Great shooters, like great hitters, are born rather than made. Reggie Miller. Larry Bird. Ray Allen. Jeff Hornacek. Glen Rice. Mitch Richmond. Dirk Nowitzki. Michael Jordan. Throw Dell Curry and Eddie Johnson in that group. They’re the best I’ve ever seen, in person, at filling it up from the outside.
Bradley Beal, who was plucked third by the Washington Wizards in the NBA draft on his 19th birthday Thursday night, has that kind of dialed-in potential. He’s got the classic, elbows-in, perfect follow-through — as pure and textbook as any Indiana schoolboy stroking jumpers next to a cornfield as Gene Hackman watches in envy.
He was the right pick at No. 3 for Washington, the perfect back-court complement to John Wall as the Wizards gradually try to wake a slumbering fan base and become part of the NBA conversation again.
In point of fact, Beal actually could be a big reason why the Wizards don’t lose Wall to another team in two years. Even if he doesn’t start immediately, he represents the best insurance that Wall may stick around past 2014 when his rookie deal expires.
Why? Because the current league-wide trend is good players eventually leaving franchises they don’t feel will ever reach championship potential. Other than perennial all-star status, what do Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony have in common? They stopped trusting their teammates and started doing everything on their own a few years ago. They all left the teams that drafted them via blockbuster trades because they stopped believing in the future of their first franchises. Dwight Howard in Orlando is the next to go.
If the Wizards feel Wall is that type of player, the way to ensure he doesn’t go is to give him a guy who will knock down a big shot in a big game, someone he won’t roll his eyes at when he misses for the eighth time in the clutch after Wall breaks down a defense, penetrates and kicks it out for the win.
Beal can be that guy.
“It’s just something that is very easy to him,” Randy Wittman, the Wizards coach and a very good shooter himself, said of Beal. “The added three-point line from the NBA from college is not a problem. . . . I hate saying, ‘He’s Reggie Miller’ or ‘He’s Ray Allen.’ But I’ll say this: All great shooters have great feet, great footwork. You could see in our workout he had it. He has a stroke, all right, the ability to spot up like few players we’ve seen. He’s going to be a good shooter in this league.”
Beal doesn’t turn the Wizards into a playoff team next season, but he is a building block who could mature into one of the best role players in the league within three years, a player who could prevent the umpteenth draft night lottery party in Washington, where the mood is essentially, “Hey, look everybody, we got another 19-year-old.”
“I don’t want to be in the lottery anymore,” Ted Leonsis said prior to the draft Thursday night at Verizon Center. The team owner added, “I would find that unacceptable.”
Unrealistic or not, there are real playoff aspirations on Abe Pollin Way. Seeing a first-round elimination at the hands of the world champion Miami Heat next season seems like a stretch, at least on paper.
Going into next year, the Wizards could start Wall at point guard; Jordan Crawford, who declared himself open at birth, at shooting guard; Trevor Ariza at small forward; Nene as a scoring power forward and Emeka Okafor at center. Beal probably comes off the bench along with Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton and others fighting for minutes.
I don’t know about you, but envisioning the Wizards with more wins than the Knicks or 76ers, the seventh and eighth seeds in this past season’s playoffs, requires real imagination.
But, hey, that’s enough logic for now. It’s draft night, where hope supersedes reality.
And did we mention Beal wants to come here? Many 19-year-old ballers in America told, “Happy birthday, you’re now a Washington Wizard!” immediately regret their decision to leave college, feel they have been shipped to the Sacramento of the East.
Beal? “I really can’t wait,” he said. “This is a dream come true, and in the back of my mind I was hoping I was coming here. My prayers were answered. . . . The whole city itself felt like the right place for me.”
Maybe he noticed the Wizards’ knucklehead quotient has been addressed — it’s now one per locker room rather than 25 percent of the roster.
Maybe he realized there is a bona fide big man under contract for many years. Nene is so invested in the franchise’s future that he told the owner, via his exit interview, to not only keep Wittman but also what they need to do to take the next step, to raise expectations, to fight for and make the playoffs.
Maybe Beal realizes he’s the guy to convince Wall not to pull a Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Carmelo and force his way out of town.
Either way, on Thursday night Washington got a great shooter at No. 3. Shooters are not a dime a dozen. Players can work on their shot forever — Magic Johnson turned himself into a decent jump-shooter — but the truly good ones learned young that they had a gift only a few in this world can boast about.
Beal is one of them. That’s what the scouts say. That’s what everybody who has coached him says. And that is what the film shows, swish after swish.
If he becomes that one guy Wall depends upon to make a big shot, if Beal becomes the one player who takes the scoring load off the team’s overwhelmed-with-responsibility point guard, he does his job.
It may take a couple of years — just as the Wizards becoming a bona fide playoff team may take a couple of years. But Bradley Beal arriving as a special player in this league might just be worth that wait.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.