With Wall out, Beal steps into spotlight

With Wall out, Beal steps into spotlight
October 29, 2012, 6:15 pm
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Off the court, Wizards rookie Bradley Beal is everything a coach or teammate or fan would want him to be – polite, respectful and pleasant.

But if you ask those who watch him play every night, the 19-year-old shooting guard from Florida will need to play with a little more assertiveness if he wants to be an impact player while filling in for injured star John Wall.

“I’ve just told him to play basketball and be aggressive,” said Wall, who will be watching from the bench in Cleveland Tuesday night when Beal makes his NBA debut in the Wizards’ season opener against the Cavs.

“I think sometimes he’s unaggressive and that’s something you learn as you get more comfortable with your teammates and more comfortable with your game.”

Taken third overall in the 2012 NBA draft, Beal started five of the Wizards’ eight preseason games and led the team in minutes played, averaging just under 26 minutes.

Beal finished the preseason ranked third on the team in scoring with 11.3 points a game, behind only Martell Webster [12.0] and Jordan Crawford [11.5]. He also averaged 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals.

Wizards TV color analyst Phil Chenier says he sees in Beal the skill set necessary to be a scoring threat in the NBA. But like Wall, he’d like to see a little more assertiveness.

“I noticed in the summer league there were moments when he could have been a lot more aggressive,” Chenier said. “To show ‘I’m one of the top players and I want to establish that when I need to score, I’m going to score.’

“It’s natural to want to blend in. Only a few guys have that killer mentality that, ‘I don’t care if I am a rookie. Give me the ball.’ That’s what everybody struggles with in that first year. You’re coming from college where you were the man. Now you have to take your turn.”

In his only season with the Gators, Beal averaged 14.8 points, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals a game. The Wizards took him with the third pick overall because of his superior athletic ability, believing he would be the perfect complement to Wall.

But with Wall sidelined the first month of the season with a knee injury, the Wizards will need Beal to take a lead role in the backcourt.   

“Body language says so much and your opponents can read that,” Chenier said. “If you’re in a back-off mode, some opponents will gobble you up. If you’re aggressive – yeah, you can smile and grin at people -- but when it comes to the nitty-gritty you’ve got to be willing to do it.”

Chenier said he came into the NBA under similar circumstances in 1971. At the time, Earl Monroe and Archie Clark made up the Baltimore Bullets’ backcourt. Chenier eventually replaced Clark and went on to become a three-time All-Star for the Bullets in 1974, 1975 and 1977.

Chenier says he sees a similar window of opportunity for Beal.

“One man’s injury is somebody else’s opportunity,” he said. “I’m not talking about Bradley ball hogging. I’m talking about when you have that isolation for a split second – boom -- you gotta go. You’ve got to get teams to be concerned and worried about you, even when you don’t have the ball.”

Chenier said only a handful of NBA rookies have shown the ability to be that assertive at such a young age. He recalled Geoff Petrie doing it back in 1970-71 when he led the Portland Trail Blazers as a rookie with 24.8 points a game. And, of course, Michael Jordan, who averaged 28.2 points a game with the Chicago Bulls as a rookie in 1984-85.

Petrie was 22 in his rookie year; Jordan was 21.

“Even LeBron James came in kind of delicately,” Chenier said, referring to James’ 20.9 average in his rookie year in Cleveland. “Even as big as he is, he didn’t really assert himself. He’s just now starting to realize how he needs to use his talent and size and skill level.”

Chenier says he believes Beal can be a dominant player in the NBA. It just won’t happen overnight.

“He’s measuring the territory,” he said, “and I get a good vibe from him just watching him interact with his teammates.”