Beal’s best sea­son born away from the court

Guard’s scor­ing, min­utes up af­ter fi­nally be­ing pain free

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

To un­wrap how Bradley Beal has put to­gether his best sea­son, start with what he has not been asked. Beal has talked about of­fense, de­fense, his ex­clu­sion from the All-Star Game, if the Bos­ton Celtics are a ri­val and what it was like to stand in front of a mu­ral that showed a 20-foot high ver­sion of his up­per body.

What he has not been asked in months is, “When will your lower right leg feel bet­ter?” That’s be­cause the area that re­minded him of un­tapped po­ten­tial, that stunted his game for three years, has been fine. There has been no time missed be­cause of a stress frac­ture or the be­gin­ning of one. No min­utes re­stric­tions. Beal’s body has been un­bri­dled and he has blos­somed be­cause of it.

The Wash­ing­ton Wizards shoot­ing guard has found a pro­tec­tive sym­bio­sis. He has been able to work out more be­cause his leg is not in­jured; his leg is not in­jured be­cause he has been able to work­out more. In the off­sea­son, he be­grudg­ingly worked out ev­ery day, fo­cus­ing on squats, lunges and dead­lifts, any­thing to pro­mote lower- body de­vel­op­ment. He had not worked out daily in the past. Beal re­lied on his age and feel­ing well in gen­eral as ex­cuses to oc­ca­sion­ally not lift. Soon enough, the leg prob­lems caught back up with him. He played 63 games in 2015 and made just 35 starts in 2016, when the Wizards fin­ished 41-41 and missed the play­offs.

“I think this year I did a way bet­ter job of be­ing sure I’m locked in and ded­i­cat­ing my time and ef­fort to be­ing in­jury free,” Beal said.

Beal played a ca­reer-high 77 reg­u­lar sea­son games this

sea­son. His scor­ing went up, his time ail­ing went down. The small pains that come through a sea­son, like a twisted an­kle, did not keep him off the court. The large pains never ar­rived. The re­sult was 23.1 points per game, an ef­fec­tive field goal per­cent­age of 56.6 and a case to be ir­ri­tated he was not se­lected to his first All-Star Game.

Beal’s up­turn fol­lowed the sign­ing of a max­i­mum con­tract in the sum­mer. He will be paid a lit­tle more than $127 mil­lion the next five years. It’s a stag­ger­ing fig­ure that can brings bur­den and free­dom. Beal’s fa­ther, Bobby, worked at Chrysler and is now re­tired. His mother, Besta, is a high school athletics di­rec­tor. Their ad­vice for their sud­denly bonkers-rich son has been sim­ple.

“I would say they didn’t treat me any dif­fer­ently,” Beal said. “The big­gest thing they tell me is be re­spon­si­ble, be smart about it. You’ve been blessed to, one, take care of your fam­ily then, two, take care of the peo­ple around you. Then, on top of that, have pretty much your life al­most set for the rest of your life. They told me, ‘Make sure you’re be­ing smart about it.’ ”

Beal has found him­self in the young, rich and in­creas­ingly fa­mous cy­cle. There are stan­dard trap­pings that come with it. Beal said some folks he thought were his friends are no longer his friends. Cer­tain fam­ily mem­bers have made sure Beal knows they are just that, even if their con­cern about be­ing rel­a­tives in the past was muted. It’s dif­fer­ent than he en­vi­sioned a decade ago.

“It’s def­i­nitely a dream come true,” Beal said. “You’re play­ing in the NBA. You’re play­ing against the best play­ers in the world. Your life is pretty much set. You know you can have any­thing you want, you can pretty much al­most do any­thing you want. I think the big­gest dif­fer­ence is the be­hind-the-scenes part of it. What goes on in your fam­ily. You’re still a hu­man be­ing. You still have emo­tions, you still have feel­ings, you still have fam­ily, you still have the daily prob­lems a nor­mal per­son can go through. I think it’s grasp­ing that, un­der­stand­ing we’re still hu­man be­ings re­gard­less if we’re role mod­els.”

Part of the rea­son Wash­ing­ton’s brass was will­ing to pay Beal such a sum, de­spite his in­jury his­tory, is they have long been im­pressed with Beal’s com­po­sure. Some in the or­ga­ni­za­tion have re­ferred to him as the most ma­ture teenager — he turned 19 the day of the 2012 NBA draft when he was se­lected third over­all — they have seen join the team. That com­po­sure is be­ing tested by the main­stream­ing of his life.

When Beal leaves the court, he’s not the only one peo­ple point at, then whis­per or shout about. His girl­friend, Kamiah Adams, has 806,000 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram, around 250,000 more than Beal. A stint on a re­al­ity tele­vi­sion se­ries pushed her into pub­lic life. So­cial me­dia has bol­stered her fame.

“We at­tract a lot of at­ten­tion, nat­u­rally,” Beal said. “It’s all of that tied into your life. There’s a lot of things that come with it. Be­ing with some­body of that stature, there’s a lot of things that come with it. It comes with be­ing on the news. Be­ing on so­cial me­dia. Be­ing on TV and peo­ple know it. It’s just a mat­ter if you can han­dle it or not.”

In this sea­son of in­creased recog­ni­tion, Beal has made two dis­tinct changes on the floor. First, his drib­bling has im­proved thanks to off­sea­son work with trainer Drew Hanlen. Beal has be­come bet­ter at weav­ing through traf­fic be­cause of the live-mo­tion drills they did. He also has de­ployed a hes­i­ta­tion drib­ble when he hits midrange spots he of­ten shot from dur­ing his first four sea­sons. Now, he uses those spots to dupe a de­fender. Beal will pause, hint at an up­ward mo­tion, then take off again. Not tak­ing those shots has put to­gether a ben­e­fi­cial trickle-down ef­fect on his of­fense.

“I used to al­ways have glimpses of it,” Beal said. “I would do it here and there and not re­ally get to any of my moves, I was kind of like a straight, ba­sic player. A fun­da­men­tal guy. But, now I’m flow­ing more. Get­ting into my ‘pack­age’ as we call it. I’m just be­ing more com­fort­able with it and it ben­e­fits my game. It keeps you off guard.”

The bet­ter drib­ble and in­creased con­fi­dence to shoot 3-point­ers have in­verted Beal’s shot se­lec­tion. In 2014, he shot 636 times from be­tween 10 feet and the 3-point line. He shot 396 3-point­ers that sea­son. This sea­son, af­ter two years when those at­tempts started to level off, Beal shot 321 midrange shots and 553 2-point­ers, ac­cord­ing to Bas­ket­ball­ref­er­ence. He also in­creased his shots at the rim from 117 in 2014 to 448 this sea­son. The changes have led to a sig­nif­i­cant swing in ef­fi­ciency.

With his leg sound and of­fen­sive skill ex­panded, Beal has piv­oted to what is next. There is more growth to be done on the floor. That first All-Star Game ap­pear­ance that has been men­tioned for years re­mains a tar­get. But first, it’s Game 2 of the Wizards’ first-round se­ries with the At­lanta Hawks on Wed­nes­day. Beal is “still salty” from los­ing to At­lanta in 2015 East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals. He’s tried to fix his body and game to as­sure it doesn’t hap­pen again.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wizards guard Bradley Beal av­er­aged a ca­reer-high 23.1 points this sea­son.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Wizards guard Bradley Beal’s im­proved drib­ble and in­creased con­fi­dence to shoot have in­verted his shot se­lec­tion, with more at­tempts from long range.

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