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Terps, Hoyas, and Wizards

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jason Colenda, former Villanova men’s basketball player and current contributor to the DC Dime.

First Impressions: the Bradley Beal Edition

The Wizards gladly selected the 19 year old University of Florida freshman shooting guard, Bradley Beal, with our 3rd overall selection in this year’s draft. Beal had been highly regarded since his prep years in St. Louis, his effortless jump shot even being compared to Jesus Shuttlesworth himself. Watching Beal in college, I saw a kid who clearly had NBA-potential: he had a smooth offensive game and an NBA-ready body, but he never asserted his will over the inferior talent that he faced in the SEC. Granted, I don’t watch a ton of SEC hoops (I can’t suffer it the way Bohlin does), so I did not allow this limited sample size to affect my opinion. I remained hopeful Beal could put his obvious physical gifts to work and blossom into the type of player the experts all predicted. During summer league, which is no place to be making serious judgments about a player, #3 showed glimpses of what he could do, but certainly did not have the coming out party as say, Damian Lillard enjoyed. I knew playing alongside John Wall would definitely help a player like Beal flourish, with Wall’s drive and dish style opening the floor for a spot-up shooter to get open looks. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to see the duo the front office has invested in as the franchise’s future play meaningful minutes together. However, through the first several games I’ve seen some things from the number three pick both positive and negative that I’d like to highlight.

Game 1 @ Cleveland Cavaliers

A matchup with a young and dynamic backcourt duo in Cleveland that he’ll see for years to come was Beal’s introduction to the NBA. I was looking forward to seeing the matchup with fellow rookie and 4th pick Dion Waiters. With very different styles of play, Waiters more of a defensive bulldog and offensive slasher, the matchup was going to be good to get a look at what Bradley’s made of. Pride is definitely on the line matching up with a player that was drafted above you, so Waiter’s was definitely going to come out swinging. It was a competitive game, but the matchup, and the game, went to Waiters and the Cavaliers. Dion was the more aggressive of the two, and Beal struggled to find his range, scoring 8 points in his first 22 minutes in the NBA on 2-8 shooting including 2-4 from three. He also contributed 3 assists and 3 boards, and overall it was not a bad first effort.  Beal rarely forced action and let the game come to him, but I would like to see Bradley look for his own offense and not be afraid to attack off the dribble for pull-ups or dishes (as he’s shown he’s a willing passer). It’s his first game and he’s trying to fit into the NBA and with his Wizards teammates, but he also needs to realize he’s our best offensive option right now. I’d love to see Beal show some alpha-dog swagger and take over. Hopefully the home opener brings a more aggressive #3.

Game 2: Boston Celtics (home opener)

Does the loud ovation and adoration of the Phone Booth get you up for a game, Brad? Or how about matching up against one of the NBA’s most successful franchises, the Boston Celtics, for the first time? Going in, I was really excited to see how he reacts in the first big-game situation in his young career. Unfortunately, Beal came out and put forward a first performance for the home crowd that is one he is going to want to forget. He finished without a score from the field, and struggled with the rest of his game because of it. Courtney Lee blanketed him most of the night, focused on limiting his touches and in general making it an uncomfortable night for the rookie. Again, Beal never forced his own action and was too passive; but tonight, he showed some very poor body language because of his inability to get going. Even if his offense isn’t hitting, Beal needs to stay aggressive and involved on both ends of the floor. It’s tough in the NBA, and points won’t come easy. I want to see Beal take the pressure head-on, but he’s been entirely too passive and has struggled because of it. Tonight was a tough early lesson against one of the NBA’s best defensive teams, and let’s hope Beal bounces back and is more comfortable in his second shot at the Celtics.

Game 3: @ Boston Celtics

Bradley had a tough night against the Celtics in DC a few nights ago, and he’s looking to bounce back tonight. He came out on the attack for the first time in his young career, running the floor hard in transition to get a few open looks. It also helped that we consistently ran sets for the young guard to make sure he stayed involved. Still his shot did not fall most of the night, but I did not see it affect his performance in other aspects of his game. In fact, he showed some real confidence in himself late in the game sticking a go-ahead three in a hotly contested ball game. Beal finished the night playing a career high 38 minutes in the overtime contest, scoring 16 points on 6-15 shooting (including 3-8 from 3). The shot total was his most attempts in these three games and that’s a positive sign in my opinion. Starting shooting guards NEED to be shooting 15-20 times a night; they’re normally a team’s top scoring threat and Beal absolutely is that for the Wizards. Our offense looked best tonight when we were running sets to get Bradley looks, and he has already demonstrated a mature understanding that just because a play is run for you doesn’t mean you have to be the one shooting the ball. Brad’s done a good job taking what the defense gives him, which will continue to lead to open looks for his teammates as opponents focus their defensive attention on him. Beal has clearly been the focal point of the Celtic defensive preparation, that much was clear by the way they hounded him off the ball, and this will continue during his time in Washington. Tonight was the first time I began to see him embrace that challenge and meet it with an attacking mindset, truly encouraging growth for our young franchise guard.

Game 4: Milwaukee Bucks

Friday night saw yet another matchup against a dynamic backcourt, as Brendan Jennings, Monta Ellis and the Bucks visited the nation’s capital. Another tough matchup for Beal, as it pits him against one of the game’s great one-way players in scorer deluxe Ellis. Admittedly, this was the first game of the year I missed; my colleagues here at the Dime and I punted working for the day and instead were in attendance at the beautiful Barclay’s Center to cover Maryland v. Kentucky for our Terrapin Station site. However, we kept up on Gamecast (thanks technology!) and were disappointed to see an early lead fizzle into a fourth straight defeat. The silver-lining, of course, was Beal’s first 20 point game as a pro. In 34 minutes, Beal had his most efficient game going 7-14 from the floor at 8-8 from the line. He seems to be getting better each night out, and let’s hope Bradley can build on the last two performances and continue his early development

In his first outings as a pro Beal has continued to find her comfort-zone in the NBA game and his performances have improved each night out. He’s done nothing but show signs of why the Wizards were so high on his physical skills and potential, and at only 19 years old, if he if can continue to sharpen his mental approach he will hopefully continue to realize his immense potential. I look forward to seeing Beal on the receiving end of some Wall dimes in the near future, but I know the challenge of truly being the defenses focal point will only help him in his development.

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