- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2017

They walked in together, then spoke one after the other on the last day the Wizards were assembled. Brad and John, John and Brad, the pillars of what the Washington Wizards are and hope to be going forward.

Unfortunately for John Wall and Bradley Beal, they have been further intertwined by two new anchor points after each had their best individual season. For the third time, a team constructed around them was defeated in the second round of the playoffs. For the third time, that happened on May 15, something Wall realized.

“I saw the tweet,” he said about the date that has become the Wizards‘ Halloween.

Heading into another offseason, there is more work to be done by the evolving pair. Beal will turn 24 years old June 28. Wall will be entering his eighth season next fall. He will be 27 when it starts. By NBA standards, both will be out of their pup stages and in their primes. So, what’s next?

To think about that, look back. The Wizards won 49 games last season, when Wall and Beal had their best seasons at the same time. Both can point to their bodies as the reason why.

Wall had two offseason knee surgeries. They made him prophetic.

“I banked on myself,” Wall said. “I said after I had surgery I would come back a better player and it showed this season.”

He scored more points, had more assists, claimed more steals than ever before. Wall was named third-team All-NBA for the first time. He went to the All-Star Game — alone — for the fourth consecutive time.

The underlying structure to his improvement came from midrange shooting. Wall bettered his shooting in three segments: from 3-10 feet, 10-16 feet and 16 feet to the 3-point line. His largest jump came on those tricky in-between shots where floaters typically live. Wall increased his shooting percentage by eight points from 3-10 feet, according to the Web site Basketball-Reference. His shooting percentage from 16 feet to the 3-point line went up almost four percent. He has worked on these areas since entering the league as a fleet-footed non-shooter. Wall will work on them again this summer.

“You always can get better at everything,” Wall said.

Beal’s improvement came from a change in shot selection and improved ball-handling. He has squeezed out his midrange shot attempts and increased his shooting percentage from those spots while doing so, a double-down on efficiency. In his fifth season, 369 of Beal’s field-goal attempts were at the rim. That made up 27.9 percent of his shot attempts. In 2016, Beal took 22.9 percent of his shots from the same area.

But, the major number for Beal is 90. That’s the amount of games he played last season. In his 90th game, he played 46 minutes and scored 38 points, almost dragging the Wizards past the Boston Celtics in Game 7.

“If anything, I’m proud of that,” Beal said of the games played. “Be on the floor. That’s all I wanted.”

Like Wall, Beal’s offseason checklist includes many of the same things Beal has tried to improve in the past.

“Nothing’s perfect,” Beal said. “Just working on my consistency. Ball-handling. Being tighter with my dribble. Sometimes I was losing the ball; guys were getting a hand on it. Just be able to prevent that from happening. Read defenses better. Working on my passing. Constantly shooting.”

It seems unlikely the two will create another public roiling like last summer, when Wall said they don’t, at times, get along. In the slow summer months, that type of storyline bursts through. In reality, multiple current and former Wizards players said they thought the duo’s relationship was worse in the seasons prior to 2016. Though the clearing of the air in public may have been unwanted, it allowed Beal and Wall to continue an uptick together.

“I think everybody blew [what I said] out of proportion,” Wall said. “I think it motivated him. It didn’t do anything [other] than make our friendship and brotherhood become more tighter. Look at the season he had. He should have been [named] an All-Star. He’s proven to himself, he’s proven to everybody that he’s earned his money when everybody said he didn’t. Same thing I went through. Now, he can take this as motivation going forward to next season because he has improved dramatically in so many areas.”

“It’s gotten better and better ever since people thought we didn’t like each other,” Beal said. “I guess we still don’t like each other [laughs]. We’re constantly getting better. We’re being leaders. We’re doing a better job of holding each other accountable. Our relationship is constantly growing.”

They have just two guaranteed years left together, since Wall can become an unrestricted free agent following the 2019 season. That’s two more chances at the playoffs, two more May 15ths. Where will they be standing then?

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