At 20 years 298 days, Bradley Beal has a babykins smile belying his grown-up game. He is the 10th-youngest player in the NBA.
Besides Anthony Davis in New Orleans and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, no player in the league 21-and-younger approaches his star potential. Heck, no current major leaguer is younger than John Wall’s butter-smooth teammate.
But this isn’t about having all that talent at a tender age. It’s more about the mental toughness and maturity it takes for a sinewy shooting guard to be physically roughed up for much of four quarters and still remain unfazed enough to deliver a season-defining victory on the road of his first playoff series.
When Charles Barkley and others said, “Bradley Beal has arrived” Tuesday night, the coming-out party of pro basketball’s next Ray Allen had begun.
With his lithe frame and pillowy release and oh-so-clutch jump shots late in the fourth quarter against Chicago in Game 2 of the Wizards’ first-round series, Beal essentially became Jesus Shuttlesworth, the next generation.
“I don’t like losing,” Beal said past midnight Tuesday after he had bumped chests with Wall at the buzzer of the Wizards’ scintillating overtime win over the Bulls. “And whatever it takes to win, for this team to win, I’m going to do it.
“Whether it’s scoring the ball, defending their best player, just the griminess — having that mentality to approaching that confidence and that game me and John both bring to the table.”
Kirk Hinrich wanted to fight Beal on Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Wizards’ first-round series against the Bulls. Beal didn’t swing; he laughed.
“He tried to get me to do something that I wasn’t going to fall into the trap of doing,” Beal said. “It was nothing too serious. It happens within the flow of the game. We both got [technical fouls] and moved on.”
Jimmy Butler ran Beal over. The Bulls pushed and prodded him. He shook his head in disbelief. Calls went against him. He sighed.
“They kind of took me out of the flow a little bit, second, third quarters,” Beal said. “I really didn’t shoot the ball that much, and then the fourth quarter, I took advantage of every opportunity I was open. And I have to give credit to my bigs and this point guard next to me for setting me up and getting me involved.”
Beal in the final five minutes of regulation wasn’t Magic Johnson at 20, dropping 42 points on the 76ers in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals — still the standard as the greatest performance in history by a youngster . But he did become the 10th player age 20 or younger to score 25 in a playoff game — joining Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Tracy McGrady, Tony Parker, Stephon Marbury, Brandon Jennings and Harrison Barnes.
Beal’s sublime 26 points and seven rebounds, his pendulum-swinging shots in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, were a sight to behold.
The Wizards were down 10 with seven minutes left and trailed 87-80 with 4 minutes 45 seconds left when Beal rose and fired from 24 feet away on the right wing.
With 2:48 left, he made a deeper shot, this time from 26 feet, to draw Washington to 91-88.
And then a piece of art, driving toward the middle with a little more than a minute remaining, lofting a teardrop over the top of the Bulls’ defense that again caught all net and cut the Wizards’ deficit to one.
He had nine points in Washington’s 14-4 run to tie the game in regulation, hitting a free throw and just missing an 18-footer from the right corner to win it before overtime.
“Those situations in the fourth quarter, I felt as though I had to get going,” he said afterward. “I had to uplift the team, and my teammates did a great job of setting me up, and I was fortunate to be able to put some points on the crowd.”
His growth in such a short time period really is incredible, given this is the same player who cried a couple of times in the locker room during his rookie year because of his personal struggles. There also have been times when he has been absolutely leveled by other players, to the point where his teammates and the training staff had to almost pick him up off the floor motionless.
And Beal kept rising. Rising and firing.
“We don’t pay attention to what other people say,” he said. “We come out and control what we control, play the way we know we’re capable of playing. Everybody doubts us and says we’re not experienced, but we’ve got guys that have played in the playoffs before. Like Trevor Ariza, he’s won a championship. So these guys know what it takes, and we’re just following suit.
“Yeah, we’re young. But we’re learning from them as we go along. Me and John and a couple of other guys that have never been here before, we’re playing our game and focusing on what we need to do to win.’
So young, so good. So like a young Ray Allen.
How apropos, no, when Beal told The Post’s Michael Lee in January that Spike Lee’s 1998 film “He Got Game” — starring Allen as the high school phenom — is “my favorite movie.”
When it was revealed Allen had spoken to Lee about a possible sequel, Beal said despite never acting before he would love to be part of any project.
He’s already a dead ringer on the court: the elbows-in, CYO-form jump shot. The serene, I-got-this-game look before he squares up and sinks somebody’s season. And that inner fire, camouflaged by the cool, expressionless assassin with the ball in his hands as the shot clock winds down.
“We came such a long way, starting from last year, me coming to the team,” Beal said. “The growth that we have had this year, the assets and the guys we brought in, the whole year, we’ve been growing and growing and growing. Now in the playoffs, we’re playing for something bigger.”
Bradley Beal has come a long way. He’s been growing and growing. Like the Wizards, he has now officially arrived.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.