When he whipped the ball behind his back left to right, left Dwyane Wade frozen in cement and made a floater over Chris Bosh in the second quarter of the Wizards’ 100-82 preseason victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday at Verizon Center, Bradley Beal made two resounding statements: He let it be known that his ballhandling really has improved and that he is no longer some unsure teenager timidly navigating through the NBA for the first time.
As the night continued, Beal hit three-pointers from both corners. He got Wade to bite on a pump fake and made a pull-up jumper as Wade lunged past him. And he finished drives with high-arcing layups or trips to the foul line. In just three quarters of work and on just 15 field goal attempts, Beal scored a game-high 29 points.
“He was lights out,” Wizards forward Trevor Booker said of Beal. “He played like an all-star.”
The preseason game didn’t count, but Beal’s point total would’ve matched his career high — and actually was nine shy of his season total in three games in 2012-13 against Wade and Miami. The performance showed how far Beal has come since his first encounter with Wade in Kansas City last exhibition season. Wade attacked Beal right away, getting him in foul trouble in just five minutes, and Beal needed a late flurry just to finish with nine points.
“I have a whole year under my belt,” Beal said. “I know how he plays, he knows how I play. I’ve gotten better, he’s gotten better. It’s me just staying confident and being aggressive. Last year, I wasn’t aggressive at all. I was kind of shell shocked.”
Wade has reached a point in his potential Hall of Fame career in which he is used to getting the best from his younger counterparts. He doesn’t expect anything less from the developing Beal.
“They supposed to, they supposed to. That’s the way it is,” Wade said. “First of all, you have their respect from what you’ve accomplished in the game. A lot of the young twos in the league have watched you growing up. When I came in, Kobe Bryant was my measuring stick as the great two-guard in the league. If you want to be good, you have to measure yourself against the guy who is in your position.”
But Beal wasn’t caught up in a one-on-one battle with Wade. He didn’t force anything or play out of his comfort level. He maintained his calm, scored within the flow of offense and patiently waited for quality looks.
After scoring 17 points in the first half, Beal became recevied more pressure from Miami and double-teams from Wade and Udonis Haslem. Beal responded by sharing the ball, as he found Booker cutting to the basket for a dunk, then found a few openings for himself to contribute another 12 points on just five shots.
“He maintained his aggression,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said of Beal. “Just made shots, took it to the basket, one-two dribble pull-up, open threes, he had the gamut of shots, and he was smart on which ones. When he had an opening to get to the rim, he got to the rim. They’re a very good team; you don’t get to the rim very often against them. And when he knew he couldn’t get to the rim, it was a one-two pull-up before they could recover to him. Those are the things he’s been working on, it’s good to see those things pay off. I think by far he’s been our most consistent player.”
About an hour before the matchup, Wade was standing in front of his locker room stall discussing his impressions of the Wizards’ second-year shooting guard. Wade owned the youngster in their duels last season but noticed that Beal made progress before the end of his rookie year.
“As he gets more comfortable in this league, he’ll get better — if he wants it,” Wade said. “He has the ability. He has the talent. He has the height, so he can do it. It’s just about how much he wants it. And we’ll see.”
Beal is already beginning to show how much he wants it by his dedication to working and improving. He missed 26 games while injured last season and had his summer workouts delayed by a stress injury in his right fibula, but has been relentless about his workouts since being medically cleared.
Often the last player to leave the court after practice, Beal outlasts all of his teammates with a commitment to take more and more jumpers. And his approach to games that are merely meant as preparation for the regular season should also serve as an example of his desire to get better.
“Every game is the same to me. Preseason or postseason or regular season, I still play the game to win and give it my all every game,” Beal said. “There are a lot of guys in this league who are great. I definitely have a long way to go. But I think I’m doing a great job and keep climbing.”