The very second that John Wall and Bradley Beal returned for the 2015-16 season with the Wizards, the inevitable questions about being the NBA's best backcourt. And any backcourt worth its salt will give the same, predictable response like they did: "Yes."
It'll cause mild controversy (it shouldn't) and make for good headlines and fodder as teams head into training camp. But even veteran teammates such as Drew Gooden and Jared Dudley understand there's more to it than lip service. It's about results. In the playoffs, Wall and Beal have helped the Wizards get farther than Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors two years in a row. And this past season, they dominated the matchup with a playoff sweep.
So the last hurdle is Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, who won the NBA championship. That might will take a lot more convincing.
“They have a lot of work to do to become the best," said Wizards forward Drew Gooden. "Are they up there? Yes. But to separate themselves, we got a lot of work to do.”
That means getting the Wizards past the second round of the playoffs. Beal could be in a contract year if he doesn't come to terms on an extension before Oct. 31. Unlike Wall, he has yet to make an All-Star Game or avoid injuries. If he wants the Wizards to show him the money, whether that's now or after the season when he becomes a restricted free agent, he has to take the biggest leap. As a point guard, Wall already is the best player at his position in the conference. Beal has yet to rise to that level as a shooting guard.
"Brad has to put in a season where he’s healthy. You want him to put in, if not 82, close to 75 games. Get him to that All-Star level," said Dudley, who is in his first seasons with the Wizards. "John has been a two-time All-Star. John is doing well. The question is does John want to be in top 15 or 20 or top 5, top 10. That’s a huge step for him to take. Bradley has gotten better with the ball. It seems he’s more assertive scoring. Our best scorer. Bradley has a bigger jump to make than John because of health and getting to the All-Star Game."
The Wizards had chances in each of the last two seasons to upset the No. 1 seed in the East in the second round. Last season, Wall broke his left hand and wrist to end their quest in six vs. the Atlanta Hawks. Still, there's no guarantee that even with Wall healthy that the Wizards would've gotten past the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James.
Dudley, who spent most of his career with the Phoenix Suns, knows about coming close. They pushed the eventual champion L.A. Lakers to six games in 2010.
“The good thing about them, they’re having chance after chance," Dudley said of Wall, in his sixth year and signed through 2019, and Beal who enters his fourth. "When I was in Phoenix, the team got broken up real fast. Amar’e (Stoudemire) signed with New York. You see the Spurs, people know the Spurs, ‘Hey you’re getting too old,' but the thing about the Spurs they have gotten old but their continuity and chemistry keep improving. In this day and age, it’s so tough to improve your continuity with free-agent signings, new people coming in here. They’ve had their core for a long time so they’ll keep improving. To get to the finals, you have to beat LeBron. That’s what it comes down to. It’s easier said than done."
That's all Wall and Beal have to do. Then the question of "Who's the No. 1 backcourt" becomes a more serious debate.
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