Bradley Beal will always remember his 19th birthday. The Washington Wizards hope Thursday will be equally as memorable for the franchise.
The Wizards weathered a flurry of rumors at the top of the NBA draft and landed the man they wanted with the No. 3 pick, selecting the Florida guard in the hopes that the sharpshooter will be the offensive threat needed to help lift the team out of the lottery and toward the playoffs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers threw everything at the Charlotte Bobcats to nab the No. 2 pick and take Beal ahead of the Wizards, but when Charlotte took Kentucky forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a relieved Washington front office knew it was in good shape.
“There’s no doubt about it — this was the kid that we wanted,” coach Randy Wittman said. “We were worried. You heard all day long that Cleveland or Houston or somebody was going to jump up there. I got tired of the media talking about Bradley Beal so much.”
Beal was surprised to be the focus of so many rumors, but he said that coming to Washington was his first choice.
“I was nervous as I don’t know what,” he said. “When the second pick went by, everything went away. In the back of my mind, I was hoping I was coming here. I can’t wait to step on the court and get this thing rolling.”
Once NBA commissioner David Stern read Beal’s name, the Wizards could begin making plans to slot the 3-point threat with speedy guard John Wall to form what the team hopes will be a dynamic backcourt.
“He’s a great pick,” Wall said. “He’s somebody that can make shots, spread the court for you. I think he can come in and help us a lot. I need guys that can knock down shots, and he’s a consistent knock-down shooter.”
In his sole season at Florida, the 6-foot-5 Beal averaged 14.8 points while often playing small forward for the Gators, leading the team in rebounding at 6.7 per game. In his workout for the Wizards, Beal wanted Wittman to promise that the team would take him, saying he knew it was a good match.
“I felt like the relationship was there,” Beal said. “It just felt right. I’m glad and grateful that he chose me. I’m going to give it my all and hopefully make a big impact.”
Wittman dismissed Beal’s 33.9 percent numbers from the 3-point line, preferring to focus on the near-perfect mechanics of his shot.
“Once you see the kid shoot, there’s no question that he’s going to make shots because of his stroke, fundamentals and footwork,” Wittman said. “From a coaching, clinical standpoint, that’s not a question.”
Beal has no worries about his game translating to the NBA, even if some have knocked him for not being as tall as his listed height, making him vulnerable to bigger shooting guards. He plans to showcase his work ethic to be ready for summer league and training camp.
“Right now, there’s no time to celebrate,” he said. “Starting [Friday] it’s time to get to work. Getting myself ready and really staying on the grind.”
ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy pilloried the Wizards on the draft broadcast for surrounding Wall with “knuckleheads” in the past, making the acquisition of Beal, along with other high-character individuals such as Nene and Emeka Okafor, a clear sign the team is intent on changing the culture of its locker room.
“That’s really the thing that sold me at the end — not only can he play, but he’s a good, quality person, character-wise,” Wittman said.
Beal’s presence does create a logjam of sorts at the shooting guard position, where Jordan Crawford started and averaged 14.7 points in 64 games. But Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld said the team isn’t holding Beal to any sort of expectation given his lofty draft status.
“He’s 19. He can come in, work hard and learn,” Grunfeld said. “We have a player who started for us last year and played hard in Jordan. There’s no pressure for any rookie to come in and have to contribute immediately, to play 35-40 minutes. That’s up to him … how quickly he learns the NBA game and how quickly he develops.”
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said before the draft began that it would be “unacceptable” for the team to be in the lottery next season. The hope is that Beal can be an important piece in turning the rebuilding project into a winning tradition, a challenge the birthday boy is ready to accept.
“This is by far the best birthday I’ve ever had,” he said. “This really beats all the presents my mom and dad got me when I was a little kid. I’m really grateful for this opportunity I have.”