OKLAHOMA CITY — The two all-stars sat side by side in a swanky meeting room of a four-diamond hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. Bradley Beal and John Wall stared ahead into a camera and repressed chuckles while engaging in a jocular interview with the “Players Only” crew on TNT.
This Washington Wizards duo has long envisioned times like this, featured in prime time and sharing in the spotlight’s glare. Even three years ago, when the pair had nothing but promise to show for its potential, Beal boldly proclaimed himself and Wall as “the best backcourt in the league.”
There is still a long way to go to fulfill that prophecy, but the Wizards’ backcourt reached a new peak Tuesday in its climb for league supremacy.
Beal was named an NBA all-star for the first time while Wall earned his fifth straight selection after a vote by Eastern Conference head coaches. The teammates will appear in the All-Star Game on Feb. 18 in Los Angeles, giving the Wizards two all-stars in the same season for the first time since Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison represented Washington in the 2007-08 season. Butler and Gilbert Arenas were both voted in the year before, as well.
“It’s a blessing and an honor,” Beal said. “Still hasn’t hit me yet, a little bit. I’m definitely happy about it. I’m sure it will probably hit me later tonight, whenever it does.”
Beal, who is shooting 36.8 percent from beyond the arc, will also compete in the three-point shootout held Feb. 17 during All-Star Weekend, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Wall, who has missed 11 games this season mostly because of inflammation in his left knee, cemented his star status with yet another selection. Among the Eastern Conference reserves named Tuesday, only Boston’s Al Horford and Cleveland’s Kevin Love have as many all-star appearances as Wall.
“It’s an honor. Without my teammates and coaching staff and the fans and the other coaches respecting [me], I wouldn’t be in this position,” Wall said. “To be able to be with Brad for his first time is a big honor. We all know it should be his second time, but it’s an honor I get to be with him at the same time.”
The teammates could play on separate teams this year after the league implemented a new All-Star Game format. Unlike in previous years in which the East played the West, the top vote-getters in the fan vote, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, will serve as team captains and draft from the 22 remaining players to fill their all-star rosters. The idea of playing against each other isn’t a new one for Wall and Beal — the guards have tried to convince coaches to break them up on separate teams for practice. So if James picks one and Curry selects the other, the Wizards teammates will soak up the experience.
“We’re going to try and compete,” Beal said with a smile.
Beal wore that dimpled expression often Tuesday, as the achievement marked an overdue reward for the rising star.
In his sixth season, Beal has rewritten his reputation as a talented yet injury-plagued player by appearing in all 47 games and leading the Wizards with a 23.6 points-per-game scoring average. When Wall missed time, Beal filled the alpha role in the offense. Although he initially struggled to balance setting up teammates while also creating for himself, Beal broke out in a major way on Dec. 5.
One day after the Wizards experienced a 47-point loss, the second worst in franchise history, Beal led the team to a bounce-back win by scoring a career-best 51 points on 21-for-37 shooting against the Portland Trail Blazers. Beal continued to thrive as a confident scorer when Wall returned to the lineup, and he recently put together a stretch in which he scored 20 or more points in 10 straight games.
For the first time in his career, Beal, who was snubbed from the team last year by the coaches, has felt the defensive attention that comes when opposing coaches view players as stars.
“Especially when [Wall] was out, I was facing a lot of double-teams, traps and denials, which I never faced before in the league. To me, that’s a sign of respect,” Beal said. “That’s a sign of you could be a dangerous player to the game and what you’re capable of doing. It’s definitely been that year for me. I’ve been treated that way. Got a little more respect from the refs, got a few calls here and there. And overall just in general … everybody’s game-planning to try to keep the ball out of my hands, so you kind of look at it like as a respect thing but also a challenge at the same time.”
On Jan. 12, Orlando Magic Coach Frank Vogel told reporters he believed Beal was an all-star.
“Absolutely. It’s not even a discussion, right?” Vogel said. “He’s 25 points a game, fourth or fifth seed in the East. One of the best scorers in the league. I don’t think it’s even a debate.”
Although Beal has confidently stepped into the leading-man role, opposing coaches did not overlook Wall’s significance on the Wizards.
Washington lost six of the 11 games in which Wall did not play, which proves that the team is just plain better with him on the court.
Wall averages 19.3 points and 9.2 assists per game this season but has struggled to find his shot (his 41.9 percent shooting is his worst since his rookie season). Leading up to the announcement, doubt swirled on social media around Wall’s all-star chances, but it was ultimately hard to ignore that the Wizards have a 108.9 offensive rating with Wall on the floor against a 103.1 rating when he sits.
“You can’t really control your injuries and I haven’t been able to play at the level where I want to play at but I think people understand, coaches understand how much me and Brad mean to our team and I think that’s the reason I got the nod,” Wall said. “I really try not to focus on it, I just try to do as much as I can to help my team win.”
Then, Wall gave another assist to his teammate.
“He’s supposed to be our leading scorer,” Wall said, motioning to Beal, who was seated next to him. “I’m supposed to be the guy that’s setting everybody else up. I’m fine with that. I’m just more happy that he got the nod that he deserves.”
In addition to the Eastern Conference starters of James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan, Beal and Wall join Horford, Love, Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo and Kristaps Porzingis as reserves. Representing the West as starters will be Curry, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and James Harden; Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard and Karl-Anthony Towns will come off the bench.
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