In case nobody was watching, the Washington Wizards won Saturday night, and Bradley Beal was spectacular.
It has been difficult for the Wizards to attract much attention this year, at home and nationally. Although an announced crowd of 19,750 took in the 135-128 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Wizards’ losing record has kept fans from filling Capital One Arena, and their long-shot chase for the playoffs has not compelled the casual NBA viewer to care about what’s happening in the District.
Still, Beal plays on as the candlelight flickering in the darkness, shining as an all-NBA candidate.
“My very biased opinion, he’s all-NBA the way he’s playing,” Coach Scott Brooks insisted Saturday. “He’s doing things that level of player does night in and night out. It’s not an every-other-night [thing]. It’s not a two-out-of-three nights. It’s every night he brings it.”
Like an eager applicant, Beal is updating his résumé almost every night with new feats that justify his belonging among the top 15 players in the league.
On Friday, he scored 40 points, his fourth 40-point game of the year. Then, Saturday night against the Grizzlies, he did it again, scoring 40 in Washington’s win, tying Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker for most 40-point games among Eastern Conference players. If he keeps up this pace, he will end the season as the youngest player since 2013-14 to average at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists on at least 45 percent shooting in 36 or more minutes, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Beal’s game is making a statement, but his candidacy for all-NBA honors is being drowned out by his team’s performance.
Ballots for NBA awards (such as MVP, defensive player of the year, all-NBA) will be sent out to 100 media members roughly 10 to 14 days before the end of the season. In an unscientific straw poll conducted with 20 of those prospective voters — The Washington Post asked NBA local beat and national reporters who cover both Western and Eastern Conference teams how they are leaning with their all-NBA ballots — the results for Beal were mixed. Ten media members said they would vote for Beal, while 10 indicated they would not.
Beal’s chances of making one of three five-player all-NBA teams drew a small number of definite answers but mostly hesitant reactions. However, there was a unanimous reason for why Beal may not even make third-team all-NBA: the Wizards’ losing record.
Team success can be a deciding factor when it comes to individual awards. Although Beal’s impact should be undeniable — as of Saturday night, the Wizards averaged 10.4 more points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor — he is not an actual wizard who can make that 30-40 record disappear. And Beal can’t conjure up viewership by himself.
According to Sports Business Journal, at the time of the all-star break, the Wizards’ local TV ratings were down 15 percent and the team’s 1.32 rating graded as the ninth worst in the NBA. The Wizards also rank 20th in the league in average home attendance.
So if Beal drops 40 points in the forest of the Wizards’ season and no one is around to see it, does his performance make a sound? How many voting members tuned in Friday night and watched Beal make 8 of 9 shots early in the game and account for 21 of his team’s first 39 points? Did any voter who needs a little extra nudging switch to Grizzlies-Wizards on NBA League Pass and witness Beal’s showmanship? With 5:09 remaining Saturday, Beal gave his team a seven-point edge by scoring over Grizzlies center Joakim Noah, and after falling to the court, he got up for a quirky celebration of crab-walking while flexing his muscles.
Walker, an all-star starter this season, also has been carrying his team and can relate to Beal’s plight.
Walker is averaging a career-best 25.2 points to go with 5.8 assists, but his Hornets are also outside the playoff picture. Following Charlotte’s win over the Wizards on Friday, Walker said making the playoffs is his only goal; still, he smiled sheepishly when asked whether he wants to earn the first all-NBA recognition of his career.
“I mean, I would like to think that if my team makes the playoffs, then I would have a better chance rather than if we don’t,” Walker said. “I could see why I wouldn’t be picked.”
But if Walker had a vote, he’d ignore a team’s record and simply pick the top 15 players.
“I think it’s regardless of team success,” he said. “That’s how I would view it, because you have great players that might not be on great teams. It’s not their fault, you know what I mean?”
In 2016-17, voters rewarded the otherworldly efforts of Anthony Davis despite his misfortune of playing for a losing team. That season, Davis averaged 28 points and 11.8 rebounds for a New Orleans Pelicans team that went 34-48. He was named first-team all-NBA.
Now Beal is having a similar season.
With back-to-back games of at least 40 points, five rebounds and five assists on consecutive nights, Beal joined Davis (Nov. 16-17) as the only players to do that this season. Beal also became the first player in franchise history to achieve the feat.
He is not only mirroring Davis. Pick any of Beal’s numbers during this career season and compare them with some of the game’s elite players.
Only Beal and Houston’s reigning MVP, James Harden, have made at least 175 three-pointers with more than 350 rebounds and 350 assists. Beal and Milwaukee Bucks MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only Eastern Conference players to boast that 25/5/5 line and 45 percent shooting to go with a steal per game.
Like other established stars, the mention of Beal’s name now causes opposing coaches to shake their heads and wish to never visit the nation’s capital again.
“I’m tired of seeing Washington and Beal,” Hornets Coach James Borrego said. “So good luck to the rest of the NBA. Good luck trying to figure him out.”
The straw poll conducted among a fifth of the voting population may have Beal’s chances split, but after editing his all-NBA résumé once again Saturday night, Beal conducted a new poll on his behalf. A reporter relayed Brooks’s strong push for his candidacy and asked for his thoughts.
“What do you think?” Beal volleyed back.
When the reporter indicated that he did not have a vote — which was the truth — Beal turned into an aggressive pollster.
“You know you got a vote!” Beal said, his voice rising and his facial expression incredulous. Beal then addressed the mass of credentialed media members: “What do you think? All in favor say ‘aye’ ”
The group, several of which consisted of bloggers for fan sites, responded enthusiastically. Beal had won the popular vote.
“Aye!” Beal declared definitively, then walked off. “Have a good one.”
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