At least Bradley Beal got to have one more chance this season to display that textbook form – feet squared perfectly, elbow bent at a 90-degree angle, wrist flicking for the follow-through – on Sunday while matching his career-high with six three-pointers and scoring 24 points to lead the Washington Wizards to a victory over Toronto.
Beal felt good about coming back after missing the previous five games with a sprained left ankle but was more excited about what he could help the team accomplish the rest of the season. As for his individual goal?
“I just want to be healthy overall,” Beal said.
Unfortunately for Beal, the promising rookie shooting guard couldn’t even survive another full game. After experiencing some discomfort in his ankle and having another hard fall in the Wizards’ win on Tuesday over Chicago, Beal had an MRI exam that revealed a season-ending stress injury in his right fibula. Surgery isn’t required, but the team announced in a statement that he would be able to return to basketball-related activities in approximately six weeks.
“I thought he had a really solid rookie year,” Coach Randy Wittman said before the Wizards faced the Raptors on Wednesday in a rematch. “I thought from day one, learning what this league is about, learning what these players are about, learning the speed of the game from day one to where we are today. He made improvements and there was steady growth. For a young kid like that in this league, sometimes you don’t know. Sometimes, it takes a while to learn what you’re capable of doing in this league and Bradley had great strides in his growth and learning how to play. That was the thing that I was most pleased with.”
The third overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Beal averaged 13.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 38.6 percent from three-point range in 56 games, including 46 starts. He ranks third among all rookies in scoring and three-point percentage and second in minutes per game, was named Eastern Conference rookie of the month for December and January and set the Wizards franchise record for three-pointers with 91.
“He had a great rookie season in my opinion, because he really started to figure it out, right before I came back and that was good because his confidence was pretty high,” said John Wall, who missed the first 33 games with a stress injury in his left knee. “He was playing great. He matured throughout the season and I know it’s tough having to sit out when you want to finish strong with the team but we don’t want any injury that can hurt our career down the road. That’s something you have to be very serious about after seeing the injury that happened” to Louisville guard Kevin Ware, whose leg snapped in two in the NCAA tournament.
Beal missed 18 games before his latest diagnosis and the team decided to shut him down mostly for precaution, according to a team source. The 19-year-old experienced a few fluky injuries as a rookie, as he crashed on his backside while attempting to dunk on Atlanta’s Josh Smith and missed two games and fell on his right wrist after absorbing a hard foul from Denver’s Kosta Koufos and missed five more games. He tweaked his left ankle in the preseason and Wittman acknowledged on Wednesday that Beal had been playing with sprains in both ankles for most of season half of the season.
Beal had a high right ankle sprain before suffering a severe left ankle sprain on March 3 against Philadelphia and missed 11 of the next 14 games, after aggravating the injury on March 20 in Phoenix.
“Throughout my life, I’ve always sprained my ankles, probably like any basketball player, I always kept playing,” Beal said recently, while explaining that his left ankle was “affecting different areas of my ankle and my leg.”
Beal’s ankle began to flare up in warmups before the Wizards defeated Chicago on Tuesday, then he had another fall after a collision with Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich and Wittman noticed that Beal was hobbling on the court. He didn’t travel with the team on its road trip to Toronto and Wittman said he had already spoken with him.
“It’s best to do what we’re doing. Luckily, it’s only eight games left,” Wittman said. “I told him, ‘You had a good solid year.’ It’s important, now that the offseason to come, take the rest that he needs to take to get healthy and this is an important summer for him, to take that next step as we come back next year and not be satisfied with what he’s done. He’s got a chance to really become a formidable player in this league.”
The Wizards went 15-7 when they had Wall, Beal and Nene this season, a small sample size but enough to make Wittman feel encouraged about the future.
“We saw enough to understand that these two guys in the future can form a hell of a back court,” Wittman said of Wall and Beal, before declining to think about having a healthy team all season. “I start thinking in the what-ifs, I’m not going to survive. We saw some good things and that’s a positive thing. You have no control over injuries when they occur, how they occur, you just hope as this season winds down you move on next year having an 82-game season where everybody is healthy. Then see what we can do.”
— Michael Lee