The new look wasn’t all that changed for Beal last week. The Wizards made another statement about their commitment to seeing him emerge as a special player in Washington, and the 19-year-old rookie took an important step toward becoming a team leader.
In the final minute of a 96-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, Beal dunked to cut the Wizards’ deficit to six points and immediately hustled to disrupt the ensuing Raptors inbounds pass. When Beal’s teammates failed to quickly assist in setting up a trap, allowing Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan to expend nearly eight seconds before being forced to call timeout, Beal angrily ripped the ball away from him and looked back at his teammates as he held out the ball as he shrugged. During the timeout, Beal ripped into his teammates, whom he felt had already accepted the loss.
“He was trying to fire the guys up, trying to make them, basically, play as hard as he was playing,” point guard A.J. Price said of Beal, who scored a game-high 25 points that night. “That was huge growth of him.”
The outburst, which was sprinkled with some profanity, was unusual for Beal. He has spent most of his rookie season acting as a sponge, heeding the advice of veterans and coaches, listening, nodding and saying little in return. But he felt compelled to speak up with the Wizards giving away a “winnable game” and failing to compete until the very end.
“I’m not saying my teammates quit, but we still had an opportunity to win,” Beal said, explaining the situation a few days later. “If we had that trap, who knows what’s going to happen? The game is never over. That’s what I was kind of upset about.”
Coach Randy Wittman, who has urged his players to hold each other accountable and not always rely on him to correct their mistakes, was pleased to see Beal — the youngest player on the team by more than three years — take initiative. In the two games since he spoke up, Beal has stepped up with his play, scoring 17 points with a career-high 12 rebounds in a win over the Denver Nuggets, then scoring a game-high 21 points and snagging the game-clinching rebound the next night in a win over Houston.
“Brad is legit,” Trevor Ariza said. “He’s a player. When you’re a player, you make plays, and you do things to help your team win.”
Beal’s coaches and teammates have marveled at his maturity and hunger to get better. He struggled mightily in his first month, with defenses geared up to shut him down. Ariza tried to encourage him after his second game, telling him keep playing the right way, but added, “It may not be your year, this year.”
But the Wizards (17-37) have won 13 of their past 22 games dating from Jan. 7, when Beal made his first career game-winner against Oklahoma City — one of at least two teams, along with Memphis, that expressed interest in trading for him before being rebuffed.
Beal missed five of those games with a sprained right wrist suffered in a hard fall in Denver, but the team is 11-6 with him in uniform and he is averaging a team-best 15.4 points on 45.8 percent shooting in that span. He is averaging 20.2 points and five rebounds in his past five games, including a career-high 28 in a road win over Milwaukee.
“He’s got crazy confidence,” Trevor Booker said. “If you ask me, he’s playing like an all-star right now.”
Beal no longer needs to look over his shoulder, as if he ever really had to, after the Wizards traded reserve shooting guard Jordan Crawford to the Boston Celtics last week.
“I think we made that statement at the trade deadline, where we’ve seen his development and what we wanted to continue to see in that development,” Wittman said. “You never know when you draft a kid how quickly that development is going to happen. There’s very few rookies that walk into this league in that first month are lights out, especially one that’s only been in college one year.”
Wittman’s primary concern now is making sure that Beal avoids further damage to his body after collecting injuries to his back, wrist and now teeth during his rookie season. That collision and another hard fall late in a win against Denver on Friday made Beal an easy target for playful ribbing from his teammates, but he has handled the jokes with the occasional eye roll and laughter. He can smile easier these days.
“It’s sky-high,” Beal said of his confidence. “Ever since November, my confidence has been going up and up. My teammates do a great job of giving me the confidence I need. And Coach [Wittman] as well, to put me in a situation to make plays happen. And I just do a great job of staying humble and working hard, because I have something to prove.”