In 2014, Bradley Beal had never competed in an NBA All-Star Weekend three-point contest, so he didn’t know the rules.
He ascended from the group of shooters to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals against Marco Belinelli, then with the San Antonio Spurs and playing for the West. Belinelli went first. Then Beal, alone on the big stage in New Orleans and working his way around the five racks, found his rhythm near the end to tie the score and force overtime. Although viewers at home knew what would happen next — TNT displayed a graphic explaining the next round — Beal had no such prompt and entered sudden death breathless and unaware.
“I think the overtime buzzed me because I thought it was only 30 seconds,” Beal, who finished second to Belinelli, recalled this week. “I got kind of winded. I didn’t know I’d have to go the whole full round again. That was my fault on that. I’m more knowledgeable of the rules now.”
Consider it a contest-rookie mistake.
Beal, who is set to participate in his second three-point contest this weekend as a first-time all-star, now knows that if he advances to the finals and forces overtime, then he must go around the arc for another 60 seconds. The experience four years ago taught Beal other things, too: He plans to practice shooting off the rack more; he’ll need to come up with a new strategy for money balls; and he must remind himself not to waste time watching those pretty jumpers swish through the net.
The other lesson: Get that trophy.
“Well, I want to win,” Beal said. “I think the first time around I wanted to win but it was more like getting the experience and feel for it. I feel like it’s getting more competitive and more competitive every year with some of the best shooters in the game.”
Though Beal committed early to the event, he enters the shooting showcase with the lowest three-point percentage of his six-year career (.366 through 56 games). The eight-man field features previous winners including Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (2017) and Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson (2016), as well as Oklahoma City Thunder wing Paul George, who is shooting a career-best 42.8 percent from deep. But strategy, not so much percentage, factors significantly in a contest like this.
Shooters go around the arc, hoisting five NBA regulation balls at each rack — including one multicolored “money” ball that’s worth two points at the end of a rack. One special rack consists of just money balls and can be placed anywhere on the court. Belinelli, the 2014 champ, moved his money ball rack to the fifth and final spot, making good use of the corner threes. Beal, however, wanted his special rack at the second spot on the court. If he had placed the money balls in the corner, as Belinelli did, Beal could have won in regulation because he made his final six threes.
This year, Beal is thinking about placing the money balls in the fourth or fifth spot on the court.
“It probably would’ve helped if I had it in the last rack,” Beal said of his 2014 appearance.
Beal remembered practicing once, maybe twice, ahead of New Orleans. This time around, he planned on starting as early as Tuesday so he can get adjusted to shooting off a rack, which demands a faster and laser-focused rhythm.
“You’re just on a time limit,” Beal said. “The biggest thing, you can’t really look at the ball go in. You just have to shoot it and allow it to go from there.
“I think the biggest advice is you have to actually practice for it because taking it off the rack is totally different.”
In New Orleans, Beal had a special courtside fan in rapper Nelly. The two hail from St. Louis, and Beal has shared the story of how Nelly used to walk him to school as a child. Who knows if Nelly will return to sit in the expensive seats inside Staples Center? Beal says the hip-hop artist lives in California, so it’s a possibility. Even so, Beal does not need celebrity cheerleaders for this year’s contest. Although he felt confident in 2014, Beal said he believes he is better prepared for this fresh moment in the spotlight.
“I feel like it’s a good opportunity,” Beal said, “for me to put my name up on that list.”