Bradley Beal will end his rookie season able to walk on both feet, without the assistance of crutches or a protective boot, but he will also watch the final seven games from the sideline rather than catching passes in the left corner from a leaping, whirling John Wall and draining three-pointers.
The situation isn’t ideal for a basketball junkie, but Beal knows his predicament could’ve been much worse had he continued to play on two bad ankles. Two days after being shut down for the remainder of the season with a stress injury in his right fibula, Beal moved around comfortably without a limp or care on Friday at Verizon Center.
“It’s hurts every now and then, but it’s nothing too painful. I can still walk around,” Beal said. “As long as I’m not running or jumping, anything that causes it to be very painful, then I’m good.”
Beal doesn’t need surgery but he will have to rest his right leg for the next six weeks. He will have plenty of time to relax and reflect on what he was able to accomplish while focusing on what he can possibly do in his second season.
During an injury-plagued rookie season, Beal was still able to average 13.9 points 3.8 assists, 2.4 rebounds and shot 38.6 percent from three-point range in 56 games, including 46 starts. But he wasn’t totally prepared for what playing an 82-game season actually entailed, or how taxing it would be on his 19-year-old body.
“You don’t realize how long it is and how quick it is, at the same time. Games are like back-to-back. And the travel on top of that,” said Beal, who started all 37 games in his lone season at Florida. “A lot of guys don’t even play the whole 82 and you don’t know how weary it gets on your body, but it’s definitely a long season and definitely one of the biggest transitions.”
Coach Randy Wittman said the adjustment is difficult for anyone and maintaining the endurance to survive remains a challenge for seasoned veterans.
“You don’t really have any idea what 82 is,” he said. “I think really the thing for most young kids coming into this league is the competition every night, no matter if you’re playing the team that’s the best in the league or that’s the worst in the league, the competition is, you just can’t fathom it.”
Beal actually had the equivalent of two seasons. He stumbled initially, found his footing, then dealt with a few knick-knack injuries – back, wrist – before succumbing to some troublesome ankle woes that led to an early end to his season. This offseason, Beal will focus on strengthening his lower body and improving all aspects of his game, but he isn’t disappointed with how he played.
“I don’t really remember a welcome to the NBA moment,” Beal said, “besides going against some of the toughest guys to ever play – Kobe, LeBron and a lot of those other guys when they score on me or make a shot. I guess that’s a moment for me, but nothing too challenging stuck out to me.”
His rookie season featured an ejection in his fourth game after scoring 22 points and committing a hard foul on Monta Ellis in a win against Milwaukee; a double-overtime forcing, buzzer-beating three-pointer in a loss against Brooklyn; a game-winning, one-handed runner in a victory against Oklahoma City; two games in which he hit six three-pointers (against Sacramento and Toronto); a game-saving rebound against Houston; and a career-high 29 points with 11 rebounds in a win over New York.
Beal beat out Jordan Crawford for the starting shooting guard position and watched as the latter was traded to Boston to free him up for more playing time. A quick learner and willing pupil, Beal had few missteps as he earned the respect of the coaching staff, his teammates and peers around the league.
“You saw, he had his ups and downs, no question about it,” Wittman said. “Started off shooting ball not like I think he’s capable of. But I’ve just seen steady progress. When you see that in a young kid, sometimes it takes a whole year, two years to see progress in a 19-year-old kid coming into the league.”
The Wizards (28-47) also started out with 12 straight losses but managed to remain mathematically alive for the playoffs until this week. Beal said experiencing adversity earlier in his career motivated him and helped him mature quicker.
“It just shows our character and how we bounce back from it and how we were able to show how we could compete against and with anybody,” Beal said. “It’s definitely a humbling experience and a great one at that. To be able to be in that position and be able to overcome it at the same time.”
Beal, Wall and Nene were only able to share the floor for 22 games this season, winning 15, and Beal is optimistic about what to expect from the team next season.
“We definitely need to make a run for it. I love our chances,” Beal said. “I loved our chances this year, it’s just unfortunate we were down and out sometimes. Next year, for sure, especially if we have everyone healthy and have the same team, have the same mentality that we had in the second half of the season. As long as we turn it around right now, from the end of these last seven games and carry over to next season, I like our chances.”