We’re eleven days away from the NBA resuming the 2019-2020 season in Orlando and players have begun practicing and orienting themselves with the new bubble lifestyle and rules. Some teams and players are competing in order to stay in tune, build chemistry and momentum going into the next season knowing their postseason hopes may be out of reach. The bubble won’t just benefit those partaking in the playoffs but also teams looking towards the future especially given how the pandemic has accelerated the NBA offseason schedule. One of those teams looking to build on something to take into next season is the Washington Wizards and their franchise backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal.
News broke earlier this month that star shooting guard Bradley Beal won’t be rejoining his Washington Wizards squad in Orlando when the NBA season restarts due to a lingering shoulder injury. The eight-year product out of the University of Florida was having an absolutely stellar season averaging a career-high 30.5 point a game (2nd in NBA), 4.2 rebounds a game, and 6.1 assists a game. That included shooting splits of .45/.35/.84 from the field, free-throw line, and three-point territory. The all-around guard’s campaign featured back to back nights of 50 points with 53 vs the Bulls and 55 the following night vs the Bucks becoming the first player since Kobe Bryant in 2007 to have such back to back scoring nights.
Beal, without a doubt, climbed a level and has solidified himself as one of the dynamic scorers the Association has to offer. Last year during the 2018-19 season he joined elite company by becoming tenth player since 1999 to average 25-5-5 for an entire season. Beal also joined another club of those to post 2000 points, 400 rebounds, and 400 assists in a season. Some of the players that are apart of both these distinct clubs include LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook. Due to primary ball-handler, John Wall’s nagging injuries over the past couple years, the keys to the offense have been given to Beal himself and he’s been playing nothing short of superstar level.
Quite alarming that even with how well he’s been performing it hasn’t led to much team success as the Wizards have been the bottom barrel of the NBA Eastern Conference since Wall went down. Even worse, the lack of team success is perhaps the only thing that kept Beal from being the first Wizards shooting guard to be named to back to back all-star games since Michael Jordan in 2003. “A little pissed off about it but I know how I am I was kind of expecting it honestly. It’s disrespectful. But the real ones know so Ima keep competing. Ima try to get my team to the playoffs for sure. I don’t play for anybody else’s approval, I come out and compete because without these god-given talents and abilities I wouldn’t be able to score. You know I’m just thankful I’m out here and I can compete. Congratulations to everyone that made it everybody that’s more than deserving, all the first time guys enjoy it. Jayson [Tatum] my little brother I’m happy he made it but I’m a little pissed off about it”.
Someone of the caliber of Bradley Beal alone should without a doubt have been one of 24 players participating in the all-star game this year especially for one he was an all-star last year with lower-tiered stats compared to his this year and also the matter of fact that guys like Kyle Lowry, Khris Middleton were able to make it based mainly on their team record. No disrespect to those two, but Beal will make an All-NBA team this year and he’s flat out just a tier above them. Bradley Beal, for the majority of his career with the exception of the past couple years, has made the most of playing off-ball, coming off screens fading and curling like a modern version of Rip Hamilton. Wall’s injuries have allowed Beal to showcase his all-around talent and growth as a ball-handler that bodes well with his three-level scoring ability and perimeter shooting similar to Brandon Roy. All of these things Beal brings to the table are vital to any organization especially in a league that thrives on space and shooting more than it ever has before.
The real question is can the Wizards put pieces around both John Wall and Bradley Beal in order for this team to reach their ceiling with their franchise backcourt in their prime. Injuries have made it tricky to do so given that Wall has played just 73 games since the 2016-2017 season in which the Wizards made the playoffs and took the Celtics to six games in the Eastern Conference Semis. The freakishly athletic Wall got his first All-NBA nod and Beal posted career highs in field goal and three-point percentage that year as well.
In the past, the narrative used to be that the two can’t coexist with each other because of rumored jealousy and envy. The all-star backcourt has proven that they can co-exist no matter who has the ball in their hands and their best showing of that was during that 2016-17 regular season and the back and forth Celtics series. Wall had the classic game six game winner to force game 7 in Boston and Beal posted 33 and 38 points in the closing two contests facing elimination and this was back in 2017. Both players have matured immensely since then.
The narrative that they can’t coexist together on the court was something Wall cleared out when he was invited to Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson’s All The Smoke podcast. “We both wanna be stars we both wanna take the game-winning shot we both wanna be talked about in the media we both wanna be all this and all that. At the end of the day, they always say ‘they don’t like each other, they downgrade each other’. There ain’t no John Wall without Bradley Beal there ain’t no Bradley Beal without John Wall. I mean we make each other better like we accommodate each other so well on the court that it works easy for us so like when I see the media try to say oh they don’t like each other or he playing better without him the team is eating everybody moving the ball is moving all this but at the end of the day, yeah you gonna play better when another star player is not out there because you get more shots everybody gon give you the ball more like everything is predicated around you and we weren’t winning games so it wasn’t good for us so like Brad was like yeah I’m getting my numbers I’m doing this I’m doing that but we’re not winning games where Brad is out 4-5 games John Wall might take 10 more shots or 12 more shots and his numbers might go from 22 a game to 32/34 through that stretch but am I winning games or am I getting to the next level opportunity to win a championship one day? No, I can never succeed that unless I’m playing with my brother Bradley Beal”. John Wall makes great points about their past ego checks and what they both desire from superstardom in terms of accolades and the respect from their peers but he did close it with the main focus being that nothing matters if winning isn’t a part of it. In an interview with Ros gold-Onwude Wall believes that they will be the best backcourt in the NBA next year when they’re both healthy. “I’m always going to say that, cause I know, like, the way I was playing before I got injured, it was at a high level,” Wall said. “I’m coming back at that level, even better. And that level Brad is at now, it’s going to be scary”.
It’s going to be very interesting to see if the Wizards can complement both these guards with more players who can shoot and defend at a high competitive level such as their young guns David Bertans and Rui Hachimura. But what also is intriguing is what Otto Porter Jr and Kelly Oubre Jr also brought 3-D promise but Wizards seemed to move off on them. John Wall is one of the best floor generals in the league including a stretch of three straight seasons of 10 or more assists a game and is at his very best in the open court. Bradley Beal has shown us his growth as an elite scorer and his on/off ball flexibility only makes this backcourt more dangerous. These two will get the most out of whoever is put around them especially with them carrying the scoring load they won’t be demanding others to deal with that. Let’s see if head coach Scott Brooks can institute a consistent winning culture in D.C and help this organization reach its destined ceiling.