way he’s improved, the way he’s led, my very biased opinion he’s all-NBA the way he’s playing,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said.
There might be too many guards for the available six ballot slots, but it’s frankly preposterous to consider Beal unworthy. Seriously, don’t. Most of all, don’t you dare ask Beal directly if he’s a credible candidate.
“What do you think?” he shot back when a reporter posed that question after Saturday’s win.
There have been other times when Beal was asked effectively to justify his status among the league’s best, notably with the All-Star voting.
“I have to go through this again?” said the irritated guard.
Surrounded by the usual media horde inside the Wizards locker room, Beal passed on answering in words because his season-long performance made the response obvious.
There are numerous stats worth touting. Among them:
- He leads the league in minutes played
- Ranks third in scoring since the All-Star break with 31.2 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
- He set a career-high with five 40-point games this season. That’s the most by a Wizards player in a season since Gilbert Arenas in 2006-07
- Saturday Beal set a career with nine 3-pointers on 12 attempts
Beal ended the media session using those in his vicinity as mouthpieces for the All-NBA question.
“All in favor say aye.”
Those that spoke repeated as instructed two months after Leonsis and the Wizards’ front office heard Beal’s plea for a continuance.
Washington did trade away two key pieces in Otto Porter and Markieff Morris before the Feb. 7 trade deadline but didn’t tear down the roster to the foundation.
Maybe there isn’t enough overall talent to contend with the Eastern Conference heavyweights or even finish among the top eight. Sufficient help existed for Beal to push forward. Not for personal glory, but to lead the way, to see what is possible in that main man role.
Though Beal had that status for a chunk of last season when Wall missed 41 games with injuries, the point guard’s eventual return hovered over the scene. Beal and the team flourished for long stretches, but faded late, entering the playoffs as the eighth seed.
“[Brad] stepped up and delivered night in and night out, but it takes a lot to do that,” Brooks said Friday of Beal’s 2017-18 work. “He wasn’t used to that. …You try to manage the physical part of it, but the mental part wears you down.”
Beal learned lessons from that experience. Despite the heavy workload, he remains stunningly productive.
Despite the personal growth, Beal’s focus remains team-oriented and win-centric.
After Friday’s 116-110 loss to Charlotte, he left the locker room before speaking with reporters and then woke up at 6 a.m. frustrated.
“I didn’t sleep well. I was mad all night,” Beal said. “Have been up all day just thinking the game from last night just thinking about how it important it was to get one tonight. No matter what it took.”
The obvious note is the starry stats. That’s not the key with Beal and this version of the Wizards. For the most part, they’ve remained competitive nightly despite the obvious rotation losses. Though 30-40 on the season, Washington is 17-18 over those last 35 games.
Beal’s focused team-first approach fuels the effort. He only took 17 field goal attempts for those 40 points Saturday. Beal wanted the win but knew this wasn’t just about his numbers.
“Every game matters at this point. I really wanted this game,” Beal said Saturday. “I just made sure I was locked in and led the team and the rest of the guys will follow.”
Despite Saturday’s win, the Wizards sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, three games back of the eighth-place Heat for the eighth and final playoff berth. Only 12 games remain in the regular season.
Should Washington fall short of the playoffs, only a certifiable loon or a basketball illiterate would lay blame with Beal. Then again, Beal likely puts the onus on himself if the goal isn’t reached. He keeps pushing for more from himself and teammates. That’s why he didn’t want Leonsis to sell.
“We’re positive. I know I am,” Beal said Saturday of the team’s playoff hopes. “At the end of the day, I want to make the playoffs. I’m sure everybody else in here is to. We’re not out of it until the end of the year games. …We’re going to keep fighting and pushing because we’ve got a chance. It’s going to be tough… but I love the direction we’re headed in.”
There’s a strong argument the Wizards are better off leaning into their current draft lottery status rather than aim for the playoffs. Just don’t try selling that to Bradley Beal.
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