If one rookie lesson resonated more than any other for Bradley Beal last season it was that being tough and being stupid aren’t always mutually exclusive. Never wanting his durability questioned, Beal would always ignore the pain — in both ankles, his wrist, and later, his right leg — until he eventually found himself in a more physically compromising position that led to the premature end of his season and a lengthy delay to his summer workouts.
After missing 26 games as a rookie, Beal told himself that he would “stop being hard-headed” and speak up at the first sign of trouble. That proactive approach is the primary reason that the Washington Wizards will be without their leading scorer for at least two weeks with a stress injury in his proximal right fibula. Once Beal felt the pain in his leg was unmanageable, he complained, got the necessary examinations and discovered the problem was more serious than he originally thought.
“Kind of just popped up out of nowhere,” Beal said. “It’s been lingering for a week. I thought it was just calf soreness. Then it kind of escalated a little bit more.”
The timing of the injury might have been disappointing for Beal and the Wizards, because the promising second-year shooting guard is averaging 20.6 points and the team had just won three of four games. But all parties involved are relieved that the ailment was caught in the early stages, which they hope will lead to a quicker recovery.
“I’m pretty sure I could probably play, I could probably duke it out,” Beal said, “but I did that last year and it didn’t work out too well. So, I’m just going to play it smart this year. And take care of it and just try to get rid of it early and hopefully, it will be gone once and for all.”
The injury is in the same leg that kept Beal sidelined for the final eight games last season. He wasn’t cleared for basketball-related activities until July but waited another month before he started playing on five-on-five, forcing him to miss out on summer league and Team USA mini-camp. His previous ailment was in the lower leg — the distal right fibula – while the current problem is higher up on the bone. Beal said the injuries aren’t related.
“It’s not the same injury as last year, it’s not a re-injury. It’s similar but in a different location in the body,” Beal said. “We didn’t want to push it and aggravate it even more. If we aggravate it, it’s just going to escalate, and escalate, and I’ll be in even more pain that I can bear.”
Beal has appeared in all 13 games for the Wizards this season and leads the league in minutes played (40.2 per game) and distance traveled (2.9 miles per game). “I’ve been playing non-stop, I’ve been playing a lot of minutes, so that constant stress and that pounding on my leg has been influential,” Beal said. “But I’m confident that we caught it early, which is the biggest benefit of the whole situation.”
A source close to Beal speculated that the recent leg injuries could also be a result of the 20-year-old still physically maturing. Beal actually grew an inch last summer, but doesn’t expect the problems with his leg to become chronic. “I’m not afraid of it escalating any higher than it is, or just recurring after this, but at the same time, I have to be prepared for it because injuries like this do happen to a lot of athletes and a lot of people,” Beal said. “If that happens, I am prepared for it mentally and if that happens, I’ll deal with it but for right now, I’m really not concerned about it.”
Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said the Wizards had to take swift action with Beal. “He’s been playing great. He hasn’t shown any signs of favoring it or anything like that. He’s been playing terrific basketball and it’s something that was bothering him. I think we want to be cautious. Obviously Bradley’s frustrated because he has been playing so well and he’s a big part of what we’re trying to do and we don’t want to put him in harm’s way in any way. This was something that we felt was in his best interest for the long term. We wanted to be proactive and we wanted to make sure that nothing serious came of this.”
Grunfeld said the team doesn’t plan to look into trades or other moves until Beal is evaluated again in another two weeks. The Wizards will look to replace Beal with Martell Webster, Garrett Temple and possibly rookie Glen Rice Jr. Third overall pick Otto Porter Jr. returned to practice this week but isn’t expected to return for at least another week. John Wall might have to take on more of a scoring load, as he did last year in Beal’s absence, but his greater concern is for Beal.
“Tough, tough situation. Especially how he’s been playing this season. He’s been playing big for us, making shots. Sometimes, you’ve got to look past your situation and to your career. You’ve got to deal with it. And if you can’t be the yourself out there on the court, why be somebody you can’t be,” Wall said. He added the Wizards have stay afloat without Beal.
“The only thing you can do, you can’t let nothing set you back. You’ve got to keep looking forward, keep trying to win games and play basketball,” he said. “It’s definitely something you think about, a minor setback in our minds, but you’ve got to play another game. You’ve got a game tonight and a game tomorrow. You’ve got to look forward and take care of what it’s front of you.”
Beal said he was frustrated watching all of his teammates practicing on Monday and had to be told by coaches repeatedly to sit down. “They want me out there just as bad as I want to be out there,” Beal said. “It’s definitely upsetting that I won’t be out there with the team, because we’re definitely on a roll now. We’re changing, we’re in a positive direction, so it really sucks for me to not be out there and cherishing the moments with them, but at the same time, they know it’s my career and my future and they know that if I could I would.”