Wizards' Bradley Beal a star in the making

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Teammates praising rookie's recent growth

What may be remembered as Bradley Beal's moment of transformation wasn't the game-winning rebound he surprisingly stole from Omer Asik in the last seconds of the Wizards' 105-103 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday.

It actually came four days before in a 96-88 loss to Toronto, and it signaled a new reality for Washington: The youngest player on the team is becoming its biggest star.

In the final minute of the lethargic performance against the Raptors, Beal scored to pull the Wizards within six points with 20.9 seconds remaining but was left high and dry trying to press after the ensuing inbounds pass. The normally reserved teenager was fuming as he stormed into the huddle during a break in the action, and he let his teammates know about it.

Up next
Wizards at Raptors
When » Monday, 7 p.m.
Where » Air Canada Centre,
Toronto
TV » CSN

"The last two months, I've just been seeing him grow as a player and as a person each and every day -- a 19-year-old came in and didn't really talk that much to a couple games ago leading a timeout," Wizards guard A.J. Price said. "That's just huge growth from him."

It's different from the confidence that comes from knocking down a game-winning shot, as Beal did against Oklahoma City on Jan. 7, the game in which the Wizards' season took on a new course.

Beal has backed up the spirit he has demanded from his teammates with increasingly regular outcome-altering plays. In Friday's 119-113 win over Denver, he pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds and blocked a layup by Andre Miller that would have cut the Wizards' lead to one point with two minutes left. He had 15 of his team-high 21 points in the second half against the Rockets.

"Brad is legit," Wizards forward Trevor Ariza said. "He's a player. When you're a player, you make plays and you do things to help your team win."

Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Beal's blowup was the kind of thing he has tried to encourage his players to do.

"He's a competitive kid, and I want our guys to -- call it what you may -- challenge each other," Wittman said. "And then on the flip side of it be able to handle that. If I get on your tail because you're not playing hard enough, play harder and not take it personally."

In the timeout against the Raptors, Price said Beal was simply trying to get his teammates to play as hard as him.

"It was a huge step for him, I think," Price said. "That was the first time. I told his brother, actually, 'I think he grew up a lot tonight.' For him to do that, that was big because he's so quiet by nature."

Beal's ascension doesn't discount John Wall, who had his own moment against the Nuggets, hitting a crucial jumper late. But he has been turnover-prone, and Witt?man proved that he has multiple options when Emeka Okafor got the ball late against the Rockets -- and when Beal ran off tongue-wagging with the game-clinching rebound.

"Crazy confidence," Wizards forward Trevor Booker said. "If you ask me, he's playing like an All-Star right now."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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