Wizards’ Beal Has Early Chance To Shine


HANG TIME WEST – Among the opening-night games: Wizards at Cavaliers. Perfect.

Not perfect for the senses as a 20-46 team last season visits a 21-45 club, but a very good beginning for a rookie class coming off a much-hyped draft, with Washington’s Bradley Beal facing off against Cleveland’s Dion Waiters. Both shooting guards, both taken in the top four in June, both projected to become major offensive threats, and both in the same building tonight, head-to-head with the chance to make a good early impression.

It is an opportunity for Beal in particular, and not just for one game. Try several of the early days of the season. Maybe the entire first month.

With John Wall scheduled to be sidelined until late-November by a knee injury and Nene doubtful for at least the season opener while continuing to work back from a foot problem that has plagued him for months, Beal will get more scoring chances now than at any other time in his rookie campaign. He has a clear path to the forefront unlike most first-year players, considering A.J. Price, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and Emeka Okafor is the projected opening lineup if Nene sits, with Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton as the top two reserves. That’s a lot of non-scorers, creating an even bigger opening for Beal.

Waiters doesn’t have that, not with Kyrie Irving in the same backcourt. Damian Lillard in Portland, teammates with LaMarcus Aldridge, doesn’t have it. Golden State’s Harrison Barnes certainly does not while surrounded by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and, at some point, Andrew Bogut. Beal has a moment that no other lottery pick primarily known for scoring — not the likes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson and Andre Drummond, in other words — can get. He gets to be the No. 1 option until further notice.

Of course, he also gets a greater focus from defenses. That’s when it hurts Beal to be playing without an explosive point guard (like Wall) and his open-court game, however erratic it can be. Nene can force opponents to pay attention to the interior as well. In essence, Beal has more shots — but also more of a burden.

The good news for the Wizards, why they shouldn’t be concerned that a rough start will damage his confidence, is that Beal has handled expectations before. He was a major recruit out of high school in St. Louis who stepped right into the high-profile program at Florida, backed down from no one while averaging 6.7 rebounds as a 6-foot-3 guard, and made first-team All-SEC as a freshman. He can handle whatever challenges come in a Wizards world without Nene at full strength and Wall out for several weeks.

A positive first few weeks would also be the ideal start to a Rookie of the Year campaign. Anthony Davis in New Orleans is the clear frontrunner with Lillard the leading alternative. Beal is in the second tier of possibilities with Jonas Valanciunas of the Raptors. Mind you, this comes from the genius who had Minnesota’s Derrick Williams as the opening-night pick last season, so there is obviously tremendous credibility in this ranking.

Either way, this is just the start of the consideration. But it could be a particularly important start for Beal and his first month loaded with opportunity … and converging defenses.

One Comment

  1. Jon says:

    Nemesis – Round 1