No matter what else happens in the upcoming season, the Washington Wizards will be in good shape if their top draft choice follows the recent trend in D.C., where rookies have made the leap easy as 1-2-3.
That’s one, as in the Nationals’ Bryce Harper (a No. 1 overall pick), and two, as in the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (the second selection in this year’s draft). Three would be the Wizards’ Bradley Beal, his draft spot and uniform number.
Hope abounds as new seasons dawn, whether it’s longing to stay on top or aspiring to escape the basement. Teams open each campaign with the absence of former members and the addition of unfamiliar faces. The Wizards have received much attention for the players swept out and the replacements welcomed in.
But, in a sense, Beal is the only “new” Wizard. He’s the bright package with the big bow that we’re dying to unwrap and see what it can do.
We’ve already seen first-year Wizards such as Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza before, albeit in different jerseys. They’re products of the 2004 draft — picked second and 43rd, respectively — and arrive in town with verifiable bodies of work. The body of newcomer Martell Webster has betrayed him during seven NBA seasons, including 2007-08, when he logged a total of five minutes because of an injured foot. But he has a track record nonetheless.
The only exhibits upon which we can judge Beal are eight preseason games, five Summer League contests and leftover predictions as he left Florida after his freshman year. But that’s all we need to envision him as the city’s next high-impact draft pick.
Unlike Harper and RG3, Beal might not be a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year honors. His game doesn’t scream “look at me,” and his impact and statistics are likely to trail Anthony Davis of New Orleans, the consensus favorite for the award. Beal probably won’t be a starter, either, at least not when the season begins (here’s hoping he doesn’t pick up any bad habits from watching Jordan Crawford).
But Beal doesn’t have to be the NBA’s top rookie to satisfy Wizards fans. He just has to be a steady contributor who clearly fills a piece of the puzzle moving forward — unlike Washington’s top pick in 2011, Jan Vesely.
After an entire offseason, a full training camp and a complete preseason schedule, Vesely has done little thus far to justify his selection at No. 6. Conversely, Beal was the real deal right away, being named to the all-Summer League team and averaging 13.5 points through the Wizards’ first six exhibitions. He tailed off in the final two games — scoring a total of nine points, including a doughnut Friday night against the Spurs — but ups and downs are to be expected.
Beal has done a terrific job of staying off the emotional roller coaster. He’s remarkably even-keeled for a 19-year-old, cool and calm, composed and confident. He learned a hard lesson in the preseason finale, when he was 0-for-6 from the floor in 19 minutes, one of the few times he’s been frustrated on the court.
He’s in good company, however, because the veteran San Antonio team has rattled more than a few oldheads. Beal’s play early in preseason is a better gauge of where he’s headed, mindful that he’s yet to play with franchise cornerstone John Wall in Washington’s backcourt of the future. The NBA’s 30 general managers predicted a favorable forecast for Beal in their annual survey, placing him second (behind Davis) as “rookie who will be the best player in five years.”
We’re waiting for Wall to take a major step in his third season, which is delayed for several weeks because of a right knee injury. In the meantime, Beal represents a nice new toy to play with. And he’s not as one-dimensional as presumed when some folks tabbed him the next Ray Allen.
Beal’s stroke is sweet, no doubt, but he attacks the basket much more than expected, which led Webster to liken him to Dwyane Wade.
Since new seasons are for dreaming, fans can imagine Beal morphing into Ray Wade or Dwyane Allen. They can fantasize about Beal developing into a superstar right before their eyes. They can project the Wizards, finally, becoming a relevant team, fueled by the point guard and shooting guard like Detroit’s “Bad Boys” were powered by Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars.
This is the time to visualize such concepts, before the games begin and reality takes over. But with Beal, there’s a keen sense that he’s actually authentic, the type of player who can stare down expectations and proceed to exceed them.
We saw it with Harper. We’re seeing it with RG3. Maybe there’s something in the water around here.
Memo to Beal: Drink up!