Bradley Beal wasn’t going to let some discomfort in his ankles keep him off the court. But that determination to play through the pain probably helped to end his rookie season prematurely.
Two days after the Wizards announced that he would miss the remainder of the season, Beal played blamed only himself for the accumulated effects that led to a stress injury in his right fibula.
“Should I have [kept on playing]? No,” Beal said. “But I was going to play regardless. Because I’m a hard-headed kid. But that’s how I am. I’m always competitive. If I feel as if it’s to a point that I can play through it, I’m going to play regardless of what the injury is, but this is something that me and the trainers agreed on, that you can’t just take the risk on it, making it worse.”
Beal said the injury is about halfway up his right calf. It was clear after a tough outing in Tuesday’s 90-86 win over Chicago that he wouldn’t play the next game. But after an MRI revealed more than what similar scans earlier in the year hadn’t, his second game back after missing 11 of the previous 14 games with a sprained right ankle turned out to be his last.
“I’m glad it’s just a stress reaction rather than fractured or possibly broken,” Beal said. “It’s been heckling me all year and that was the worst it ever felt, honestly. I was like, it’s no point in me continuing to pound it and pound it, and making it worse.”
Wizards coach Randy Wittman shared in the relief, and both said it was always up to the player to determine his availability. Wittman said the Wizards are considering whether or not to sign an additional player for the final stretch.
“I think it’s important for young guys like him to play as many games as you can early on,” Wittman said. “But the reality of it is that we need to shut him down. I think he had a solid campaign. I think we saw progress, and that’s the main thing. Where was he Oct. 2, and where is he today and how much growth we saw, kind of a steady climb and that’s always encouraging to see.”
With 56 games under his belt, the third overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft finished the year averaging 13.9 points on 41.0 percent shooting (38.6 from 3-point range), 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists, but his numbers improved dramatically after the New Year. He also nailed a game-winning shot against Oklahoma City, pulled down a game-winning rebound against Houston, hit six 3-pointers twice and put up a season-high 29 points against the New York Knicks. The Wizards were 7-12 without Beal in the lineup, including 1-10 away from home.
Wittman surmised that Beal’s welcome-to-the-NBA moment came during the preseason against Miami in Kansas City, his first game against Dwyane Wade, where he picked up three fouls and two turnovers in the first half and didn’t score.
“We got a full blast of Miami,” Wittman said. “I think that’s where his eyes really kind of were opened because in 30 seconds he had two fouls right away. He wasn’t getting any fouls called for him, and he saw what it was. I think that was an eye opener for him, ‘Holy [expletive], this is going to be tough.’”
Beal improved steadily, but the only way to adequately prepare for an 82-game season at the highest level is to experience it. The 19-year-old, who started all 37 games during his one year at Florida, also endured a sprained wrist and a sore back, and he said he was planning to rest anyway after the year. Now that rest will just start a little bit earlier than expected. Beal said he wouldn’t mind playing for the Wizards in the Las Vegas Summer League, probably not the full schedule, if that’s what the coaching staff has in mind.
“I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish, the strides I’ve made,” Beal said. “I’ve continued to get better since October 2, when we first came in. it’s something I’ve just progressed and got better and better and I’m definitely satisfied with where I am now. But I still have a lot of work to do. Can’t wait until the summer to get better.”