Whenever a player goes off like Bradley Beal has in recent days with his back-to-back 50-plus point games, it can be a joy to research where things place within the context of history. When categorizing a particular feat in terms of Wizards/Bullets franchise history, the same names usually come up.
Elvin Hayes, Walt Bellamy, Bernard King and John Wall are often in the search results. Michael Jordan, though he was in his late 30s and only played two years in Washington, pops up far more frequently than you might think, yet another testament to his greatness. But one name from this century stands out above all, and when it comes to scoring, shines brighter than maybe any other in the 59 years of Wizards/Bullets lore.
That would be Gilbert Arenas, the man who captivated this town for a brief, but electric few years and was affectionately known as 'Agent Zero.' Usually, you find that whatever a recent Wizards player has done, it's the best since Arenas.
Well, with what Beal has been doing this season, Arenas' name is coming up far less often. That's because Beal is doing things Arenas never did.
Wizards fans, it's time to have a conversation, the conversation about whether Beal is equaling, if not surpassing Arenas, who has long remained the most popular player to ever don a Wizards uniform.
It may not be an easy discussion for some, but the numbers have simply become impossible to ignore. With his 53 points against the Bulls on Sunday and his 55 vs. the Bucks on Monday, Beal now has three career 50-point games this season, which ties Arenas for the most in franchise history. Beal, though, is the only player to score 50 in consecutive games.
In fact, Beal is now just the third player in NBA history to have 53 or more in two straight games. It's him, Wilt Chamberlain and James Harden.
Consider the fact Beal this season is averaging 30.1 points (most in the East, second in the NBA) with a .516 effective field goal percentage. Arenas' best season in Washington, in 2005-06, topped out at 29.3 points and a .507 eFG%.
When the points are adjusted to per minute or per possession, they tell an even better story for Beal. He is averaging an absurd 39.2 points per 100 possessions. Arenas' best number with the Wizards, in 2006-07, was 36.5. Beal is averaging 30.3 points per-36 minutes, while Arenas' career-high was 25.8 (2006-07).
Sure, the game has changed with more possessions and more scoring. But the hand-checking rules changed before the 2004-05 season, so they don't apply.
This is by no means to diminish what Arenas did in Washington. It is worth noting simply because though the numbers are similar, the hype for Beal seems nowhere close to what it was for Arenas during those days.
When Arenas was at his peak, there was a palpable buzz, both locally and nationally. It was one of the highest points for the Wizards' popularity, perhaps only surpassed by Jordan's years when looking back several decades.
Though attendance numbers aren't a perfect measuring stick, they back that up. The Wizards in 2007 saw 18,372 fans per game on average, which remains their highest since Jordan left in 2003.
The most obvious reason for why this could be the Wizards were playoff contenders while Arenas was in the middle of his run. They never won more than 45 games with Arenas, and they only advanced out of the first round of the playoffs once during his tenure, but they were still a lot better than the Wizards are now. This year the Wizards are on pace for 29 wins. Fans can only get so excited about that.
But Arenas can't compare to Beal in terms of winning if you take their entire careers into account. The current era led by Beal and Wall has produced three playoff series wins compared to Arenas' one.
Still, if the Wizards were on track to win 45 games this season, it's fair to question whether Beal would be reaching the level of attention Arenas got back in those days because Arenas was much more than a basketball star. He was an enigmatic personality who had a blog back when other players didn't and did fun things like (falsely) predict his point totals. He had clever nicknames and great quotes like "my swag was phenomenal" and "hibachi."
Beal, meanwhile, has scaled back media appearances this season. Though Arenas ironically was once fined $25,000 for not talking to reporters, he was a media favorite and his colorful persona became a major part of his appeal.
But Beal, one could argue, should be helped by those same factors in a different way. While Arenas' personality ultimately revealed a dark side, Beal has been a perfect face of the Wizards franchise. He is a model citizen and even won the league's Community Assist award for his charity work last year.
Those elements are subjective and difficult to define. But the numbers aren't and the bottom-line is Beal is scoring more points and more efficiently than Arenas ever did. Maybe the hype will start to follow soon.
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