Emeka Okafor prepared to set a screen to get Bradley Beal open in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 94-84 loss to Cleveland, but the rookie had other plans. Instead of rolling right around Okafor, Beal tried to cross over Cleveland’s Dion Waiters right to left with his dribble, but Waiters plucked the ball away and went down to the other end for an emphatic slam.
Coach Randy Wittman immediately yanked Beal, who was ineffective for the rest of his NBA debut against the Cavaliers. Beal has had a few days to reflect on a performance in which he was outplayed by a fellow rookie in Waiters and went scoreless in the second half. He now realizes that he will have to take a different approach the rest of the season.
“I have to be more aggressive throughout the whole game. I was mad at myself after the game because I know I didn’t give it my all in the second half,” said Beal, who made his first two three-point attempts but finished with just eight points. “I just kind of disappeared. Throughout the whole game the coach was on my butt. He took me out for it.”
Beal will attempt to bounce back from an uneven opener on Saturday against Boston. His parents and four brothers will be at Verizon Center when he introduces himself to fans in his new home on Saturday against Boston.
“I’m real excited,” Beal said. “This is my town now, this is my city so I’m going to have to represent and just show what I’m capable of doing, as well as my teammates. We’re going to have a big year, we’re going to have a great team this year and hopefully the fans will be able to support us throughout the whole year.”
The Wizards granted Beal’s birthday wish and drafted him third overall, and he is anxious to start paying back the franchise with some quality performances. But Coach Randy Wittman doesn’t want Beal to dwell too much on his mistakes. Rookies have it hard in this league, and Wittman has advised Beal to keep a notebook of all of his encounters this season, good and bad, so that he will be better prepared for challenges.
“He’s just got to continue to learn,” Wittman said. “Each and every night it’s going to be a thing, so now, when you get that second, third time around, you know what you have to do better than you did the first time around.”
Beal beat out Jordan Crawford for the starting job during the preseason, but the Wizards don’t have many offensive threats on the floor with him since Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker, A.J. Price and Okafor are noted more for defense. Crawford has more of a scorer’s mentality, but Beal believes he can handle the responsibility as a primary scoring option for the first five.
“I feel comfortable,” Beal said. “I don’t feel like it’s any added pressure on myself. I think coach trusts me and my teammates trust me to do the right things and just … the way I compete and the way I’m unselfish and the way I’m a team player; so I think all those things factor into why I have the position now. It’s upon me to just keep it and keep doing what I’m supposed to do and just keep doing what the team needs me to do to win.”
He is still having a hard time accepting that he didn’t play up to his usual standards in Cleveland.
“It’s tough,” Beal said. “Guys are always telling me, ‘Sometimes you’re going to have nights like that.’ Growing up for me I hardly ever had a night like that and it’s just adversity I’m hitting. I’m going to have to be able to get used to it and be able to fight through it and basically keep relying on my teammates to pick me up. And also just having that mental confidence in myself to be able to keep doing what I supposed to do. Basically, I just have to stay calm and stay relaxed and just keep the same demeanor the whole game and just have fun.”
Okafor, the 2005 rookie of the year, had some simple advice for his 19-year-old teammate.
“Just play,” Okafor said. “Welcome to the NBA. The league is full of talent. He’s going to have to play in a lot of difficult matchups. Stress early is good, he’s going to get better from it.”