Bradley Beal’s rookie season for the Washington Wizards probably should’ve ended before he endured his last round of intense workouts and left ankle treatments; before he had another awkward landing, which led to an MRI exam that confirmed what he had believed all along. The sharp pain on the outside of his right leg just below his calf muscle was more serious than a high-ankle sprain.
So when he discovered on Wednesday that he actually had a stress injury in his right fibula that would end his season, Beal was actually relieved that his desires to keep playing didn’t lead to something more serious.
“Should I have? No,” Beal said Friday when asked if should have kept attempting to come back from his injuries. “But I was going to play regardless, because I’m a hard-headed kid. But that’s how I am. I’m always competitive. If I feel as if it’s to a point that I can play through it, I’m going to play regardless of what the injury is.”
Beal reached the point that he could no longer keep pushing during the Wizards’ 90-86 win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, when Coach Randy Wittman noticed that the 19-year-old was laboring. Unsure about when the injury to his right leg occurred, Beal acknowledged that overcompensation probably contributed to instability in his left ankle – a severe sprain cost him 11 games in March. Then, while fighting to come back from his left ankle sprain, Beal believes he placed more pressure on his right leg.
“It’s been back and forth, throughout the whole year,” Beal said, adding that he didn’t face any outside pressure to play from the team. “I don’t ever let anybody force me to play if I can’t play. Only I know how I feel. . . . It’s been heckling me all year and that was the worst it ever felt. Honestly, I was like, it’s no point in me continuing to pound it and pound it, and making it worse. I don’t want to take the risk anymore.
“I was glad it wasn’t nothing too serious,” he said, “but I’m still upset about the fact that I can’t play.”
The Wizards (28-47) have gone 7-12 this season without Beal and have seven games remaining in a season that will conclude with a fifth straight trip to the NBA lottery. But part of the reason that Beal wanted to stay in uniform — aside from youthful exuberance — was because the team has been playing much better, especially since John Wall made his return from a stress injury in his left knee that cost him the first 33 games.
Beal had also begun to come into his own as a player, scoring a career-high 29 points with 11 rebounds in a March 1 win over the New York Knicks. Two nights later, Beal twisted his ankle while contesting a drive by Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday and needed to be carried off the floor by teammates Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely.
“I think it’s important for young guys like him to play as many games as you can early on. But the reality of it is that we need to shut him down,” Wittman said after preparing his team to face the Indiana Pacers on Saturday at Verizon Center. “I think he had a solid campaign. I think we saw progress, and that’s the main thing. Where he was October 2 [when training camp began] and where is he today and how much growth we saw, kind of a steady climb, and that’s always encouraging to see.”
Beal improved his scoring average in each of his first five months, claimed Eastern Conference rookie of the month in December and January, and set a franchise rookie record for three-pointers in a season with 91. In his final 30 games, Beal averaged 15.5 points while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 48 percent from beyond the three-point line.
“I felt as though I belonged in the first place, but I started to begin to prove myself and just showed that I’m capable of being known in the league,” Beal said. “I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish. The strides I’ve made. I’m definitely satisfied with where I am now. But I still have a lot of work to do. Can’t wait until the summer to get better.”
Beal can walk on his leg without a problem, but he is prohibited from running, jumping or any other strenuous exercises. The Wizards announced that he is expected to return to basketball-related activities in about six weeks. His offseason program won’t be much different, Beal said, because he had intended to rest once the regular season concluded. He is willing to participate in the NBA summer league, if asked, and already knows what he needs to work on headed into his second season.
“Everything. I’m not perfect at anything I do,” Beal said. “There is always room for improvement on both ends of the floor and in terms of my adrenaline and quickness, just handling the ball, that’s probably the main thing I need to work on the most. Just strengthen my ankle, strengthen my body and everything connected to it, make sure that it’s strong to help prevent it from happening again.”