Since the first preseason game in Charlotte wasn’t available to view here in Washington, the Wizards’ first and only home at Verizon Center game before the regular season was a significant one. A number of new faces made their home debuts Thursday against New York, none more important than rookie Bradley Beal, who spearheaded Washington’s second unit’s 22-0 run in the second quarter to turn a 17-point deficit into a three-point lead at halftime.
On a team where the knucklehead factor has been reduced but a talent gap still remains, Beal’s contribution can make a big difference. The sample size is still a small one, but there were positive signs that he’s ready despite being just 19 years old. He finished the 108-101 loss to the Knicks with 15 points, five assists and five rebounds, a performance on the heels of 18 points against Charlotte on Sunday.
“He’s had two solid games for a kid coming in, for his first NBA action,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.
As he did in summer league, in his first training camp practice and first preseason game four days before, Beal said he was relaxed and not nervous. But he did notice that he was matched up almost immediately with Jason Kidd, whose years in the NBA match his own age.
“It was weird, actually,” Beal said. “Actually knowing he’s like a future Hall of Famer, and he’s probably one of the best point guard to ever play so it’s a great feeling. At the same time I’m playing against him so I really can’t be all friendly with him, so I just have to try to attack him and get the best of him.”
Speaking of attack, most of the lead-up to last June’s draft was spent talking about Beal’s midrange jumper. But it was his unfazed demeanor, strength and athleticism that stood out against the Knicks. He changed speeds with ease and drew contact like someone that has far more experience than him.
“I’m very impressed,” said Wizards guard Jannero Pargo, who ran with Beal as part of Washington’s second unit. “I think he’s poised beyond his years. He’s aggressive, not moving too fast, just playing at a nice pace.”
Beal led the Wizards with seven trips to the free throw line, too, where he converted six of his attempts. Let’s just put this out there, too: The more he gets there, the more his style of elevation and absorbing contact is going to get compared to John Wall, who has been notorious for being reckless and out of control at times during his first two seasons.
“That’s his niche,” Wizards small forward Martell Webster said. “Kind of reminds me, he says he wants to compare himself to Ray Allen, but he’s a little more flash than Ray Allen. I’d say he has a little of The Flash, D-Wade, in him. He can slash, put it on the floor, and make contact. That’s big. When you can establish yourself at the free throw line, seven, eight times a game, that’s a big difference.”
If there was one main critique, it was that Beal wasn’t as effective in the second half. Being a preseason game, he essentially played only in the second and fourth quarters so his game rhythm might have been affected. A St. Louis native, he also said he learned about the Nationals’ walkoff win over the Cardinals during halftime – “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow,” he said. Whatever the reason, he cruised a little bit too long and it was too late before he tried to hit high gear again.
“It was just within the flow of the game, honestly,” Beal said. “I kind of took myself out of the game. I wasn’t as aggressive as I was in the first half attacking the basket and finding a way to get open. I mean that happens. I just have to find a way to get open. I mean that just happens. I have to stay aggressive and just keep playing ball.”
As soon as Beal became the Wizards’ target in the draft, it was a foregone conclusion that he’d battle with Jordan Crawford for minutes at shooting guard. Again, two preseason games do not provide enough data to make a change in that regard. But the signs are clear that the battle – given Crawford’s team-high 17 points on Thursday – is on schedule to take place as forecast, and Wittman said he plans to mix and match lineups.
“He’s got it,” Webster said. “He’s still a rookie. He’s learning the basics. If he keeps watching the players that he admires, take little bits and add them to himself, he’ll be a star in this league.”