“This is only your second game and you’re starting in the NBA, as a 19-year-old,” Beal recalls Cassell telling him. “That has to make you proud in some way.”
Beal didn’t fully process what Cassell was trying to say until several hours later. Because immediately after the game, Beal chewed himself out harder than the handfuls of Skittles that he plowed through while getting dressed in front of his locker room stall. Beal remains his harshest critic but has a greater perspective.
LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Darius Miles, Kevin Durant and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are the only players in NBA history to have started the season opener for their teams at a younger age than Beal, who was 19 years 124 days old when he started at shooting guard and scored eight points in the Wizards’ loss in Cleveland last week.
“I don’t use age or being a rookie as an excuse. But it is a great honor, honestly. Not a lot of people are in the position that I’m in,” said Beal, the third overall pick out of Florida last June who is averaging five points and shooting just 15.4 percent in his first two games. “I’m fortunate. But at the same time, I have to take advantage and prove myself still. I just can’t take anything for granted.”
Beal didn’t realize how lethargic he appeared until he watched film of his performance and had Coach Randy Wittman break down his mistakes.
Emeka Okafor blocked a shot and Beal recovered the ball, only to dribble down the floor and quickly pulled up for a jumper when a drive for a higher-percentage or simply setting up a play would’ve been a better alternative.
Beal also saw a player who was standing upright, passively waiting for the game to come to him, and not one with his head lowered, ready to attack with purpose. More importantly, Beal saw a player who wasn’t enjoying himself.
“I think I’m losing sight of what’s important, which is having fun,” Beal said. “I always had fun. Laughing on the court and having a blast, but I haven’t been doing that the last two games because I’ve been distracted with other things. I’ve turned it around mentally and I just looked myself in the mirror. I’m the one who has the change. I mean, it’s nobody else’s fault but mine.”
In his first two games, Beal has missed 11 of 13 shots, including his past nine overall. He also hasn’t made a shot since connecting on his first two three-point attempts in the first quarter in Cleveland.
Beal hasn’t been very aggressive since the third quarter of that game, when he tried to break down Cavaliers rookie Dion Waiters off the dribble and lost the ball, leading to a breakaway dunk on the other end and a quick hook from Wittman.