Bradley Beal is beginning to get his respect as one of the NBA’s best players. Before the Washington Wizards lost Monday, Beal was named the Eastern Conference player of the week for his previous four-game stretch in which he averaged 32.5 points on 52.3 percent shooting. Then, later in the evening, Beal, now the target of the league’s best defenses, spent 31 minutes locked in the Utah Jazz’s defensive dungeon while being face-guarded by Joe Ingles, harassed off the ball and forced into making passes to open teammates. Beal missed his first three shots and didn’t fare much better from there, finishing with 15 points on 4-for-12 shooting in a 116-95 loss.
That performance aside, it is clear what Beal is capable of doing as the team’s No. 1 option. However, after the Wizards tied their third-lowest scoring mark of the season, could anyone watching this team guess the identity of its second scorer?
“I don’t know. You’ve got to ask Coach that question. No player should answer that question,” Jabari Parker said. “That’s a sticky situation, because it just don’t come off right [for] whoever answers it.”
It’s the kind of question no considerate teammate would want to answer publicly while trying to preserve locker-room harmony. The question is sticky, as Parker described, because it only offers hard truths.
With Beal’s minutes-per-game average topping the NBA, of course his production and usage will dwarf his teammates’. During the 13 games after the all-star break, however, the Wizards (30-41) possess a 114.3 offensive rating when Beal is on the floor, a number that declines by nearly 19 points when he sits.
Throughout the current homestand, there have been instances that revealed Washington’s top-heavy offense. During the Wizards’ 100-90 win over the Orlando Magic on March 13, Beal was the only starter to finish with more than eight points. The four remaining starters totaled just six made field goals. Beal had that many by the 2:54 mark of the second quarter.
Then, on March 15, midway through the second quarter against the Charlotte Hornets, Beal was so hot in making 8 of 10 shots from the field that Coach Scott Brooks turned to top assistant Tony Brown and noted how his shots hadn’t even touched the net. The rest of the Wizards, however, were grazing the rim. Beal had accounted for 21 points while everyone else had made 7 of 20 shots for 20 points.
Since the break, the Wizards have one of the NBA’s most potent offenses — averaging the fourth-highest offensive rating (110.9) and scoring more points per game than even the Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets — and yet it would still be challenging to name the clear-cut No. 2 scorer behind Beal.
The positive spin might be that the Wizards have been doing it by committee, filling in the scoring gaps after the loss of John Wall and backing Beal as a nine- or 10-man rotation.
“Brad is amazing. We just follow his lead and try to do our best to just complement,” Parker said Saturday in his walk-off interview after Beal dropped 40 points for the second straight night.
The more pessimistic view would argue that Washington lacks a consistent Robin to Beal’s Batman, even within the starting lineup.
Tomas Satoransky does a little of everything, as he did Monday with eight points and six assists. But his first instinct is to share and set up his teammates, not score. Bobby Portis can get to double figures in five straight games, which he did from March 3 to March 11, but at times he will also split minutes with backup Thomas Bryant if he is struggling defensively.
Jeff Green can be streaky, and Trevor Ariza hasn’t performed as the knockdown shooter that he has been in the past. Ariza scored 10 points in the first quarter Monday but finished the game with only one more field goal.
Off the bench, Parker is getting buckets and playing with incentive. Parker led the team with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting Monday, and over the past 10 games, he has averaged almost 17.7 points on 62 percent shooting. Parker has a $20 million team option the Wizards will have to pick up if they want to keep him, or else he will become an unrestricted free agent and hit the market for the second straight summer.
While Parker comes closest to being the team’s second consistent scorer, he has also been the most turnover-prone (he had a team-high five turnovers Monday). Parker and the reserves — including Ian Mahinmi, who played his first minutes in more than a month — closed the game while Beal rested the entire fourth quarter. Finally on the sideline, Beal was safe from being hounded.
“They face-guarded me the whole game. I’m not going to score 40 points every night,” Beal said. “Everybody knows that. I hope we don’t have that expectation because I’m not Superman.”
But when Beal is struggling inside an opponent’s vice grip, the Wizards aren’t showing the consistent support to save their hero.